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October 10, 2013

Know Your Enemy: Hokies

Filed under: Conference,Football,Opponent(s) — Justin @ 12:00 pm

Chryst and company will face their first real road challenge of the 2013 season when they head to Blacksburg to face a Virginia Tech team eager for revenge. Last year’s win was a huge shock. Pitt was 0-2 with a loss to Youngstown State and Virginia Tech was 2-0 with a season opening victory over Georgia Tech. Even an eternal optimist like myself saw no chance of victory. Here we are a year later and while the Hokies are favored, no one would bat an eye if Pitt pulls off the win again.

The thing that will jump out at you when you look at VT: a really good defense. On defense, they’re 12th in points allowed, 5th in yards, and have more interceptions than anyone in college football (13). They haven’t been playing the School of the Blind either. They’ve racked up those stats with games against Alabama, Georgia Tech, and UNC. After last year’s embarrassment, you better believe they’re going to give 110% early on to prove last year was a fluke.

The offense, unlike the defense, leaves a lot to be desired. Logan Thomas is quite possibly the most overrated QB in college football. He opened up the season 5/26 for 59 yards and an interception against Alabama. Sure, it was against Alabama, but Colorado State’s QB completed 63% of his passes against them 2 weeks later.

There’s still talent at WR though. Junior Willie Byrn, freshman Josh Stanford, and sophomore Demitri Knowles are fully capable of big plays. Senior DJ Coles has 5 touchdowns on only 11 receptions. Byrn has been in the groove the past 5 games, averaging 4+ catches for 60 yards during that stretch. It may not seem like much in comparison to Street and Boyd, but keep in mind his senior QB has gone 5/26 in a game this season.

If VT is going to move the ball, it’ll be through Logan Thomas running and passing. That’s because it’s the only way they’ve moved the ball the past two weeks. Hokie RBs have had 30 carries for only 52 yards the past two weeks. UNC and GT aren’t powerhouse defenses either. UNC gave up 200+ yards on the ground to East Carolina and GT gave up 5 yards per carry to Duke’s RBs. They’ve only had one rushing touchdown from a RB the past four weeks. This is more on the ineptitude of VT’s OL and RBs than it is on good defensive play.

This does bode well for Pitt. If Logan Thomas the bad shows up (which he does more often than not) VT will struggle to score 20.  Even when Thomas is on his A+ game, his stat line looks like this: 19/25 221 yards 1 TD. 16 carries 58 yards 1 TD. That was against GT when they scored a whopping 17 points. The passing game did get some momentum against UNC and Thomas had nearly 300 yards and 3 TDs. However, UNC’s defense is ranked 90th in points allowed and they have yet to beat an FBS school in 4 attempts, so I don’t think they’re a good barometer.

If I’m Matt House, I play my CBs tight on the WRs and inch the safeties up a little bit. Put faith in Pitts and Williams to not get beaten deep and force Logan Thomas to take short gains. If he has to play small ball, he most likely will screw up. Even if he succeeds wildly at small ball, we’ll see the GT game where they only scored 17. This does require DBs and LBs to make immediate tackles. If you’re playing tight, you leave a lot of open space if a guy shakes free. Tackling was a major issue against Duke.

On offense, things are a bit trickier. The Hokies D is no joke as you saw in the stats above. They have a phenomenal DL that loves to rush the passer and a secondary that forces interceptions better than anyone in the country. The team that had the most success against this defense was Marshall. Marshall had more yards and more offensive points than Alabama did in week 1. Unfortunately, Marshall’s offense is a no huddle type that involves quick passes, a mobile QB, and option runs. This is pretty much the exact opposite of a Chyrst offense.

In order for the offense to get anything done, the OL will have to play their best game of the season. VT’s DL controlled Alabama’s OL and gave two-time national champion AJ McCarron his lowest passer rating as a starting QB. RB TJ Yeldon was held under 4.5 yards per carry for only the third time in fifteen games. If your DL wins consistently, it makes most offenses useless. Your RBs won’t find lanes. The QB won’t find time to throw the ball. When he does, he isn’t stepping into throws and his passes won’t be on target. That’s how you lead the nation in interceptions.

