Gameday has arrived in Blacksburg as Virginia Tech looks to bounce back from blowing an 8-point lead inside the final four minutes last week against a Pittsburgh team that is the only other ACC unbeaten among the 7 Coastal teams. This is a showdown between a prolific passing attack led by Kenny Pickett and a strong Tech defense that is the only team to have allowed fewer than 100 points so far this season.
So who will come out on top and take control of the Coastal? Here's our staff's picks for the Hokies and Panthers.
This is a tale of two very different teams as Pittsburgh leads the nation in points per game averaging 52 led by a prolific passing attack from Kenny Pickett while the Hokies are a defense and special teams driven team that will have to rely on their rushing attack today.
The QB situations are also vastly different as Kenny Pickett has broken out in a big way this season with 19 TDs and only 1 INT with Heisman talk starting to increase. Meanwhile, Tech's QB situation is a mess with Braxton Burmeister almost certainly not at 100% with a shoulder injury while wildcat QB Connor Blumrick is out indefinitely and confidence in backup Knox Kadum isn't very high.
Slowing down Pickett will be essential for Tech's defense though it doesn't help not having leader Dax Hollifield at linebacker for the first half due to a late targeting penalty against Notre Dame. However, don't be surprised if Tech uses a lot of dime packages to get Jermaine Waller, Dorian Strong, and Armani Chatman to try to slow down this high-end passing attack with Waller and Strong likely to be matched up with star Jordan Addison the most.
Tech's passing game is a big question mark given the injury to Burmeister and you wonder how much Burmeister can really run it. With that said, Tech is going to have to try to use some misdirection and stretch the field horizontally with jet sweeps, pop passes, and screens to blend with some form of their read options likely built off the jet sweep.
If Tech is going to win this game, they are going to need to win the hidden yardage battle. Tech has done a great job of limiting turnovers while their special teams units have produced some great punts and big returns which will be essential to pulling off the upset.
In the end, there are too many questions surrounding this Tech offense to feel good about the Hokies with Kenny Pickett and Pittsburgh able to wear down Tech's defense and leave Blacksburg with a win.
Pick: Pittsburgh 23, Virginia Tech 13
In true Virginia Tech fashion under the Fuente era, the Hokies squandered a sure fire confidence boosting win over Notre Dame last week. Now they must face a Pittsburgh team that might be even better than the Irish. Despite last week's loss, the Hokies are in a good spot if they want to compete for the ACC coastal title this year as they enter the thick of the conference schedule.
Quarterback Kenny Pickett, who has seemingly been the starter for quite some time, has finally blossomed and is leading a Pittsburgh offense that has yet to score under 40 points this season. Against the two Power 5 opponents he's faced so far, he has thrown for 6 touchdowns and no interceptions. For a Hokies' defense that gave up 32 points to a bad Notre Dame offense, this is going to be a major challenge. Pittsburgh has both a diverse run game and explosive passing attack that will be tough to hone in on, so it will be a big litmus test for Justin Hamilton's gameplanning and adjustments should things start out poorly.
The way Tech's offense has looked lately, it may be best to avoid getting in a shootout with Pittsburgh. Posting just 21 points in back-to-back games, the offense likely needs to show up in a big way against a Pittsburgh defense that runs a lot of man-to-man concepts. It will be up to the receivers to win their perimeter matchups and Burmeister to be accurate and on time with his delivery - the problem is that combination of events has not been prevalent this year, and five games in it is unlikely to change.
Right now, I think Pittsburgh is the better team so being at home in Lane Stadium will be critical for the Hokies, specifically the defense. However, Kenny Pickett is playing too efficient and the quarterback edge Pittsbugh has is too much to ignore. Tech will likely hold Pittsburgh under 40, but the offense won't be able to keep up with the Panthers.
Pick: Pittsburgh 30, Virginia Tech 24
After over a month of out of conference matchups, the Hokies return to ACC play with a grueling contest against the Panthers.
In what has been a back and forth rivalry over the past few years, the home team has come out on top in each of the last four matchups.
If the Hokies want to make it five years in a row, they must find a way to cool down Heisman candidate Kenny Pickett. The senior quarterback has been on a tear in 2021 with 19 passing TDs and over 1700 yards through the air.
Meanwhile, Virginia Tech is dealing with their own issues at the signal caller position. After Burmeister and Blumrick were both shaken up by the Fighting Irish, health will be a big issue going forward throughout the season.
The path to success for the Hokies will be through their defense. Defensive back Jermaine Waller, who will be wearing the No. 25 jersey on Saturday, leads the ACC in four interceptions.
In past weeks, the pass rush of the Hokies has not been as successful as it was in the early weeks of the season. Amare Barno was able to notch his first sack since the season opener last week against Notre Dame, so the defensive lineman could be in due for a big performance against the Panthers.
The task ahead for the Hokies will be quite difficult, but that’s what you anticipate in a matchup where the winner will hold their own destiny in the Coastal division.
I believe the Panthers offense will just do enough to outplay the Hokies on Saturday and Pickett's hot season continues with another statement performance at Lane Stadium.