How do the Pitt Panthers Match Up Against the Virginia Tech Hokies

What is in the Hokies Favor?

This is the game Pitt Panther fans have been waiting for.  We have seen Kenny Pickett pick apart every defense he has come up against to this point in the season.  It was forecasted that Georgia Tech would be a good test and we could finally see if Pickett had what it takes.  After Pickett exposed the Yellow Jacket defense as frauds, the much less impressive Duke Blue Devil offense did the same last Saturday. 

However, the Virginia Tech Hokies are the toughest defense the Panthers have faced to this point.  They will bring pressure like nothing the Panther offensive line has seen and it will be more difficult to score points on Saturday then against any other opponent this season.  The Hokies are one of only three ACC teams to have given up less than 20 points per game at this point, and they held UNC and, preseason Heisman candidate, Sam Howell to only 10 points in their season opener.  It should prove to be a real test for the Pitt offense this time.

The Hokies are also getting awfully comfortable at home.  They have had very little travel so far this year since, somehow, they have played four home games in their first five.  They also have two more home games against Pitt and Syracuse before traveling to play, the aforementioned, Georgia Tech on Hallows Eve.  It is one of the more favorable home/away schedules I have ever seen to start a season.  Also, Lane Stadium in Blacksburg has proven to be a difficult place to play.  Any time you must face a conference opponent on the road it is a difficult match and this will be no different.  That should certainly play in the Hokies favor.

What is in the Panthers Favor?

However, there are certainly a few things that play in the Panthers favor as well.  One thing that is well known about Virginia Tech’s offense is that their quarterback, Braxton Burmeister, is not very good.  The Hokies are 166th in the nation in passing offense, and Burmeister was only 15 of 30 for 184 yards against Notre Dame this past weekend.  In his best game, against the swiss cheese that is WVU’s defense, Burmeister was 19 for 31 with only 223 yards passing.  Pitt quarterback, Kenny Pickett, had more than that in the 1st half against Georgia Tech.

Bad quarterbacks are especially good for the Pitt defense.  The Panther secondary has been exposed week after week by any adequate quarterback.  Against UMass and Tennessee, the secondary was bailed out by errant throws missing wide open receivers.  In the one loss to WMU, Pitt was torched for 337 yards and 3 touchdowns by Broncos quarterback Kaleb Eleby.  Even in a dominant win against Georgia Tech, before Pitt’s bye week, they gave up 359 passing yards and two touchdowns to Yellow Jacket quarterback, Jeff Sims. 

The impressive performance by Sims was obviously overshadowed by Pickett’s performance, but it cannot go without noting.  Sims found easy targets in the Panther secondary, and if not for key early interceptions the final deficit would not have been nearly as large.

Fortunately, it looks like Burmeister is a more of a problem on offense than an asset.  They are a run-first offense which is music to Pitt fans ears.  The Pitt rushing defense is 48th in the nation while their passing defense is 158th. 

Additionally, the rushing numbers against Pitt are a little misleading.  Tennessee quarterbacks, Hendon Hooker and Joe Milton, ran for 103 of Tennessee’s 136 total rushing yards, and Jeff Sims rans for 38 of Georgia Tech’s 73 rushing yards.  Also, if college stats did not reflect sacks as negative rushing yards, even more of the rushing stats would reflect the impact quarterbacks have had on Pitt’s defense.

Some could then look at Burmeister’s numbers and grow concerned over his rushing in previous games.  He does run the ball well.  However, Burmeister is not nearly as talented of a passer as either Tennessee's Hooker or Georgia Tech's Sims.  

The Panthers, just through a simple review of the game tape, will realize they do not need to drop as much linebacker help into coverage against Burmeister as they have in past games.  This will allow Pitt’s defense to stay focused on the quarterback’s legs and not his arm.  And when the Panthers have focused on the run this year, they have proved they can shut it down.

Hokies Defense Overrated?

I also believe that Virginia Tech and their defense are a tad over-hyped.  I know I spoke highly of the Hokie defense earlier and my contradiction can be frustrating, but I stand by both of my points.  This is the best defense Pitt has played to this point and the Hokies defense is overrated.  That is more of an indictment on the defenses Pitt has played to this point than it is a compliment to the Hokies.

Aside from their opener, Virginia Tech has given up 27 and 32 points to the only other Power 5 teams they have faced.  Additionally, in Pitt’s favor, VT is more difficult on opposing offense’s passing game than they are the run.  

The Panthers will always get their pass game going regardless of the opponent, so having the extra help of a weaker run defense will work well for Pitt.  This will be a true testament to how good Pickett and the offensive line actually are if they can be successful both running and passing against the Hokies.

Concluding Thoughts

For all of these reasons, I think Pitt matches up very well against Virginia Tech.  We talked about last week how Naduzzi and Pickett are both great out of bye weeks and VT’s loss to Notre Dame swung the spread from a 1.5-point Hokie favor, to now the Panthers being a 5-point favorite on most sportsbooks.  The only thing holding Pitt back is the game plan.  They can either come out with a great one, like they did against Georgia Tech, or a lousy one like they did against WMU.

If this game was in Pittsburgh, I'd think the Panthers win by double digits.  However, Blacksburg is still a difficult place to play, so the Panthers win by six or seven in this one if they focus their defense on the run and they let Burmeister beat himself trying to pass.