After taking down Miami at home last week, Virginia Tech goes to Pittsburgh for another big Thursday night affair in the ACC Coastal. At 3-1 in the league and owning a win over 4-1 North Carolina, the Hokies control their fate in the division.
But nipping at the heels of both Virginia Tech and North Carolina are the 2-1 Panthers. Pitt had last week off and are riding a three-game winning streak following a tough loss to the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill on Sept. 24.
Virginia Tech holds an 8-7 series lead but the Panthers have won six of the last seven.
Virginia Tech at Pittsburgh
Kickoff: Thursday, Oct. 27 at 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Virginia Tech -4
Three Things to Watch
1. Keeping Ejuan Price Away From Jerod Evans
Virginia Tech’s offensive line has done a very good job protecting Evans, who leads the ACC in passer rating and has a 19:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. But this week the Hokies’ front will have to contend with the nation’s best pass rusher. Even though Pittsburgh has played one less game than many teams due to last week’s bye, Price still leads the country with nine sacks. Interestingly, the Pittsburgh pass defense ranks 122nd in the country, so if Virginia Tech can control Price, Evans and his stable of receivers should be able to make plays throwing the ball.
2. Pittsburgh Running Game vs. Virginia Tech Rushing Defense
This is strength on strength. The Panthers, led by the inspiring James Conner, rank 20th in the FBS in rushing offense so far in 2016. Along with Conner, the Pittsburgh coaching staff knows how to get wide receiver/all-purpose threat Quadree Henderson involved in the ground game as well. But on the other side of the line of scrimmage will be a Virginia Tech defense that allows just 104 rushing yards. The battle between a Pitt offensive line led by standout tackle Adam Bisnowaty and the Virginia Tech defensive front with Woody Baron and Ken Ekanem (expected to play after missing last week's game because of injury) should be fun to watch.
3. Red Zone
Pittsburgh is very good at scoring points (and especially touchdowns) when the offense gets close. However, the Panthers are not very good at keeping the other team out of the end zone in red zone situations. Both teams will have chances and what happens inside the 20-yard line will have a huge impact on the outcome of this game.
Pittsburgh does have a bit of an advantage in that the Panthers have had almost two weeks to prepare for Virginia Tech. Plus, the Hokies are back in the Steel City, where they haven’t won a game since 1999. But Justin Fuente’s ACC Coastal-leading squad has strengths that can exploit Pitt’s weaknesses. If Jerod Evans has time to throw, then Isaiah Ford, Cam Phillips, and Bucky Hodges should be able to find openings in the Pitt secondary. On the other hand, the Panthers need to run the ball to be effective and the Hokies boast one of the best run defenses in the country. As a result, Virginia Tech controls the run enough and forces Pittsburgh quarterback Nathan Peterman into making a few mistakes that result in a Hokies win.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Pitt 20
— 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.