Pitt Panthers Game Day: An In-depth Look at Virginia Tech

Welcome to the most comprehensive Pitt Panthers Game Day Preview on the internet! IroniqMedia brings you your one-stop shop for everything you need to know about Pitt and their upcoming opponent! Mike Drakulich of Pittsburgh SportsNation brings you inside the huddle for both teams, providing all fans with a Game Preview, Pitt’s Keys to Victory, Score Prediction, a detailed breakdown of each team, Game Information, Individual Stats, and Team Stats. Heck, you’ll even know the weather at kickoff! The only thing you’re missing is a game uniform!

ACC COASTAL TITLE ON THE LINE AS PITT FACES VIRGINIA TECH AT HEINZ FIELD

19 seniors will walk onto the playing surface at Heinz Field for the last time this Saturday afternoon.

They’d all like to leave it feeling the highest of highs.

The Pitt Panthers (5-4, 4-1 in ACC) take on the Virginia Tech Hokies (4-4, 3-2) with the keys to the ACC Coastal Division Title at stake. Pitt, with a win Saturday, followed by another at Wake Forest next Saturday, will win the Coastal Title and play either Clemson or Boston College in the ACC Title Game on December 1st in Charlotte.

“It’s everyone’s dream to play in the (ACC) championship,” Pitt junior safety Damar Hamlin said, “but we know the job is not done, nowhere near done. We have three more games, and that’s a lot of plays to be made.”

Hamlin was used to winning titles, especially coming out of Pittsburgh Central Catholic, who won the WPIAL Championship in 2015 in the very same stadium Hamlin plays in now.

“One of the big reasons I came here was to do something for my city,” he said. “Sitting No. 1 in the Coastal is finally showing some strides of going forward and turning this thing around, getting to where we need to be.”

Pitt looked lost after being humbled by UCF earlier this year 45-14. That loss dropped the Panthers to 2-3, but since then, they’ve bounced back to win three of four, the only loss coming to #3 Notre Dame, a game they should have won also.

“We just have to focus, keep that same hunger that we had when nobody was with us, when no fans were with us when we were losing games,” Hamlin said. “We just (kept) that same feeling and just (kept) pushing forward.”

One of the biggest reasons for the Panther’s turnaround has been the solid play of the defense.

“We’re getting better and better,” Pitt linebacker coach Rob Harley said. “I don’t think we’ve played our best football yet. We can be faster, and we can fit (to our gaps on defense) faster. We can tackle better.

“In terms of hitting your peak when it matters, you like to play your best football in November. I think we’re on our road to that, but each Saturday you’re measured. The last nine weeks mean nothing. It’s about the 10th week and how we’re going to play.”

The Panthers suffered heartbreak in both 2009 and 2010 with crushing losses to Cincinnati and West Virginia, both losses costing Pitt Big East Championships. Now a new generation of Panthers have a chance to erase those memories of defeat for their program, and it’s fans with a huge win vs. Virginia Tech. How would walking off the field Saturday evening feel with such a victory?

“Very emotional,” Hamlin said. “That stadium means a lot to us, just for those guys to get one more last ‘hoo-rah’ before they go up out of here. We just want to send them off right.”

 

Pitt Keys to Victory

Offense

  • Impose your will with the rushing attack.
  • Control the clock.
  • No turnovers.

Defense

  • Tackle!
  • Play with some swagger!

 

Prediction

After hitting rock bottom in back to back losses to UNC and UCF, Pitt has a chance to send themselves and their fans out of Heinz Field on a huge high with a victory this weekend. It’s a shot at breaking down a few walls and shutting up most of the Pittsburgh area media, which treats the Panthers like a 2nd class citizen at times. Pitt has brought most of it upon themselves, failing to ever live up to any expectations, and never putting it all together for even one season, despite having some of the best talent in the game on their team. Fans have packed Heinz Field before in big games, only to leave in complete disappointment.

It all goes away with a win vs. the Hokies.

“I think for our defense as a whole, we’re learning how to play together each week,” Pitt LB coach Rob Harley said. “We’re becoming more of a unit and each guy has, I think, taken a little bit more focus with what they’re doing, based on experience, based on reps, based on seeing other things in other games. And being able to put the puzzle together, like, ‘Oh, I saw that at Notre Dame; oh, I saw that at UCF.’ So I think at all positions, that’s coming on, and we’re just hoping Week 10 is the game we put that together, all 11.”

Pitt is the better team in this match-up. They have a better offense, and for all intents and purposes, they have a better performing defense, especially over the past month or so.

