Thursday, November 16, 2017

Senior Day: Pittsburgh preview

Virginia Tech looks to send the senior class out with a win against Pitt.

By: Adam Pace
November 16, 2017

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel) 
On Saturday the Hokies will look to end their first two game skid under head coach Justin Fuente. The Miami loss isn't as frustrating now but the Georgia Tech loss is still hurting. It will be senior day at Lane Stadium and the Hokies will look to send their seniors out the right way. Pittsburgh may not have the team they had last year but you can bet this game will be a close one until the end and could go either way. Let's break it down.....

The Panthers

Pittsburgh is currently 4-6 and isn't having the year they thought they would. They did lose a few players from last year but everyone thought they would be better than what they have been in 2017. As always, they bring in one of the best rushing attacks in the nation but what has hurt their offense has been the lack of a passing game. The Panthers rank 10th in the nation in rushing success rate and have two backs who are very reliable. Leading rusher Darrin Hall has 594 yards on the year and he is complimented by Quadree Ollison who has 330 yards so far in 2017. While it is a bit unusual for Pitt to not have someone close to 1,000 yards by now, these backs are still very big and extremely physical when running like most of the classic running backs are for the Panthers.

What's been the biggest issue for their offense this year, the passing game. Pitt ranks 79th in the nation in total passing but ranks 120th in explosive plays through the air. Pitt's quarterback Ben DiNucci has only thrown for over 200 yards once this season. It's safe to say that you can stack the box against the Panthers and make them throw it. But Tech will need to be careful, last week DiNucci was able to run the ball 83 yards. We all know Tech's struggles against a running quarterback but also if DiNucci is successful on the ground, then it could open up a whole new attack for the Panthers through the air.

On defense, the Panthers are struggling a little bit as well. They are currently ranked 86th in the nation and are 117th in the nation in explosive passing plays allowed. But don't start thinking we are going to have success just yet. Pitt plays press man coverage, which means they will be in the receivers face from the snap, trying to force them to get separation. On top of that, the Panthers will load the box and try to slow down or stop your running game. Against good rushing opponents the Pitt defense has allowed a lot of rushing yards but against teams who struggle to run it, they have been dominant at stopping the run. While statistically Pitt's defense isn't that good, they are going to make the Hokies earn every single yard this week.

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
Limping Hokies

While the last two weeks have been frustrating, I have also started to realize just how many guys are hurt for the Hokies. Steven Peoples, C.J. Carroll, and Yoshuah Nijman have all missed games for Tech so far this year and aren't looking like they are returning anytime soon. For what it's worth, when I was at the Tech basketball game Sunday, I saw Nijman still in a walking boot. On top of those three missing multiple games, Josh Jackson and Cam Phillips have been a bit banged up over the last few weeks. Coming into the year we knew how thin Virginia Tech was and over the last two weeks it has shown. Then to top it off, Terrell Edmunds had season ending surgery on Tuesday. We can sit and sulk all we want but at the end of the day, that's no excuse you still have to play the game.

It will be very interesting this week to see what this staff will do with the offense. Fuente has said that a big point of emphasis this week has been put on improving the offense and to get them started quicker. I will be tuned in to see if this young receiving corp can get separation and give the Pitt secondary fits. The big plays will be there through the air this week but only if the guys can get off of their man and win the ball in the air. Even in the loss last week, I think we saw some of the young guys grow up. Eric Kumah had probably his best game this year and Sean Savoy continues to get better and provides a great threat on the jet sweep. With Kumah improving, it should allow Savoy to slide inside more where he is best suited and should be able to provided a mismatch for defenses. Tech's offense is still growing and it is very frustrating to watch at times, but you can see the progress and it gets you excited for the future. However, I'm ready to see them step up and get back on track this week.

Defensively, this game might be a little different. Terrell Edmunds is out for the year and Tevon Hill, Tim Settle, and Ricky Walker all feel victim to the Georgia Tech chop block last week. It's going to be really interesting to see how Bud approaches this one. Do you play Mook at free safety and slide Anthony Shegog or Deon Newsome to whip? Or do you put Khalil Ladler at free safety and trust that he won't make a huge mistake? I have to say I really feel for Bud this week, he has a few big decisions to make. While a lot of guys might be banged up or out, Tech will still need to bring the intensity. If there is something I want to see be better on Saturday it's the Hokies tackling. Against Miami a lot of big running plays were given up due to missed tackles, it also showed up against Georgia Tech a time or two as well. If this unit wants to remind everyone how dominant they can be, they need to get back to the basics and wrap guys up.

Another big key will be, stopping the big play. This defense has allowed big plays to be a huge thorn in their side the last two weeks and if they want to stop this losing streak, they need to stop the big play. Communication needs to be better and the trust level between each of the players needs to improve as well. Pittsburgh hasn't been an explosive team all year but if there was a team for them to do it against, it's the Hokies.


Three weeks ago I would have taken the Hokies by 14 points plus. Now, I really think this game is a toss up. On paper, Virginia Tech is just better. But as we all know, games aren't won on paper. The wild cards for this one will be the amount of separation the Tech receivers can get and if the defense can stop the big play. I think the players and staff have a bit of a chip on their shoulder this week and will be looking to get back on track. It's going to be close to the end but I will take Virginia Tech to win 24-14.

It's the last game in Lane Stadium until September 8, 2018. So if you are on the fence about going or not, get up Saturday morning and make your way to Blacksburg. I know the last two weeks have been hard to watch but this team is young and needs your support. Wake up, eat some food, and get on the road, the Hokies are playing football in Blacksburg. Let's Go......

Adam's season predictions: 7-3

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