After back-to-back losses for the first time in the Justin Fuente era, Virginia Tech is looking to bounce back as they return home for Senior Day. Their opponent, Pittsburgh, is hoping to have a massive late season turnaround to make a bowl from their current record of 4-6 with the monumental task of needing to win at Virginia Tech and then beat Miami at home.
With that said, here is our By The Numbers preview of Virginia Tech vs. Pittsburgh.
25.7%: Conversion Rate For Opponents On Third Down vs. Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech ranks fourth in America in third down defense, and has been one of the best at getting stops whether that be on third and fourth down. VT also ranks second in stop rate which measures the percentage of drives that a defense doesn't give up any points.
The Hokies have gotten their fair share of big stops including a goal line stand on Miami's opening drive two weeks ago. Virginia Tech's defense has given up some big gains, but they've also stepped on third downs, taking advantage of their momentum to get a stop and get the ball back.
The Hokies also face a Pitt team that ranks 97th in the nation in third down conversion rate and has a big question mark at QB. That is a recipe for disaster the Panthers against a Hokies' defense that will be hungry for a dominant game after a couple tough games.
Virginia Tech's defense has dominated third downs and should give a below-average Pitt offense plenty of problems trying to get a first down.
5.8: Yards per carry for Pitt RB Darrin Hall
Pittsburgh doesn't have a lot of offensive talent, but Darrin Hall has emerged as Pitt's most explosive offensive weapon. The junior RB is averaging 5.8 yards per carry, and the Panthers will have to emphasize containing him.
The good news is that the Hokies' rush defense has been quite good this season with opponents only averaging 3.6 yards per carry. Outside of a couple big runs allowed to Miami and Georgia Tech, the Hokies have shut down opposing running backs consistently since the West Virginia game and even contained Travis Homer outside of his one big run.
Saturday, Pitt will need to find a way to get their running game going led by Hall, who has given their offense some life recently. If the Hokies can contain, then this game will almost certainly get ugly especially with Pitt's quarterback weakness.
5: Number of Hokies with at least 8.5 tackles for loss.
Virginia Tech's defense has plenty of talented players in their front 7 who can make some big plays and stop opponents for loss. Five different Hokies have at least 8.5 tackles for loss led by redshirt sophomore Tim Settle who has 10.5 tackles for loss.
Virginia Tech's linebacker corps has been particularly effective as Tremaine Edmunds, Andrew Motuapuaka, and Mook Reynolds all have at least 8.5 tackles for loss. All three of these guys have been effective at filling holes and closing down on opposing runners quickly, making them one of America's best linebacker corps.
Overall, the Hokies are tied for 11th in tackles for loss per game as a team with plenty of playmakers on their defense who are especially effective at stopping the run. For a Pitt offense that needs to run the ball to have success, this is a less than ideal success.
42.5: Yards Per Punt For Oscar Bradburn
Oscar Bradburn has been one of the Hokies' biggest surprises in a very positive way. The freshman punter from Australia has consistently been able to flip the field and limit opponents' opportunities to have any sort of punt return.
Bradburn has shown the power to boot punts longer, but he has been smart in his approach to take a little distance off to gain more hang time and make it almost impossible for opponents to return his punts. That has helped make Virginia Tech's punting unit one of the most effective in America.
They'll need Bradburn to play well against a Pittsburgh team that has one of the most explosive return men in America in Quadree Henderson. Henderson is averaging 16.1 yards per punt return and has returned 2 punts for touchdowns this season. Henderson has become one of America's most dynamic return man, and can flip the momentum of a game at any second if he gets some space to work with.
For Pitt to have a chance at pulling off the upset, they'll need some big plays on defense and special teams with Henderson being the best candidate to do that. Virginia Tech will need Bradburn to do what he has all season and force Henderson into consistently having to call for fair catches.
26.7: Yards per kick return for Travon McMillian
When Travon McMillian took over as Virginia Tech's primary kick returner, many fans were surprised at the move, especially with how wide receivers Henri Murphy and James Clark had looked at return man. However, the Hokies felt that Travon McMillian's vision at a running back would make him more effective at finding holes than a wide receiver.
So far, Virginia Tech has looked right on that point.
Travon McMillian is averaging 26.7 yards per kick return from his first nine kick returns this season. McMillian has shown plenty of vision with the potential to break out for a big return including a 70-yard return against Georgia Tech. McMillian hasn't been perfect, but he's shown some big play potential that makes him a solid fit as VT's kick returner.
Whether you agree with the decision to put McMillian back there or not, what is clear is that Virginia Tech has become much more effective on their kick returns under Justin Fuente. So far, putting McMillian back there seems to be helping the Hokies' kick return game more with a player who has the type of vision that you need to navigate your blocks on a kick return.
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