Week 6: Pittsburgh Game Preview
We are now almost halfway through the regular season of college football. At this point we know what we are going to get from most teams as far as how they will perform week to week. We know now that in order for this Virginia Tech football to win, their defense needs to carry them. Either that, or something needs to change drastically on the Hokie offense. I believe, and everyone on the Sons of Saturday podcast agrees, that it starts with the play calling. Pitt, despite a tough loss last week to a resurgent Georgia Tech squad, will still be a very hard opponent to defeat. I watched some Pitt film this week and here is what I believe Virginia Tech needs to do differently in order to win.
Pitt Offense: Scheme - Pro Style
This Pitt offense is quite reminiscent of Boston College's offense as far as scheme goes. Expect to see many different formations, both under center and in shotgun, for QB Kedon Slovis. They also use plenty of pre-snap motion that you see on Sundays in order for Slovis to read the coverage. They will often line a running back up out wide and then motion him to the backfield to see if a player follows him. If someone does, it is man to man coverage. If not, then it is zone. Slovis is good at making quick decisions and quick throws based off these pre-snap reads. This makes him particularly affective against the blitz. Here is an example of Slovis making a quick read with motion against the blitz and hitting his athletic tight end, Gavin Bartholomew, for a touchdown.
As you can see in the replay in that video, based on the pre-snap motion, Slovis knew it was zone. He also saw the blitzing safety coming from the left, which meant the other safety had to be going to the left in order to cover the gap left by his teammate. That left the right side of the field open for a touchdown pass. Slovis did not hesitate. I know that Virginia Tech likes to be aggressive on defense, but blitzing might not be a good idea this week. The good news is that Pitt's offensive line has struggled so far both in the run game and pass protection. The key for Tech will be to force Slovis to hold onto the ball longer and hesitate by not blitzing and getting pressure with 4 rushers. Judging by the film, the longer Slovis holds the ball, the more mistakes he makes. Thus far, Pitt has been turnover prone. Virginia Tech will need to keep that trend going for Pitt in this game in order to win.
Pitt Defense: Scheme - 4-3
Pitt runs a very traditional 4-3 defense on 1st and 2nd down. They tend to be more aggressive than most teams by blitzing inside linebackers on early downs. On 3rd down, mostly 3rd and long, they like to get creative with different looks and blitzes up front. This is probably one of the best defensive lines the Hokies will face this season pass rushing wise. Against the run, they have been gashed by both West Virginia and Georgia Tech though. Georgia Tech rushed for almost 250 yards last week against Pitt. What worked really well for Georgia Tech was a diversity both types of run plays and ball carriers. They used read option, quick toss sweeps, and draw plays. So far, Virginia Tech has been one dimensional in the run game. If there was ever a game to change things up, this is the one. It is hard to run up the middle on this defense due to their aggressive nature. Grant Wells may not be Jeff Sims running the ball, but he is fast enough to be a threat on a read option. We need to see more of that and outside run plays. Pitt has struggled to seal the edge on run plays this year. Now is the time to start calling some outside zone and sweeps.
As for passing the ball, we know Grant Wells is capable. He has not received the help he needs to succeed. I believe that this week is a pretty good opportunity to hit some shots downfield. Pitt's corners are small and they play lots of single one on one coverage. Kaleb Smith needs to be a key part of the offensive game plan as well as the tight ends. Throw it up to our big guys and let them beat these undersized defensive backs.
Pitt Special Teams
Pitt had a punt blocked against West Virginia in the season opener, but have not had one blocked since. Tennessee did get very close to blocking several though. A blocked punt could go a long way towards an upset. On the good side for Pitt, M.J. Devonshire returned a punt for a touchdown against Rhode Island. Usually, Virginia Tech does not have to worry about this with Peter Moore at punter, but it is still something to look out for.
Pitt seems like a daunting foe for Virginia Tech, especially on the road. Virginia Tech has not won at what was Heinz Field and is now Acrisure Stadium since 2016. And in all of those games since 2016 at Pitt, Tech has been utterly dominated by the Panthers. I do believe that Virginia Tech can remain competitive in this game if they make the right moves. The defense will need to force turnovers and the offense will need 2 or 3 guys to step up and makes some plays. Virginia Tech currently leads the series against Pitt 11-10. Unfortunately, I have the Pittsburgh Panthers tying up the series by the score of
Virginia Tech 14