After getting their “Welcome to the ACC” moment on Labor Day against Florida State, Paul Chryst’s Pitt Panthers football team has rebounded nicely with three consecutive wins as they prepare to head to Blacksburg and take on Virginia Tech.
You can make the case that this Pitt program hasn’t been riding a high like this since Dave Wannstedt was last seen trolling the Panthers sidelines.
But while the Panthers are playing as well as they have in years through a three-game stretch, they will have their hands full with a Virginia Tech team in a key Coastal Division showdown.
While the Panthers have had success with the Hokies in the past, including a victory last season at Heinz Field, there are a lot of key storylines to keep an eye on this week as it relates to the Panthers
Here’s a quick look.
– With a win, Pitt could put themselves in contention for the Coastal Division title. With a 2-0 league record, the Hokies are atop the Coastal standings. The Panthers are 2-1 in ACC play and can move into contention for the division crown with a victory Saturday afternoon. While the Panthers are certainly on a roll, so are the Hokies. Virginia Tech, which opened with a loss to No. 1 Alabama, has won five straight games.
– Can Pitt play a complete game on both sides of the ball? Pitt is proving it can win games in a variety of ways. In their most recent outing, the Panthers won a defensive slugfest, 14-3, over Virginia, limiting the Cavs to just 188 yards in total offense. The week prior, Pitt scored its most points in 18 years to outlast Duke in a track meet, 58-55. To beat Virginia Tech, Pitt will need both the offense and defense to show up on the same afternoon.
– Will youth be served? Twelve true freshmen and seven redshirt freshmen have played for the Panthers this year. True freshmen lead Pitt in rushing (James Conner), all-purpose yards (Tyler Boyd) and scoring (Boyd).
– Speaking of Boyd, Pitt needs to keep finding ways to get him the ball. Pitt boasts the ACC’s most potent receiving tandem in Devin Street (111.25 yards per game) and freshman Boyd (106.25). Pitt is one of only three teams nationally to have two players averaging more than 100 receiving yards. Baylor and LSU are the others. Street needs only seven receptions to become the all-time leading pass catcher in Pitt history. Street has 172 career catches and is chasing Latef Grim, who had 178 from 1998-2000.
– Is Tom Savage healthy? Someone has to get Street and Boyd the football and that someone needs to be Savage, who left the game against Virginia with a concussion. He is expected to play, hopefully for the Panthers sake he is 100 percent.
– Will Donald live in the Virginia Tech backfield? Pitt needs Aaron Donald to continue to be dominant and pressure Virginia Tech signal caller Logan Thomas. The senior All-America candidate ranks second nationally in both sacks (1.5 per game, six total) and tackles for loss (2.3 per game, nine total). He has been a fixture so far in the opposition’s backfield. Thomas is a quarterback who can be prone to making mistakes. It will be up to Donald and the rest of the Pitt defensive front to pressure him into doing so.