If there’s a weakness in VT’s D, it actually is the secondary. They have true freshmen starting at CB and nickel CB. Both players have been outstanding, but haven’t been tested too thoroughly because of the DL’s pressure. If (and it’s a big if) Pitt’s OL can keep the pocket clean, they’re going to be susceptible to big plays. We’ve seen Tom Savage throw WRs open (like Street’s touchdown against Virginia: perfect coverage, still a TD) and that’s something their secondary hasn’t experienced yet.

All in all, this game comes down to two factors: Pitt’s OL and Logan Thomas. If the OL wins and Logan Thomas struggles, Pitt will come away victorious for the fifth time a row. If Logan Thomas has a good game and Pitt’s OL struggles, VT could win in a blowout. Anywhere inbetween? It’ll be a toss-up.

There is one edge Pitt has that I haven’t seen anyone discuss yet: time preparation advantage. When digging through results, I noticed that after a bye week or an extended time between games (ie Thursday game will give 2 extra prep days for the following Saturday), Pitt has done quite well.

In 2012, Chryst had more time to prepare than the opposition against VT and Rutgers. There was a bye before Syracuse, but they also had a bye week, so no advantage there. In 2013, there was a preparation advantage against New Mexico. Pitt’s record in those 3 games?

3-0. The victories over Rutgers and VT were easily the two best wins in 2012. This is a sign of very good coaching and preparation. When Chryst and the staff have more time to prepare than the opposition, they win. Not coincidentally, on short weeks they went 0-2 (Cinci and UConn).

I think this will lead to a few new wrinkles in the offense. We’ve seen how the Tyler Boyd sweep evolved. I bet we’ll see more screen passes and more of role players like Rachid Ibrahim on offense. The staff tried to get these things installed for Virginia, but execution failed. With an extra week to prepare, we’ll see some new things.

My gut tells me Pitt pulls off the upset and my head tells me they’ll come up short. Gut says Pitt 23 VT 17. Head says VT 27 Pitt 10. If the OL struggles and Logan Thomas plays like he has the past two games…you may want to switch to liquor because it could get ugly.

On a personal note, most of you know I recently moved and that my wife is pregnant. Thus I’ve been light on posts lately. The move was about as successful as a move can be (so far we’ve only noticed one broken plate) and I’m thankful things are finally settling down. We also found out some very awesome news:

WE’RE HAVING A BOY!!!!!!

That’s right. In fall of 2032 there will be a very informed fan named Calvin in the student section who has experienced every Pitt game (including time spent in utero) since FSU. That’s right, if Pitt never goes to another BBVA Compass Bowl, you can thank my spawn for breaking the streak.

Before anyone asks, he’s named after Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes.





Congrats!

Comment by notrocketscience 10.10.13 @ 12:22 pm

Congrats Justin. Had three sons and they are less complicated than girls. I ‘m very nervous about VT’s defense. Va stifled us on offense. Why will we be any better this time around? I expect adjustments but why didn’t we adjust against Va. Maybe I’m as nervous as an expectant father !

Comment by Barreman 10.10.13 @ 12:32 pm

Who knows, Calvin might be watching the game from the inside out if he becomes an athlete and catches the football playing bug. He might end up as our next Marino. Congratulations.

BTW, heres a repost from the previous that mentions that I also feel that the extra week of prep time that we’ve had plays to our advantage.

I agree that Bennett has underperformed to this point in the season. I think that he is still affected by his knee injury from fall camp. Hopefully two weeks to rest up will show us a rejuvenated Sir Issac for Saturday’s game.

We speak about Savage as though he is a veteran NFL player entrenched in his tendencies that he’s developed over years in the NFL. Remember this is a kid that is actually playing his first year of active college football in the last three years. He strikes me as a guy who wants to be coached and is striving to become a more complete QB. His inadequicies are there for sure, but they are aspects that can be improved upon with good coaching. With Bollinger, Rudolph and Chryst at his disposal, givng him the coaching required to address these issues, I expect to see a different QB come the ND and Miami games than the one that started the season.

This VT game is another test for the Panthers at just the right time in their schedule, IMO. But it is not an insurmountable challenge in the least. I really think that we have the edge on this game with the extra week of preparation that we’ve had. Plus, we are the dogs in this one, so we have little pressure on us “not to lose”. Then on the other hand, we have a bunch of young studs who are finding their confidence and are ready to earn some respect in their new conference.

