Virginia Tech is 4-4 and Pittsburgh is only slightly better at 5-4. But the two ACC programs can claim the Coastal crown if they win their remaining conference games, making this Saturday’s game at Heinz Field vitally important.
The two teams are coming into this important showdown from different directions as the Hokies have lost their last two games and three of their last four. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has rebounded from a 2-3 start by winning three of four with all those wins being conference tilts.
Each of the last four meetings between the former Big East rivals has been decided by six points or less with each team securing two victories.
Virginia Tech at Pittsburgh
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 10 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPNU
Spread: Pittsburgh -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Will it be Qadree Ollison or Darrin Hall?
In the victory over Duke two weeks ago, Ollison carried much of the load at running back for Pitt, gaining 149 yards on 18 carries and reaching the end zone once. A week later, Ollison took a back seat to Hall, who exploded for 229 yards and three scores in Pittsburgh’s important win at Virginia. On the year Ollison has more yards and carries, but Hall has a higher per carry average. As he has in recent weeks, Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi will find out who has the hot hand and ride that back against a Virginia Tech defense that has given up more than 200 yards rushing in each of its last three games.
2. Dropped passes by Virginia Tech receivers
Hokies quarterback Ryan Willis has performed admirably since Josh Jackson’s season-ending injury, but at times he’s been let down by his receivers. Drops have been a problem at key moments this season for seemingly every one of the pass catchers. Damon Hazelton has had a very good first year in Blacksburg, but he has had his struggles in this department, including this past week against Boston College. The receiving group is too talented to have this many issues simply catching the football.
3. Virginia Tech big plays
When the Hokies receivers do hold onto the ball, they have the ability to make big plays; they are third in the league in receptions for more than 10 yards. But Tech’s opportunity for big plays in this game really has more to do with Pittsburgh’s penchant for allowing large chunk yardage, both in the passing and running games. The Panthers have allowed the most plays of more than 20 yards in the league and are 105th nationally in that category. Pitt likes to get after its opponents defensively, but sometimes that aggressiveness can bite them.
Does anyone really have a handle on the Coastal Division? After last season, most felt that Miami was asserting itself as the division’s power. Despite its struggles early on, when Virginia Tech got off to a 3-0 ACC start, the Hokies appeared to take control. Last week, a Virginia win at home would have put the Cavaliers in prime position to earn a spot in Charlotte on the first weekend in December. Now, Pittsburgh has sole possession of first place with a chance to put away the floundering Hokies. In this topsy-turvy Coastal Division world, it would almost make sense if Virginia Tech went on the road and tripped up the now surging Panthers. But Justin Fuente’s team has had trouble stopping the run, and the duo of Ollison and Hall has been a handful for Pitt foes. Pittsburgh comes through with a victory, and because of tie-breakers over all of the other contenders, reduces its Coastal magic number to one.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 27, Virginia Tech 23
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.