After a bye week, Pitt heads to Virginia Tech this weekend to face an always-difficult road opponent. Playing in Blacksburg is never an easy task, but as I wrote earlier when the game was announced, the Panthers at least don't have to deal with a night atmosphere down there.
Pitt won last year's game 21-16 at home but this time, will face the Hokies without James Conner. Conner didn't have a monster game against Virginia Tech last season, but did have 85 yards (averaging 5.3 per carry) and two touchdowns.
Here's this week's game preview.
Overall, Virginia Tech enters the game struggling a bit. The Hokies are 2-2 after losses to Ohio State and, this weekend, East Carolina.
Most Recent Game
The Hokies lost this weekend to a now 2-2 East Carolina team, 35-28. They struggled to contain Pirates quarterback James Summers, who went off for 169 yards on the ground.
The big story from the Hokies' vantage point has been the loss of starting quarterback Michael Brewer. Brewer went down with a broken collarbone in the team's opener against Ohio State and while he's expected to possibly return as soon as the team's game next week against North Carolina State, it doesn't sound as if he'll be playing against Pitt this weekend.
In his place, the Hokies have junior Brenden Motley. The loss of Brewer hurts, obviously, but Motley has been capable thus far. After the opener against the Buckeyes, Motley has averaged nearly 250 yards through the air per contest while throwing five touchdowns and only one interception.
Also on the injury front, Virginia Tech was without star cornerback Kendall Fuller last week, who sat out with a knee sprain. We'll have to see if he's able to return this week against Pitt.
Wide receiver Isaiah Ford has been the standout on the team and he leads the ACC with 361 receiving yards. Ford's production has not slipped despite the loss of Brewer and Pitt's defensive backs will need to find a way to slow him down.
Defensively, the Hokies have cornerback Kendall Fuller, widely regarded as one of the best in the conference. If he is able to play and assigned to Tyler Boyd, that will be a matchup to watch. The Hokies are, as usual, always causing turnovers, too. They are averaging 1.75 turnovers more than their opponents per game, good for fourth in the country. So far, they've forced 11 on the year (six interceptions and five fumble recoveries). I'll actually have more on this tomorrow.
Like Pitt, Virginia Tech has had some struggles in the kicking game. The Hokies have used a couple of different kickers in Michael Santamaria and Joey Slye. The pair are only a combined 4-9 on field goals on the season. And while they are causing turnovers defensively, the Hokies don't appear to be getting a ton of pressure on the quarterback so far this season, averaging only 1.5 sacks per game and ranking 88th in the nation in that category.
When you couple the team's recent struggles against East Carolina with Pitt's weird ability to be competitive with the Hokies on an annual basis, the Panthers have a chance to win this one. I don't know that I'm picking them to win on the road, but the chance is there.
The key for me is how newly-minted starting quarterback Nathan Peterman does and if he can eliminate the turnover struggles he's had to date. If he plays as well as he did against Iowa after the two early interceptions, the Panthers will have a chance.