I think that this game could be won by the team who plays a full 60 minutes. It could come down to turnovers if it stays close and that is where Savage comes in with improved play this week, keeping himself out of interception trouble with solid, smart play.

Our Ace in the hole is that we have consistently been starting off strong at the beginning of games. If we are able to do that same thing again in Blacksburg, then that could take the home crowd out of it early and then the home team advantage evaporates also.

We are in for a great contest, I think. Can’t wait for the game!

Comment by Dr. Tom 10.10.13 @ 12:44 pm

I am glad that your first child is a masculine one.

Luka

Comment by wbb 10.10.13 @ 1:09 pm

I am actually heading down for the game. I was in school last time we played VT regularly and never made it down. My wife knows some people so we are taking the opportunity. I am actually nervous about special teams. Beamer is notorious for blocks and special teams plays. We have a kicker who has missed a couple extra points and our coverage hasn’t been all that pretty. It could result in points for VT that their offense can’t produce.

Comment by Pendlum 10.10.13 @ 1:21 pm

good one, wbb. Congrats Justin!

Comment by steve1 10.10.13 @ 1:27 pm

I just want to make sure I understand. You’re saying Savage is a better QB than AJ McCarron? I’m also curious about your conclusion that VT’s db’s haven’t been tested. Aren’t ECU, Marshall, and UNC spread passing centric offenses? I would imagine those freshmen db’s have played a ton of pass attempts already this year.

Comment by Chris 10.10.13 @ 1:33 pm

Chris,

Not sure how you drew the conclusion that I said Savage is better than McCarron. My point was that VT’s DL won the battle in the trenches and shut down Bama’s passing game as a result.

My point regarding VT’s freshmen DBs is they haven’t been tested when the QB has time to throw. VT has so effectively rushed the passer that their life has been made easy. I emphasized it’s a big IF that Pitt’s OL will give Savage time to throw.

Comment by Justin 10.10.13 @ 1:38 pm

which is all the more reason why a short passing game must be emphasized

Comment by wbb 10.10.13 @ 1:47 pm

… and TEs are more utilized

Comment by wbb 10.10.13 @ 1:47 pm

Ugh. What does Shane Gordon good to go mean for Pitt? I’m happy he’s healthy, but if he displaces Galambos, I’m afraid that’ll be a downgrade for the D from what I’ve seen. Hopefully Galambos gets the lion’s share of the time.

Comment by 1618mt 10.10.13 @ 1:57 pm

1618mt: expect Galambos to get his fair share of PT. Keep in mind too that one good game does not mean he’s better than Gordon.

Comment by Justin 10.10.13 @ 1:59 pm

Congrats Justin!

I like your take on Chryst with two weeks to prepare. I think we’ve got a legit shot at winning this one. O-Line needs to MAN UP.

Comment by Atlanta Panther 10.10.13 @ 2:34 pm

Congrats Justin, wonderful news!!

Comment by Dan 10.10.13 @ 2:39 pm

@Justin

Hey, good stuff. But, I am not buying the “Calvin and Hobbes” thing. I am betting that your wife ripped off your Calvins to get at you the night he was conceived. Way better story.

H2Calvin

Comment by pmdH2P 10.10.13 @ 2:53 pm

agree with AtlPanther that PC’s record of 2 weeks to prepare is pertinent.

On the other hand, traveling on a short week has always seemed to work to our detriment, yet our AD never seemed to be shy about scheduling us as such.

Comment by wbb 10.10.13 @ 2:56 pm

wbb, I’m not sure how much influence ADs have when it comes to conference games. Both short weeks in 2012 were conference games, Cinci and UConn. That could’ve been the Big East just trying to screw us.

Comment by Justin 10.10.13 @ 3:08 pm

Justin, since 04, UConn’s 1st year in BE, we played up there 3 times on Thursday and lost all 3. They played here 2 years ago on a Wednesday, and Tino had his ‘average game’ of 419 yds and we beat them soundly

Comment by wbb 10.10.13 @ 3:13 pm

wbb, agreed, use those TEs as well as RBs out of the backfield, both are quick hitters and require much less time in pass protection from the OL. If Savage is getting plays called that have these guys as his PRIMARY RECEIVERS then it makes Savage’s progression easy if they’re open. If the primary doesn’t open up then the progression is to see if Boyd or Street has come free from the secondary, a tendency he has an eye towards naturally anyhow.

