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October 12, 2013

Staff Picks: VT vs Pitt

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Last year's loss at Heinz Field began Virginia Tech's slide that continue through most of the season. Pittsburgh ran all over the Hokies in that game, but that was with running back Rushel Shell, who's since transferred. Can Virginia Tech exact revenge for the second week in a row and get past the Panthers?

We take our shots at calling what will happen at today's Noon ET kickoff.

Jason Stamm, publisher

One of the first things coach Frank Beamer said this week when breaking down his next opponent, Pittsburgh, is that the Panthers have defeated Virginia Tech four straight times. That's true, but since those four games came in 2001, 2002, 2003 and last season, it's hard to really take a lot from that stat.

The Hokies' true freshmen were six and seven years old when that first loss occurred. The fact is, the only loss that really matters is last season. That's the one the majority of this year's team was a part of.

And that loss was an ugly one. Virginia Tech, ranked No. 13 in the country at the time, was run over by the Panthers in a 35-17 loss. That game really started a downward spiral for the Hokies the rest of the season.

In looking back at that game, Virginia Tech coaches and players have said they didn't show up. It was a noon start and many of the Hokies felt like they could just walk in and come out with a victory.

Plenty was learned from that game to ensure that won't happen anytime soon. Virginia Tech's defense has definitely taken a few lessons from that game and it's a pretty good argument that this season's defense has taken huge steps from last season.

Though Pittsburgh can score, as it showed in a 58-55 win at Duke a few weeks ago, it's tough to see the Hokies allowing that type of game again. Virginia Tech's offense, well, at least senior quarterback Logan Thomas and the passing game, has taken steps, but is still doing just enough to win.

I think that happens again. And this one will be a close one, unless the Hokies running game shows some type of progress. I think it'll be better, but still not enough to keep this one from being close going into the fourth quarter. Of course, it helps having a dominant defense that will continue to dominate and probably come up with a score.

PREDICTION: Virginia Tech 28-14

Doug Bowman, senior writer

I expect this game to almost mirror last week's game against North Carolina. Pittsburgh quarterback Tom Savage is a big guy with a lot of potential, but he makes too many mistakes and that is something the Virginia Tech secondary will pray on this week. The Panthers have three wins against bad teams and got throttled by the one good opponent they have faced.

You have to be encouraged by the way Thomas has been playing the past two weeks. I fully expect that to continue against a Pittsburgh defense that really doesn't have anyone to be scared of anywhere.

Maybe the Hokies' run game will still struggle, but Thomas should have success throwing the ball again on Saturday. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster's defense is as good as any in the country and that ultimately will be the reason the Hokies cruise to a victory in front of the home crowd.

PREDICTION: Virginia Tech 30-10

Mike Stancik, staff writer

In a matchup between the 17th (Pittsburgh) and 18th (Virginia Tech) ranked defenses in terms of yards, it's likely that points will be at a premium. Gaining a lead is sure to be vital to the winning team.

However, the Hokies' defense definitely owns an advantage because of its shutdown capabilities, especially in its own territory. Opponents have reached the red zone just nine times against the defense, leading to an average of just 16 points (T11th in the country) against the Hokies this season. Even though the Virginia Tech offense has scored points on 67% of its red zone opportunities (14-of-21), Pittsburgh hasn't been especially strong in this area. The Panthers have allowed 17 red zone scoring chances, and opponents have cashed in with points 16 of those times. (11 touchdowns) I think that's going to be the difference in a game between two strong defenses.

That- and the fact that Thomas is entering unchartered territory in terms of efficiency (38-53, 4 TD, 0 INT in the last two weeks), makes me believe the Hokies win by a similar margin to the UNC game. Savage has six interceptions on the season, and I expect this number to climb in front of another raucous Lane Stadium.

Redshirt freshman running back Trey Edmunds and sophomore J.C. Coleman find a way to get untracked against a defense that allows 160 rushing yards per game, and Virginia Tech enters its bye week on a six-game winning streak in a decisive victory to avenge another loss from 2012.

PREDICTION: Virginia Tech 30-14


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