Hokies' Preview & Prediction: Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh Panthers (1-3)
Head Coach: Pat Narduzzi
Offensive Coordinator: Frank Cignetti Jr.
Defensive Coordinator: Randy Bates
Pitt is averaging a measly 24 points per game through four games (Virginia Tech is averaging 21.5). Part of the disappointment for this Pitt offense comes at the disposal of senior QB Phil Jurkovec. Jurkovec has not been great in 2023 – the 6’5” Pittsburgh native is completing passes at a 50% rate and averaging just over 120 yards per game through the air. Jurkovec is now at his third destination, stopping at Notre Dame and Boston College prior to his arrival at Pitt.
Jurkovec is questionable for the game on Saturday as he has been banged up. If Jurkovec can't go, expect ex-Virginia Tech target and Penn State transfer Christian Veilleux to get the start. Jurkovec most likely will play.
However, Pittsburgh does have some sense of an identity on offense – and it's on the ground. The Panthers have a solid 1-2-3 RB punch with junior and Norfolk native Rodney Hammind Jr., senior C’Bo Flemister, and senior Daniel Carter. All are averaging over 4.5 per rush. Expect Hammond to get a majority of the carries and Carter to get some burn near the goal line.
Through the air, the Panthers have two main established pass catchers – 6’5” 250 pound TE Gavin Bartholomew and WR Konata Mumpfield. Last time the Panthers visited Blacksburg back in 2021, Bartholomew scored a TD in the Panthers’ 28-7 win. If Pitt can get the ball to Mumpfield, he is certainly dangerous in open space – and fast. With that being said, it is certainly a manageable unit for the Virginia Tech secondary, one which actually ranks second nationally in pass yards per game allowed (138.5 YPG).
Pitt is not much of a threat on offense.
Pitt too has an impressive secondary, ranking top-15 nationally in pass yards allowed per game.Leading the team in tackles thus far in 2023 is ex-Virginia Tech target and Florida transfer, DB Donovan McMillon. The Panthers did lose two DB’s to the NFL from a year ago in Erick Hallett II and Brandon Hill. There are a lot of new faces in this Pitt secondary, and truthfully it should be one that the Hokies can attack – depending on the health of WR Jaylin Lane.
Pitt has been OK against the run. The Panthers are giving up about 150 yards per game on the ground. 6’3” 225 pound junior Solomon DeShields and 6’3” 240 pound senior Shayne Simon lead a veteran, yet not necessarily experienced LB corps. The Panthers lost a couple key pieces from the front seven from a year ago to the NFL: LB SirVocea Dennis and DT Calijah Kancey. Defensive linemen David Green and Devin Danielson have filled the void on the line, yet as a unit, the Panthers are not generating ~a ton~ of pressure.
If I had to rank the Pitt defense amongst defenses the Hokies have faced thus far, I’d put Pitt at around three.
On Special Teams…
Kicker Ben Sauls is back for his third year at Pitt. Sauls is perfect on extra points and field goals within 40 yards on the year. Sauls 0-1 on 50+ yarders. Sauls also handles the kick off duties.
Former walk-on Caleb Junko is probably the best punter the Hokies will face – potentially – all year. Field position will certainly matter in this game, given that both teams have underwhelming offenses.
Safety MJ Devonshire is at punt returner. AJ Woods or Kenny Johnson will take the role of kick returner.
Special Teams could very well win this football game.
Keys to Victory and Final Prediction
Control the clock
Win the field position battle
Bend but don't break against the run
I predicted a Hokie loss a week ago versus Marshall. I think Marshall and Pitt are similar ball clubs. But at home under the lights and with another week of prep, something in me envisions a Hokie victory (and the fan base needs it). A Virginia Tech dub will depend on how the Hokies handle the run, and if Virginia Tech can utilize Kyron Drones’ ability on the ground to help control the game.
Virginia Tech 13 - Pitt 5