The Hokies have already tasted defeat to Old Dominion, and have lost three of the past four games, including getting pasted by Georgia Tech 49-28, a team Pitt beat 24-19 earlier this year.

As they did against Virginia last week, the Panthers need to play with some swagger and arrogance. They shutdown Virginia’s offense, and demoralized what was the 20th ranked rushing defense by shredding it to pieces with 254 yards on the ground.

“It’s nothing different,” Harley said of Pitt’s improved run defense a week after getting exposed against Duke. “It’s seeing your read, trusting it and going. I think for every player at every position, but especially linebacker, they’ve got to see it, trust it, squeeze the trigger and go. Just go.

“We talk about ‘eating’ all the time. We’re going to eat, and if you miss aggressively, someone else is going to be there to clean it up. That is where, if we hit our peak as linebackers, that’ll be the reason why, because we trust it.”

Virginia Tech is a proud team, and you can count on them giving their best effort. Pitt can help itself by controlling the ball and time of possession, perhaps embarking on a few long drives ending up in the endzone. Pitt’s running game behind Qadree Ollison, Darrin Hall, V’lique Carter, Maurice Ffrench, and George Aston is a punishing one. Each player brings a unique aspect to the offense. If Kenny Pickett can continue to improve the passing game, the sky would be the limit for this offense.

Expect some fireworks early on, but as this game progresses, Pitt will start to wear down the Hokies in the cold air of November, and when all is said and done, it will be the Panthers who will stand tall and bring what could be a program-changing victory under head coach Pat Narduzzi.

 

Pitt 27 Virginia Tech 20

Game Information

NCAA Week 11

Pitt Panthers vs. Virginia Tech Hokies

Venue: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA.

Game-time: Saturday, November 10th, 3:30 pm

Game Tickets Link

TV:  ESPNU | Announcers: Kevin Brown (play-by-play)  Andre Ware (analyst) |

Local Radio: Pittsburgh- 93.7 The Fan | Announcers:  Bill Hillgrove (play-by-play) Pat Bostick (analyst) | Larry Richert (sideline)

National Radio: N/A | Announcers: 

Sirius XM Satellite Radio: Sirius Channel 108, XM Channel 194, Internet Channel 956

Weather at Kickoff: 36 and cloudy. 15% chance of flurries. Winds 18 mph W.

Vegas Line: Pitt -3

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Pitt vs. Virginia Tech History

  • Series History: Began in 1993
  • Pitt is 7-10 overall vs. Virginia Tech.
  • Pitt is 5-4 at home vs. Virginia Tech.
  • Streak: Virginia Tech won last two games.
  • Last Regular Season Meeting: Nov. 18, 2017 (Virginia Tech 20, Pitt 14)

Game Notes* 

  • Pitt currently leads the Coastal with a 4-1 mark in ACC play. The Panthers are 5-4 overall and need one more victory to be eligible for a bowl invitation.
  • The Panthers’ recent surge has been keyed by a powerful rushing attack. Pitt is averaging 230.8 yards per game to rank 20th nationally and third in the ACC. Virginia Tech enters Saturday’s matchup surrendering 177.8 rushing yards per contest.
  • Darrin Hall was the workhorse in Pitt’s 23-13 win at Virginia. Hall, the Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week, churned out 229 yards and three TDs against a Cavs defense that was yielding only 113 rush yards per game.
  • With 819 rushing yards this year, Qadree Ollison ranks third among ACC ball carriers. Ollison is striving to become only the sixth player in Pitt history to achieve multiple 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
  • Only a sophomore, Alex Kessman has the most 50-yard field goals in Pitt history with six. Four of those kicks occurred this season, including a game-clinching 53-yarder last week at Virginia.

    *Courtesy of pittsburghpanthers.com

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A look at the Pitt Panthers!

Scouting the Panthers

Quarterback 

Kenny Pickett played in four games last year, making one start as a true freshman. Gifted with a strong arm and the ability to run with the ball if no receivers are open. Must work on accuracy and decision making. Jeff George has risen to the #2 spot.

Running Backs

Darrin Hall and Qadree Ollison give the Panthers a 1-2 punch out of the backfield. Consider Hall lightning to Ollison’s thunder. George Aston is back at fullback after missing most of 2017. Aston was a beast in 2016 finishing third on the team in scoring (tied) with 60 points on ten touchdowns (five rushing and five receiving). A.J. Davis will see plenty of time as well and is excellent out of the backfield catching short passes from Pickett.

