This Saturday, Virginia Tech will travel to play in the state of Pennsylvania for the first time since 2003.
Its last two trips to Pittsburgh — in 2001 and 2003 — resulted in two Panther victories.
Something tells me things might be a little different this time around, seeing as the home team this weekend has started off the season 0-2, including an embarrassing loss to Football Championship Subdivision Youngstown State and a 34-10 thrashing at the hands of Cincinnati last Thursday.
With an offense eager to prove itself and a defense that’s already done exactly that, the Hokies travel north of the Mason-Dixon line in search of a 3-0 start — something Tech’s done just three times since 2004.
With that in mind, here’s why I’m afraid of Pittsburgh:
The senior gunslinger has seen his team get off to a rough start in his third season as the starter. However, his numbers don’t look all that bad — 43-for-67 passing, 517 yards and two touchdowns to one interception (good for a 135.9 rating). Sunseri has had an up-and-down career in Pittsburgh, as the offense has never truly been consistent with him under center. But, he knows a thing or two about throwing the football, and will be the first real testthe Tech secondary has faced.
The Panthers have one of the biggest offensive lines in the country, with its smallest lineman coming in at 6-foot-5, 305 lbs. They average 6-foot-6, 321 lbs. up front, and should give Sunseri plenty of time against a Hokies pass rush that has only two sacks through its first two games.
TRACK RECORD IN NFL STADIUMS
It may sound dumb, but it’s true. The Hokies haven’t had much success lately when playing in stadiums occupied by NFL teams. Since joining the ACC in 2004, Tech is just 7-12 in NFL stadiums. That includes losses in two ACC Championship Games, four neutral-site regular season games and five bowl games. Playing a Pittsburgh team that’s already down-and-out at Heinz Field may not sound like a huge challenge, but history says it might be.
Defensive coordinator Bud Foster used this phrase to describe the Panthers persona at this point in the season, having been backed into a corner down 0-2. The Hokies are clearly the better team at this point, but don’t expect Pitt to hold back in the slightest. In fact, don’t be surprised if offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph empties his playbook on the Hokies on Saturday.
In all seriousness, there’s no reason that Tech should lose on Saturday. Here’s why I’m not afraid of the Panthers:
Thomas had a better effort last Saturday against Austin Peay, completing 15 of his 23 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns to go along with another score on the ground. While the offense struggled to get going early on, it finished on a high note and will hope to continue that this weekend. If Thomas starts out strong, it could spell trouble for a defense that gave up 31 points to Youngstown State two weeks ago.
THE FRONT SEVEN
When you have a defensive line that rotates eight different guys in regularly, you’re going to have some success; couple that with three seasoned linebackers behind them and you’ve got a force to be reckoned with. Jack Tyler has 25 tackles after two games. Bruce Taylor will start after sitting out last week with a minor ankle injury, and James Gayle has yet to have a breakout game this season — don’t be surprised if it happens on Saturday.
Before you guffaw at the idea of a punter being one of the primary reasons I’m not afraid of Pittsburgh, consider this: In two starts, the true freshman has averaged nearly 40 yards per punt. Against Austin Peay he averaged 44 yards per punt and helped Tech win the field position battle by a healthy margin. Take away his one mistake against Georgia Tech and you might be looking at a completely different ball game. Hughes has been great so far, something the Hokies will need him to continue being if they’re going to compete for an ACC title.
THEY LOST TO YOUNGSTOWN STATE
I’m just going to leave it at that.
This one shouldn’t be close. Then again, you just never know. Tech’s offense hasn’t looked so hot during its first two games, but should be able to have success on Saturday.
Hokies 31, Panthers 10