Josh Jackson and the Hokies look to get back at home against the Panthers
With the loss at Miami two weeks ago, any dreams that Virginia Tech had of going to the College Football Playoff were lost. And losing to Georgia Tech on Saturday took the Hokies out of New Year’s Six contention. But Justin Fuente's team still has reasons to be ready to play their final two games.
Thanksgiving weekend will feature a trip to rival Virginia and before that Pittsburgh comes to Blacksburg for Senior Day. Cam Phillips, Greg Stroman, Andrew Motuapuaka, and several others will be suiting up for the last time at Lane Stadium.
Pittsburgh is now 4-6 after losing to North Carolina last Thursday night and is looking to avenge last year’s 39-36 loss to the Hokies at Heinz Field.
Pittsburgh at Virginia Tech
When: Saturday, Nov. 18 at 12:20 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ACC Network
Spread: Virginia Tech -16.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Virginia Tech offensive line
There have been concerns about the Tech offensive front for quite some time, but the last two weeks have been especially troubling. The Hokies have rushed for just 207 yards combined in the last two games and allowed six sacks. Not coincidentally, left tackle Yosuah Nijman was injured in the Duke game and did not play against Miami and Georgia Tech. A Nijman return would be nice, but either way, improved line play is a necessity.
2. Pittsburgh pass defense
It was an issue once again against a North Carolina offense that has struggled throwing the ball effectively. Tar Heels quarterback Nathan Elliott completed 20 of 31 attempts for 235 yards and two scores, spreading the ball around to seven different receivers. Plus, one-man wrecking crew Anthony Ratliff-Williams threw for another while also catching one of Elliott’s touchdown tosses and returning a kick for six points. This week the Panthers will have to contain Virginia Tech's top target, Cam Phillips, and the emerging Sean Savoy.
3. Darrin Hall and the Panthers' running game
While it was not a good night for the Panthers on the scoreboard, Hall (above, right) continued his roll against North Carolina. The 5-foot-11, 225-pound running back went for 121 rushing yards and four touchdowns, pushing his totals in the last three games to 486 yards and eight touchdowns. While Virginia Tech normally is stout against the run, the Hokies have struggled the past two weeks. Of course, many teams have problems with Georgia Tech’s option, but Miami also piled up 210 yards on the ground. Hall will get his chances despite being Virginia Tech's primary focus.
Pittsburgh finds itself in a very tough situation. The Panthers need to win both of their remaining games to become bowl eligible and after the trip to Blacksburg they will host red-hot Miami next week. Also, their pass defense continues to be a problem. The play of Virginia Tech quarterback Josh Jackson, much like the rest of the team, has slipped in recent weeks and some of the blame can be placed on his offensive line. Pittsburgh is 84th in the nation in sacks and if Jackson has time he should be able to get the ball to Cam Phillips and Sean Savoy. Offensively, the Panthers don’t want to have to rely on quarterback Ben DiNucci to win this game so they are going to need another great effort from Darrin Hall. The junior running back will get some yards, but it won’t be enough and the Hokies will get a Senior Day win.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, Pittsburgh 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.