Wide Receivers

Pitt is deep at WR, with Rafael-Araujo Lopes, juniors Tre Tipton, Maurice Ffrench, and Aaron Mathews, freshman Shocky Jacques-Louis, and Indiana transfer Taysir Mack, a sophomore who excelled in the Blue-Gold Game this past Spring. Mack played in 12 games, starting eight contests in 2017 for the Hoosiers…had 23 receptions for 310 yards (13.5 avg.) and three touchdowns.

Tight Ends

At tight end, sophomore Tyler Sear transferred out, leaving the job to Arkansas transfer Will Gragg. This position needs to be utilized more often.

X-Factor

Look for the versatile Paris Ford to see snaps at H-Back for the Panthers as Jordan Whitehead was known to do for the past two years. Ford is a threat to make a difference every time he touches the ball. V’lique Carter was unleashed against Duke and ran for 137 yards, and two touchdowns on just seven carries, an incredible average of 19.6 per rush!

Defense

Dewayne Hendrix and Rashad Weaver are solidified as Pitt’s defensive ends.

Senior Shane Roy was a starter at nose tackle last year, Amir Watts and redshirt sophomore Keyshon Camps to see time as well. Jaylen Twyman has been pushing the whole group as a redshirt freshman.

At LB, Oluwaseun Idowu is the starting outside “star” linebacker. Quintin Wirginis was the starter in the middle until he was injured at mid season at practice. Redshirt senior Elijah Zeise and redshirt junior Saleem Brightwell battling for the “money” spot.

RS junior Dane Jackson started all 12 games last year and will assume the same duties as a starting cornerback in 2018. Redshirt senior Phillipie Motley, sophomores Damarri Mathis and Jason Pinnock, and redshirt freshman Paris Ford are all battling for that 2nd spot.

Junior Damar Hamlin starts at free safety, with Dennis Briggs and redshirt sophomore Phil Campbell battling for the starting role at strong safety.

Placekicker

Alex Kessman took over Pitt’s starting placekicking duties in his first active season…converted 11-of-19 field goals (58%) and 34-of-34 PATs (100%) for a team-high 67 points. He’s been a little inconsistent at times but has nailed three field goals from beyond 50 yards, including a Heinz Field record 55 yarder.

Kick/Punt Return

Maurice Ffrench and Rafael Araujo-Lopes will provide the return duties for the Panthers. Ffrench has already returned two kicks to the house in 2018.

Individual Stats

Quarterback

  • Kenny Pickett (1,217 yards passing | 8 TD passes | five interceptions | 19 sacks | 156 yards rushing | three rushing TD)

Running Back

  • Qadree Ollison (819 yards rushing | seven rushing TD’s | 10 receptions | 50 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)
  • Darrin Hall (658 yards rushing | seven rushing TD’s | 9 receptions | 55 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)
  • V’Lique Carter (142 yards rushing | two rushing TD’s | 1 receptions | 1 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)
  • AJ Davis (103 yards rushing | 0 rushing TD’s | 3 receptions | 17 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)

Fullback

  • George Aston (2 yards rushing | 0 rushing TD’s | 14 receptions | 65 yards receiving | 1 receiving TD’s)

Wide Receivers

  • Rafael Araujo-Lopes (20 receptions | 216 receiving yards | 3 receiving TD’s | 17 yards rushing | 0 TD’s)
  • Maurice Ffrench (19 receptions | 294 receiving yards | 4 receiving TD’s | 99 yards rushing | 1 TD’s)
  • Taysir Mack  (13 receptions | 276 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s)
  • Aaron Matthews (78 receptions | 107 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s)
  • Shocky Jaques-Louis (9 receptions | 76 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s | 58 yards rushing | 0 TD’s)
  • Dontavius Butler-Jenkins (4 receptions | 12 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s | 0 yards rushing | 0 TD’s)
  • Tre Tipton (3 receptions | 20 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s)

Tight Ends

  • Will Gragg (5 receptions | 31 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s)
  • Tyler Sear (2 receptions | nine receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s)
  • Jim Medure (1 receptions | 15 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s)

Placekicker

  • Alex Kessman (Extra Point: 27-28 | FG: 8-11 | 0-19:  0-0 | 20-29:  1-1 | 30-39:  1-3 | 40-49:  2-3 | 50+:  4-4 | Long: 55)

Kickoff Returner

  • Maurice Ffrench (26.9 yards per kickoff return | two return TD’s)

Punt Returner

  • Rafael Araujo-Lopes (8.6 yards per punt return | one return TD’s)

 

A look at the Virginia Tech Hokies!

