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October 10, 2013

Know Your Enemy: Pittsburgh

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Each game, we'll get the inside look at Virginia Tech's opponent by talking with the opposing team's beat writer. This week, we spoke with Panther-Lair.com publisher Chris Peak to get the inside look at Pittsburgh.

1)Which is a better indicator of what type of team Pitt is: The one that beat out Duke in a shootout, the one who grinded out a win over Virginia or completely in between?

Peak: That's the million-dollar question, and it applies to all four games Pitt has played this season. It even applies within the games; against Duke, the offense was unstoppable for the better part of three quarters but couldn't close out against the Blue Devils. This team still has a lot of question marks, and I don't think anyone - players, coaches, media, fans - really knows who the team is yet. Saturday will go a long way in answering some of those questions.

2)How much different is QB Tom Savage than Tino Sunseri?

Peak: Savage is different from Sunseri in almost every way. Savage has a huge arm and likes to throw the deep ball, and because of his natural ability, the deep pass is a viable weapon in Pitt's offense for the first time in years. Savage isn't very mobile, but his arm strength makes him dangerous overall. Savage also seems to have stepped up as a leader despite being in his first and only year as starting quarterback. Pitt's offense is much more dynamic - or, at least, has the potential to be - with Savage running the show.

3) We saw how good freshman wide receiver Tyler Boyd was in high school, but has it been a surprise how well he's done so far?

Peak: Boyd has been a revelation. There were never any questions about what the former four-star prospect could do with the ball in his hands; he finished his high school career as the most prolific scorer in western Pennsylvania history. But he did all of that while working largely as a running back/Wildcat quarterback, since his coaches just wanted to get the ball in his hands. So no one knew how he would transition to playing wide receiver and all of the responsibilities - getting off press coverage, running routes, catching passes - that come with it. Through four games, he has been sensational, making catches that have reminded more than a few observers of Larry Fitzgerald. And with 100-yard receiving performances in three consecutive games, Boyd has done something Fitzgerald never did as a true freshman.

4)Is Aaron Donald the key to the Panthers' defense? Who else has to step up against VT?

Peak: Aaron Donald IS the Pitt defense. He has nine tackles for loss and six sacks this season; the rest of the defensive line combined has eight tackles for loss and one sack. Opponents know that Donald is the biggest threat on the defensive line and they line up to stop him, but he still disrupts plays on a regular basis. That won't change any time soon, but if Pitt really wants to be a great defense, the Panthers need more contributions from the defensive ends and they need the back-seven to be more consistent in responsibilities and assignments. That's been an Achilles heel for Pitt so far, but the linebackers and defensive backs did a better job against Virginia.

5) Pittsburgh has more consecutive wins, at four, over VT than Alabama, LSU, Clemson, Florida State and other big names. Does Pitt feel like it has VT's number?

Peak: It's tough to say, since three of those four wins came in 2001, 2002 and 2003, when the bulk of the current Pitt players were somewhere between eight and 10 years old. Still, I think this team does look back at the 35-13 win over VT at Heinz Field last year as one of the high points of the season; some players have said that they thought the Hokies overlooked them last year, so I do think they feel like they have a bit of an edge in that department. But at the same time, they know that this will be a tough game and an opportunity to make a statement about their place in the Coastal Division.

FEARLESS PREDICTION: The key will be turnovers: Pitt needs to force Logan Thomas to make mistakes, and the Pitt offense - which has thrown six interceptions this season - needs to keep the turnovers to one or zero. Pitt's defense is improving, and I think that trend continues. I think the Panthers will take advantage of one or two VT mistakes and escape from Blacksburg with a 16-10 victory.


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