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Pitt, VT to Meet with Contrasting Styles

By Dave Holcomb
SouthernPigskin.com
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Dave Holcomb previews Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech.

If one asked Pitt and Virginia Tech football fans to name their top rivals, neither is likely to choose the other. The history of these schools playing each other doesn’t go back very far, and more recently, they haven’t squared off with much on the line. Since Pitt joined the ACC in 2013, the two schools have both finished with a winning ACC record in the same season just once.

But that could change this season. While both programs have only played one ACC game this year, Pitt and Virginia Tech appear poised to compete for the Coastal crown all season long. That places extra importance on their matchup this weekend, which should, as always, also invoke plenty of Big East nostalgia for older fans.

At least, Virginia Tech hopes this weekend’s game ends up reminding fans of the Big East. Meanwhile, Pitt wants the matchup to be as “modern” and high-flying as possible.

The Panthers have emerged as perhaps the favorite in the ACC Coastal because of quarterback Kenny Pickett. He leads the ACC in several passing categories, including yards per pass (10.3), touchdowns (19) and quarterback rating (194.70).

Pickett also has just one interception. He is the only signal caller in the country with at least 15 passing touchdowns and one interception. His 19 touchdowns are fourth in the nation and second in the Power 5 behind only Alabama’s Bryce Young.

Behind Pickett’s terrific start to the year, the Panthers lead the ACC with 554.4 yards per game. That’s greater than 200 yards more than what Virginia Tech’s offense averages. The Hokies are 13th in the ACC with 328.0 yards per game.

The amount each program is scoring this season isn’t any more even. Pitt leads the nation with 52.4 points per game. That’s more than twice as many points as the Hokies. Virginia Tech is 93rd in the country and second-to-last in the ACC with 24.6 points per contest.

The two teams aren’t as lopsided in other statistical categories, but Pitt holds many advantages. The Panthers lead in the ACC in converting redzone possessions into touchdowns. That doesn’t bode well for the Hokies, as Virginia Tech has allowed 11 touchdowns on all 11 red zone possessions its defense has faced.

Meanwhile, the Virginia Tech offense is 10th in red zone touchdown percentage, and Pitt’s defense is second-best in the ACC at keeping opponents from the goal line once they reach the red zone.

Virginia Tech excels at forcing takeaways, but so does Pitt. Both teams have eight takeaways and a plus-3 turnover margin this season. The Hokies have 15.0 sacks, 6.0 of which they recorded in an upset victory against North Carolina in Week 1. But Pitt’s offensive line has allowed only 8.0 sacks in five games -- the third-fewest in the conference.

For Virginia Tech to upset Pitt, the Hokies will have to play Beamer ball -- play solid defensively but also make big plays on special teams and avoid mistakes. The Hokies are second in the ACC in both kickoff and punt return yardage. They have also committed the fewest penalties in the conference.

In its first five games, Pitt has benefited a lot from its opposition making errors. Pitt’s opponents are averaging 7.4 penalties and 76.4 penalty yards this season. That’s part of why the Panthers appear to be so efficient.

The Hokies will have to make Pitt earn every yard to beat the Panthers. Even then, the Virginia Tech offense will likely have to come alive for the Hokies to keep up. Virginia Tech has not posted more than 329 yards in a game against a Power 5 opponent this season while Pitt’s lowest offensive output is 397 yards. In every other game, the Panthers had at least 490 yards.

Can Virginia Tech make this matchup look like it’s taking place in the Big East during 1995 or will Pickett continue his early quiet bid for the Heisman Trophy? The answer to that question may very well decide the ACC Coastal division.

Prediction: Pitt 45, Virginia Tech 35