@1618mt, don’t be so quick to throw Shane Gordon under the bus. He is a streaky player, and can be a solid performer when he is on. He is the kind of guy that Chryst refers to when he states that he has seen some things from guys that are promising but now they have to show consistency in producing that performance routinely. Galambos is far from a finished produt himself as a true Freshman anyhow.

At LB we need all the troops available, especially in tough games when the defense is on the field too long. A full 60 minutes of solid play from that LB spot by the combo team of Gordon and Galambos works just fine for me.

Comment by Dr. Tom 10.10.13 @ 3:15 pm

Dr Tom, you took the words right out my mouth about Gordon .. he has had some very good games but very inconsistent

Comment by wbb 10.10.13 @ 3:18 pm

Great minds, think alike.

Comment by Dr. Tom 10.10.13 @ 3:31 pm

Reminder

NJ game watch @ Fox and Hound, Edison

Comment by steve1 10.10.13 @ 4:03 pm

Congrats Justin

Comment by spiritofsection 22 10.10.13 @ 4:33 pm

Justin – all best wishes. I hope the remainder of the pregnancy goes smoothly.

You sure he’s not named for Calvin Hill? link to en.wikipedia.org

He may have gone to some other school but he was a true 4 sport athlete and an all-around good citizen.

That being said…

H2P!!

Comment by Pitt Dad 10.10.13 @ 4:54 pm

A few points…

Regarding the Tight-ends…

Reed did a very good job earlier explaining why they’ve not been a key feature of this year’s Pitt Offense (And no Dr. Tom, it does not reflect on Chryst’s sharpness or lack thereof). It’s all about increasing protection for a slow moving, slow reacting quarterback whose strength is throwing the long ball.

Because of VaTech’s ability to cover and rush the passer, this does not look like the week that we’ll see the tight ends emerge. But who knows what Chryst might have up his sleeve with two weeks to prepare.

Regarding Gordon vs Galambos…

Is it a coincidence that the defense played remarkably better with Galambos in the middle instead of Gordon? Don’t think so.

Although still somewhat undersized as a freshman, Galambos seemed anything but lost in his first start against Virginia whereas Gordon has looked lost for the most part all season in attempting to adapt to the “OUT-HOUSE D.”

Hendricks said publicly that the linebackers were having trouble to adapting. Maybe it was one linebacker and his name is Gordon.

In any case, maybe we all should have seen it coming after the way Galambos made a name for himself in the Big 33 Game this summer.

Regarding Pitt’s D against VaTech’s O…

Hopefully House and Co. will pick up where they left off against Virginia. Time to put some more trust in Mr. Pitts and Mr. Williams and see just what kind of cover men they are. Both have shown the kind of ability it takes to play at the next level. Let’s find out.

Regarding Pitt’s O versue VaTech’s D…

Maybe this is the game where the O-Line really comes into its own? Well, it better. Pitt is going to have to run the ball successfully in order to keep VaTech’s D from teeing off in putting pressure on Savage.

As predicted, Connor has supplanted Bennett as the feature back in this offense. But Pitt is going to need everyone to produce on Saturday… and that includes Ibrahim who is about do for a bit of a breakout game of his own.

Regarding Tyler Boyd…

Everything has been said that can be said.

Regarding Mr. Blewitt…

This might be the week for you to hit your first game-winning field goal.

That said…

Unlike last year, Saturday’s match up with VaTech presents a much more difficult challenge for Pitt.

This one has me worried.

Comment by PittofDreams 10.10.13 @ 4:57 pm

But, why worry?

As Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes) might say… “It’s all predestined anyway.”

Comment by PittofDreams 10.10.13 @ 5:17 pm

Congrats Justin.

Have a Cigar on me !

Comment by EMel 10.10.13 @ 7:13 pm

Wonderful news Justin! Congrats to you and your bride! Spurred me to drag out “WEIRDOS from another PLANET”! –Why can’t I ever build character at a Miami condo or a casino somewhere? H2P and Matt Watterson! UPone

Comment by UPone 10.10.13 @ 7:13 pm

Offense stalled out last week after building up a 14-0 lead based on UVA turnovers.

