Technically, Pitt’s football team is still alive for a bowl game. The problem is that getting there seems like it will require a miracle.
The Panthers have two games left to automatically qualify for the postseason. The first? A road game against No. 17 Virginia Tech.
To be fair, the Hokies don’t look quite as tough as they did a few weeks ago. Virginia Tech was 7-1 before an 18-point loss to Miami and a 28-22 loss this past weekend to Georgia Tech. That said, let’s not kid ourselves. Pitt is going to be a pretty big underdog against Virginia Tech - particularly on the road.
On offense, Virginia Tech is both solid in both the passing and running game, but they’re probably a little more effective throwing the ball. Quarterback Josh Jackson leads the offense and his top target is Cam Phillips. With 801 yards on the season, he’s one of the top receivers in the ACC. Jackson is third in the conference in passer rating and Phillips is fourth in receiving yardage. To win this game, Pitt will probably need some help via turnovers but don’t expect to get those from Jackson, who has thrown only six picks all year.
As Virginia Tech has so often done, though, they’re winning more with their defense. Virginia Tech is fourth in scoring defense, giving up a meager 13.3 points per game. They’ve shut out two teams (Delaware and Old Dominion) and gave up only three to Duke. On the season, they’ve held teams to ten points or less a total of five times and the most they’ve given up was 31 to Clemson. That just spells some trouble for a Pitt team that’s struggled to score points. If the Panthers are to pull out a win, they’re likely going to have to do so in a relatively low scoring game.
The good news for Pitt is that the offense has played better lately. Since scoring only 17 against North Carolina State, they’ve averaged just under 30 points in their last three games. The competition, of course, hasn’t been great, but Pitt is running the ball very effectively and that could help keep them in a game if they get some breaks.
Impossible task to win? Not really. But the Panthers will more than have their hands full playing in a tough venue against a ranked team that has been great defensively.