Pitt Football: Panthers Prepare For Nationally Televised Game Against Virginia Tech


Following a bye week, the Pitt Panthers will square off against the Virginia Tech Hokies Thursday at 7:30 p.m in a game that will be shown on ESPN.

Both teams are coming off a bye week with the Panthers (3-3) seeing their comeback fall short 24-19 to Virginia in its last game and Virginia Tech (4-2) defeated North Carolina 34-17 in its most recent game.

Here is a look at both teams:

Pitt: The Panthers are dealing with a first in the Paul Chryst era, three consecutive losses. Perhaps even more alarming is the rate at which they were penalized during those three losses. In successive weeks Pitt had more penalties than Iowa 8-2, had seven penalties against Akron and another 10 against Virginia.

“The negative plays have set us off track quite a bit and that’s something we have to minimize,” Chryst said at his weekly press conference.

Another story to look at is sophomore tailback James Conner. Conner has 874 rushing yards thus far in the season after 799 last season and needs 126 yards to tie Tony Dorsett for fastest to 1,000 rushing yards in a season.. He told reporters earlier this week that he would see some time on the defensive end, which would be his first game action there since the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl victory last season.

In a conference call earlier in the week, Chryst was not as clear cut stating “we’ll see”. This definitely could be interesting as Pitt certainly has depth at the tailback position with Chris James (138 yards), Rachid Ibrahim (106 yards) and last year’s starter Isaac Bennett (105 yards).

Quarterback Chad Voytik (949 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions) balanced midterms and football during the bye weeks. Chryst said Voytik watched a video of his season so far during the time off. Top receiving options thus far include Tyler Boyd (428 yards and four touchdowns) and Manasseh Garner (164 yards and two touchdowns).

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Defensively, the Panthers have eight interceptions, led by Ray Vinopal and Terrish Webb who each have two. Anthony Gonzalez and Todd Thomas each stand out as well with 36 and 31 total tackles respectively. Darryl Render, David Durham and Rori Blair lead the Panthers with two sacks apiece.

In other Panthers news, offensive lineman Adam Bisnowaty will start after serving a one game suspension. Additionally, defensive back Avonte Maddox will play after suffering a shoulder injury two games ago against Akron. Defensive lineman Luke Maclean was not so fortunate as he is doubtful and likely to be out for a third game with a foot injury.

Pitt is 1-1 in the ACC but firmly believes that its goal to win the Coastal Division is still very much alive.

Virginia Tech: Virginia Tech understands that each team in the Coastal Division of the ACC has at least one loss in the conference. With that in mind Virginia Tech was 0-2 in ACC play before the North Carolina win.

“We treated this one as a ‘must’ win, our backs were in a corner,” quarterback Michael Brewer said following the win. “It’s tough to climb out of an 0-2 start in conference play. I still think, this year, it’s so wide open. It’s going to come down to the very end as to who is going to make it. We feel like, if we come in each week and play well enough to win, then we’ll have a chance to go to the ACC championship. We’ve just got to keep plugging away at it.”

An issue for the Hokies is their running game. Tailback Marshawn Williams (337 rushing yards) has been ruled out for this contest and his loss along with Trey Edmonds and Washington, Pa., native Shai McKenzie (269 yards, three touchdowns) mean that Virginia Tech will be without their top three tailbacks. As a result, J.C. Coleman, Joel Caleb and Sam Rogers will each get opportunities to be the lead back. The three have combined for 177 yards on 42 carries.

Examining the Virginia Tech injury report, six players are out for the season including McKenzie, seven players have been ruled out, one has been listed at doubtful and another probable.

Brewer is in his first season at quarterback after transferring from Texas Tech. There, he completed 41 of 58 passes for 440 yards and five touchdowns. Brewer’s performance has been a mixed bag as he has thrown for 1,409 yards and has 10 touchdowns but also has at least one interception in each game so far and 11 on the season. With the tailback situation unknown, Brewer’s arm could be a deciding factor in this game.

Receiving options for Brewer have been Isiah Ford (366 yards, four touchdowns) and Cam Phillips (249 yards, one touchdown), both of whom are freshmen. Additional redshirt freshman Bucky Hodges (234 yards, four touchdowns) has made the transition from quarterback to tight end. His 4.4-second 40-yard dash time can create match up problems.

Defensively Chase Williams has made the most of his senior season and leads the team with 49 tackles.

“Chase Williams had his best spring since he’s been here,” defensive coordinator and inside linebacker coach Bud Foster said in the team’s media guide. “He did a good job of getting lined up and being fundamentally sound. I’m pleased with where he is.”

Foster himself is an important part of Virginia Tech and constantly earned praise from Chryst and countless others. This is his 28th season at Virginia Tech and has been the defensive coordinator for 19 seasons. In 2013, Foster’s defense was fourth in the country in total defense, fifth in pass efficiency defense, sixth in interceptions, seventh in sacks and eighth in pass defense. Additionally, eight Hokie defenders made one of the two All-ACC Teams

Prediction: This defense is unlike any Pitt has played so far. It is aggressive and quick which will prove to be a huge test for Voytik. I am unsure Virginia Tech’s offense is up to the task and additionally, the Hokies are 0-3 at Heinz Field. In the past 13 meetings between these two teams the games have been high scoring with the winner averaging 33.9 points and the total amount of points scored being 51.3. I just do not see that this time. Pitt 17, Virginia Tech 14.

I asked others for their opinions and this is what they said:

Matt Popchock, a freelance writer who covers Pitt for Bleacher Report and Sports Rants: “Perhaps there’s a touch of wishful thinking, but I’m looking for a 27-17 Panther victory. Sometimes in football, a bye week proves counterproductive, but in this team’s case, I think it was a most timely opportunity for them to hit the reset button mentally. The Hokies are banged up, and they’re coming into a place where the home team has a history of making Frank Beamer their punching bag.”

Matthew Desmond of the Point Park School of Communications alumni: “Pitt ends its losing streak. Wins in a tight contest, 20-17.”