Anytime or almost anytime UVA applied pressure, the play went for nil or got busted up or Savage was on the ground saying……’what hit me’.

PC & JR have now had 2 weeks to figure out some way to protect TS better.

We’re going to see if these guys can really ‘coach em up’. As we all seem to think they can do. Along with Huebner.

Defensively if you apply pressure to Logan Thomas he is not very good. And they can’t run very good either. So I would stack the box, completely shut down the run and at the same time you have players close to the line of scrimmage to apply pressure and hopefully get some sacks of Thomas.

Hokies are averaging only 20 ppg against very average competition after throwing out the 2 skewed games against Western Carolina and Alabama.

Pitt wins if we can score 24-30 points.

Comment by EMel 10.10.13 @ 7:20 pm

Almost as important or perhaps moreso, than ‘coaching them up’. Can they devise a scheme to protect our QB better, before the kid gets killed out there.

Ball State did !

Comment by EMel 10.10.13 @ 7:23 pm

Congrats Justin, glad it’s a boy! You will learn why in your future.

I have a different take on the game with VTech on Saturday. I think this is where Savage really shows his stuff against a weak secondary and proves that he will be playing on Sundays.

Will Pitt win? That depends on whether we can eliminate mistakes, punt/FG/xpt blocks and misses.

Hokies specialize in causing those. Weather will also be a factor. Wet track will hurt Pitt.

But, if all things above are even, I like Pitt’s chances a lot. Thomas is a fraud at QB for Tech.
He can run but he cannot pass at all. Hell, the Blundering Turds should have beaten them in regulation…let alone again in 3Ot’s

Comment by Dan 72 10.10.13 @ 9:30 pm

Congratulations Justin! Great time in one’s life.

Nice article.

Comment by Pittscript 10.10.13 @ 10:41 pm

Dan72,
He will only learn why if he has a girl at some point. And then, he’ll just be thankful that he doesn’t have two. Sorry, Justin, for talking about you in the 3rd.

Comment by panther94 10.10.13 @ 11:16 pm

Justin congrats!

Comment by Shawn 10.11.13 @ 6:10 am

Dr Tom
Great point about Savage. He cannot be considered a veteran QB based on his playing time. I too feel he will be much better toward the end of the season.

I agree Bennett is struggling. Our RB depth is bad. Hope recruits realize that.

I think Pitt will need 30 to win because the D will be bad again. Then again, I said that when they played Virginia.

I have more faith in Rudolph than I do House.

Comment by notrocketscience 10.11.13 @ 7:03 am

First time the offense has to play with a hostile crowd, requiring hand signals. Lot’s of rookies first time on the road. Two weeks prep should help. Need the veterans to step up and show the way. Mr. Donald, please introduce Mr Thomas’ backside to the turf often.

Are we still 10 point dogs?

Comment by gc 10.11.13 @ 7:18 am

Vegas line is moving between Pitt +9 to +10 as of this morning.

Comment by Dr. Tom 10.11.13 @ 8:41 am

Panther94. AMEN

Comment by Dan 72 10.11.13 @ 8:52 am

1. We need to score points on FGs: Blewitt can’t blow it. We need to be able to capitalize from outside the red zone.

2. We need to find ways to score points on special teams or defense. VT has given up 2 special teams touchdowns and a pick 6.

3. We need to turn the ball over fewer times than VT does.

4. Force VT’s offensive into penatlies, which they’re prone to do.

5. Do a better job of protecting Savage. This is going to be a huge factor. The O-line needs to give him room to operate.

6. Utilize the RBs in the short passing game. With VT’s front 7, we’re going to need the TE’s to block. We should also use the jumbo package (with Johnson) on more running plays, not just goalline runs. VT did this last week actually.

7. We need to have 8 men in the box on every play. LT can’t beat us with his arm, but if Duke’s Connette can run for 101 yds then LT can win this game with his feet. We have solid CB’s let them play man coverage.

8. Sound clock management. We shouldn’t be snapping the ball with more than 5 seconds on the clock. This was a problem against both UNM and Duke. Time of possesion will be a major factor, keeping our D off the field is important.

Comment by PittHW 10.11.13 @ 2:28 pm

Sorry about that double post.

Comment by PittHW 10.11.13 @ 3:07 pm

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