Evening, folks. We're just about 18 hours away from Pitt's kickoff at Heinz Field against Virginia Tech. In case anyone needed a reminder, the game is at noon and will be televised nationally on ESPNU. If you're in the Pittsburgh area, you can find the game at 93.7 on your FM dial.
With that out of the way, let's take a look at the challenges Virginia Tech poses for Pitt. Paul Zeise wrote in today's P-G about Frank Beamer's legacy at Virginia Tech.
VT OFFENSE vs. PITT DEFENSE
This matchup obviously starts with Hokie quarterback Logan Thomas. Thomas, only a junior, is already projected as one of the top NFL quarterback prospects in college football so far. Through two games, he's 36-of-61 for 442 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. The thing that sticks out most about Thomas is his size. At 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds, he's big enough to see the field well and make throws. He can struggle with his accuracy at times, but one thing I noticed watching the Georgia Tech game is that, when he misses, it's usually short. That means there aren't a ton of overthrows that can lead to disastrous interceptions. In other words, he's pretty good at minimizing mistakes.
Thomas also has some running ability, though not as much as Pitt dealt with last week against Munchie Legaux. In Virginia Tech's opener against Georgia Tech, he had 15 rushes for 40 yards (two of those were sacks for -10 yards). Most of those designed runs came early, though, as I counted only three designed runs for Thomas in the second half of that game. Given Pitt's struggles at defensive line, though, I wouldn't be surprised to see Virginia Tech try and establish the read-option as a threat early on.
"Virginia Tech, they have a lot of great skill players," Pitt safety Jarred Holley said. "They’re big up front, they block really well and obviously their quarterback is their heart and soul."
At running back, Michael Holmes has been the primary back for the Hokies with 22 carries for 94 yards through nine games. The Hokies struggled rushing against Georgia Tech, with just 96 yards on 35 attempts on the ground. They had 187 rushing yards against Austin Peay, but that was against Autin Peay, and a lot of players got carries in the second half.
VT DEFENSE vs. PITT OFFENSE
Whenever any of Pitt's players were asked about the Hokies' defense this week, one of the first things out of their mouths was how fast they were.
"They’re fast, they’re physical, they’re going to come after you, they’re smart," quarterback Tino Sunseri said. "They’re a good football team and there’s a reason why they’ve won so many games over the years and they’ve gone to the BCS."
The strong defense starts up front with Virginia Tech's defensive line. The two defensive tackles, Derrick Hopkins and Luther Maddy, both played last season, Hopkins as a starter and Maddy as a key reserve. Hopkins had 51 tackles, including five for a loss and three sacks. Maddy had 19 tackles with two for a loss and one sack.
At defensive end, J.R. Collins, Corey Marshall and James Gayle will all see some playing time. Collins had six sacks coming off the edge last year and Gayle added seven more. All three guys possess plenty of speed, and that's something Pitt's tackles really struggled with last week. If they don't get better, it could be another long day for Sunseri in the backfield.
Paul Chryst said Virginia Tech's base defense has eight guys in the box, which will put a little bit more pressure on Sunseri to make the passing game an offensive threat. Given Pitt's relative success running the ball this year (compared to some trouble in the passing game), Chryst said he would expect to see opponents load up to stop the run a little bit more throughout the season.
"I think if you're running the ball well, you'll see that," Chryst said. "Or if you're not passing the ball well, you'll see that. I would almost go in thinking that's the starting point."
That's all for now. I'll be back tomorrow morning live from the Heinz Field press box as we get ready for Pitt vs. Virginia Tech.