Scouting the Hokies

Quarterback

Ryan Willis is a solid all-around QB for the Hokies. He has thrown for 1,539 yards so far, with 15 TD’s and just four INT’s. He can run, as evident by his 217 yards on the ground and three touchdowns. Willis has only been sacked nine times so far in 2018.

Running Back

Steven Peoples is the lead back with 497 yards rushing and five TDs. Deshawn McClease is the back-up and has had a nice year running for 277 yards and one touchdown.

Wide Receivers

Damon Hazelton the Hokies leading WR, grabbing 37 receptions for 363 yards and seven scores. He is their best weapon, offensively. Eric Kumah and Hezekiah Grimsley are solid #2 and #3 choices behind Hazelton. Sean Savoy is the 4th option in the VaTech passing attack.

Tight Ends

Dalton Keene is the Hokies best TE, snatching up 11 catches for 198 yards and two scores.

Defense

VaTech is solid, as usual on Special Teams. They aren’t as stout as they usually are defensively, allowing 30.8 PPG and 421.6 total yards a game to opposing offenses.

 

Individual Stats

Quarterback

  • Ryan Willis (1,539 yards passing | 13 TD passes | four interceptions | nine sacks | 217 yards rushing | three rushing TD)

Running Back

  • Steven Peoples (497 yards rushing | five rushing TD’s | 15 receptions | 155 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)
  • Deshawn McClease (277 yards rushing | one rushing TD’s | 4 receptions | 25 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)
  • Jaylen Holston (100 yards rushing | one rushing TD’s | 2 receptions | 0 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)

Wide Receivers

  • Damon Hazelton (37 receptions | 636 receiving yards | seven receiving TD’s)
  • Eric Kumah (28 receptions | 357 receiving yards | three receiving TD’s)
  • Hezekiah Grimsley (23 receptions | 268 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s)
  • Sean Savoy (16 receptions | 158 receiving yards | two receiving TD’s)
  • Tre Turner (10 receptions | 209 receiving yards | two receiving TD’s)

Tight Ends

  • Dalton Keene (11 receptions | 198 receiving yards | two receiving TD’s)

Placekicker

  • Brian Johnson (Extra Point: 29-29 | FG: 7-10 | 0-19:  0-0 | 20-29:  3-3 | 30-39:  2-2 | 40-49:  2-4 | 50+:  0-1 | Long: 45)

 

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Pitt – Virginia Tech: Offense vs. Defense Match-Ups

Pitt Total Offense: Pitt averages 367.7 YPG | Virginia Tech allows 421.6 YPG

Rushing: Pitt averages 230.8 YPG | Virginia Tech allows 177.8 YPG

Passing: Pitt averages 136.9 YPG | Virginia Tech allows 243.9 YPG

Scoring: Pitt averages 27.4 PPG | Virginia Tech allows 28.4 PPG

 

Pitt Total Defense: Pitt allows 415.2 YPG | Virginia Tech averages 431.1 YPG

Rushing: Pitt allows 169.8 YPG | Virginia Tech averages 166.9 YPG

Passing: Pitt allows 245.4 YPG | Virginia Tech averages 264.3 YPG

Scoring: Pitt allows 30.4 PPG | Virginia Tech averages 30.8 PPG

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Injury Report (11/8/2018)

Pitt Panthers

  • Out: LB Quintin Wirginis (Knee), DL Keyshon Camp (Upper Body)
  • Doubtful: None
  • Questionable: RB/WR V’lique Carter (Undisclosed)
  • Probable: None


Virginia Tech Hokies

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ACC Standings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pitt Panthers 2018 Schedule

Regular Season (Overall: 5-4 |  ACC: 4-1)

Sept. 1 Albany (ACCNE) | W- 33-7
Sept. 8 #14 Penn State (ABC) | L- 51-6
Sept. 15 Georgia Tech* (RSN) | W- 24-19
Sept. 22 at North Carolina* | L- 38-35
Sept. 29 at #12 UCF | L- 45-14
Oct. 6 #19 Syracuse* (HC) | W- 44-37
Oct. 13 at #4 Notre Dame | L- 19-14
Oct. 27 Duke* | W- 54-45
Nov. 2 (Fri.) at #25 Virginia* | W- 23-13
Nov. 10 Virginia Tech* at 3:30 p.m.
Nov. 17 at Wake Forest* at 12:00 p.m.
Nov. 24 at Miami* at TBA

*ACC game /  (HC) Homecoming  / Ranking as of this week

Bold = Home Game

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