Blacksburg, VA (SportsNetwork.com) - Former Big East rivals are set to square off for the first time as Atlantic Coast Conference foes, as the 24th-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies host the Pittsburgh Panthers at Lane Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Pittsburgh has had two weeks to prepare for this contest after getting a bye this past weekend. Pittsburgh has won three straight for the first time since 2010 after notching a 14-3 triumph over Virginia on Sept. 28.
"We got some things accomplished last week," Panthers head coach Paul Chryst said at his weekly press conference. "We worked on some different areas that I thought we needed work on. We got some guys a little bit healthier hopefully."
The Panthers' only loss so far was in the season opener against No. 6 Florida State (41-13).
Newly ranked Virginia Tech currently leads the ACC Coastal Division with a 2-0 league mark. The Hokies are seeking their sixth straight win after taking down North Carolina over the weekend, 27-17. Like Pitt, their only loss came in the season opener against top-ranked Alabama (35-10).
Virginia Tech holds a 7-5 lead in the all-time series. These teams met up last season as non-conference foes at Heinz Field, where Pitt claimed a 35-17 victory over the then 13th-ranked Hokies. The Panthers have won the last four meetings.
A week after claiming a 58-55 win over Duke and scoring its most points in 18 years, Pitt's offense came back down to Earth against Virginia. Quarterback Tom Savage completed only 13-of-30 passes for 190 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. He was also sacked seven times and did not take the field for Pitt's final series after taking several big hits. According to coach Chryst, Savage has been cleared to play this week. Freshman Tyler Boyd tallied seven catches for 111 yards in the win over UVA. He and Devin Street have combined for 44 catches, 870 yards and seven receiving touchdowns on the season, as both are averaging better than 100 receiving yards per game. Pitt is one of only three teams in the nation to have two players averaging more than 100 yards receiving. Street, a senior, needs only seven catches to become the school's all-time leader.
The Panthers yielded a mere 188 total yards against Virginia. They recovered fumbles on back-to-back series in the first quarter to set up both of Pitt's touchdowns. And while the offense was held off the scoreboard the rest of the way, the defense never relented. The Cavaliers converted only 3-of-18 third downs and was 1-of-4 on fourth down. Pitt held UVA quarterback David Watford to 15-of-37 passing for 123 yards, while no Cavaliers player rushed for more than 34 yards. Despite the success in that game, coach Chryst talked about the challenges his defense will face in trying to slow down Hokies' quarterback Logan Thomas and the spread attack.
"We want to make the quarterback uncomfortable," Chryst said. "But I think they re settling in as they keep evolving. He's obviously a tremendous athlete and talented quarterback. If he's going, their team is going. It'll be a challenge for us. He's a good player."
One player who is certainly capable of making Thomas uncomfortable is senior defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who ranks second nationally in both sacks (1.5 per game) and tackles for loss (2.3 per game).
Logan Thomas has compiled 8,158 yards of total offense in his career, second all-time at Virginia Tech. While he has the ability to beat defenders with his legs, lately he has been doing so by spreading the ball around. Tech has had seven or more players catch passes in each of its last five games. D.J. Coles has only caught 11 passes, but five of those receptions have gone for touchdowns. In the win over UNC, the Hokies ran for only 48 yards and averaged 1.4 yards per carry as a team. However, Thomas was an efficient 19-of-28 passing for 293 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Willie Byrn paced the receiving corps with 123 yards on four grabs.
Defensively, Virginia Tech has recorded at least one interception in 10 straight games. Cornerback Kyle Fuller notched his sixth career pick against UNC, while Kyshoen Jarrett also came up with an interception. Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards shared team-high honors with 11 tackles apiece. Tech was also strong against the run, limiting UNC to 99 rushing yards on 38 attempts (2.6 ypc). The Hokies have limited opponents to just nine trips inside the red zone this season. Additionally, they have allowed only three rushing touchdowns all season. The Tar Heels had only two red-zone opportunities and produced one touchdown and one field goal.