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Pittsburgh Panthers vs. Virginia Tech Hokies Preview and Prediction

Tyler Boyd

Tyler Boyd

Some losses hit a team harder than others. Getting beat by a more talented opponent is rough, but it is at least understandable. Virginia Tech’s 35-28 loss at East Carolina does not fall into that category.

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The Hokies certainly have better athletes than the Pirates and after losing to East Carolina at home last year, motivation should not have been a concern. Virginia Tech outgained ECU and won the turnover battle. The defensive line came out strong to start the game, controlling the line of scrimmage. Despite all of that, East Carolina prevailed.

Pittsburgh had an off week this past Saturday which gave them plenty of time to ponder their own difficult loss. After scoring a touchdown to tie Iowa with 52 seconds left, the Hawkeyes won the game 27-24 on a 57-yard field goal as time expired.

The Panthers are 2-1 entering conference play while the Hokies come in at 2-2.

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Pittsburgh at Virginia Tech

Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: RSN/ESPN3

Spread: Virginia Tech -4.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Containing Tyler Boyd

After missing the season opener against Youngstown State due to a suspension, the ACC’s leading receiver in 2014 picked up right where he left off last year. The junior from Clairton, Pa. has 21 catches for 226 yards and a touchdown in two games. Virginia Tech star cornerback Kendall Fuller missed the ECU game with a knee sprain and his absence was noticeable. The Pirates did not pass often, but when they did receivers were wide open. Freshman Mook Reynolds and sophomore Greg Stroman did not have strong games in place of Fuller, who is now out for the season after undergoing knee surgery. That is music to Boyd’s ears.

2. Can Pittsburgh Run the Ball?

The loss of star running back James Conner in the first game of the year has caused some flux in the backfield for Pittsburgh. Qadree Ollison is the Panthers' leading rusher with 305 yards. But against Iowa, Darrin Hall led the team in carries. The problem was that no one ran the ball well against Iowa. Virginia Tech held ECU back Chris Hairston to just three yards rushing. However, Pirates quarterback James Summers piled up 169 yards on the ground. The quarterback run is not part of the Pittsburgh attack as Nathan Peterman has just five total rushing yards on the season. The Panthers are going to have to get their rushing yards from their backs. Or maybe they abandon the run and throw the ball all over the place.

3. The Play of Brenden Motley

Much like ECU, the entire Virginia Tech rushing offense was predicated on the quarterback running with the football. The tailbacks combined for 17 carries and 51 yards. Motley had 85 yards on 19 carries. He threw the ball well at times, completing nine passes in a row during one stretch. But at other times he was horribly inaccurate and made a bad decision on the red zone interception. Michael Brewer is expected back soon, but it won’t be this week. It is again on Motley.

Final Analysis

Virginia Tech lost to East Carolina because they failed to make plays when needed to on offense, the offensive line could not open up running lanes for the backs, they had a poor tackling game, and the secondary did not play well. This week, the mental aspect of the game could be a factor. Everyone affiliated with Virginia Tech remembers the downward spiral that affected the team after last year’s loss to East Carolina. Are they thinking déjà vu? Pittsburgh’s loss, while difficult to swallow, does not prompt the same thoughts as the Virginia Tech defeat. On the field, the questions in the Virginia Tech secondary can be exploited by Peterman and Boyd. Panthers head coach Pat Narduzzi has risen to this level because of his defensive acumen and he could give Motley and company some trouble. Both teams need to put the past behind them as this is the conference opener and there is a clean ACC slate. I think that job is easier for Pittsburgh.

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Prediction: Pittsburgh 27, Virginia Tech 21

— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.