Pittsburgh, PA – The 13th-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies hit the road for the first time this season, when they invade Heinz Field this weekend for a showdown with the Pittsburgh Panthers.
Frank Beamer's squad used strong special teams play and solid defense to overwhelm Austin Peay last weekend in a 42-7 rout. The win was a harsh contrast to the nail-biter in the season-opener, a 20-17 overtime win against ACC foe Georgia Tech. The game against the Yellow Jackets was on Labor Day and a short week was something Beamer was concerned with.
"The last time we did that [two games in five days], we were 0-2 right now, so at least we are 2-0. It is just a hard week and was just a tough game against Georgia Tech. It just takes a lot out of you."
Paul Chryst is still in search of his first win at Pittsburgh, as the Panthers opened his tenure with a humbling 31-17 loss to FCS foe Youngstown State and followed that up with a 34-10 setback to Cincinnati last Thursday in the Big East opener. The team will attempt to avoid its first 0-3 start to a season since 2005.
Virginia Tech holds a 7-4 lead in a series that dates back to just 1993. However, Pitt got the win in the last encounter, a 31-28 decision in 2003. This will be a much more consistent rivalry going forward with Pittsburgh's move to the ACC in 2013.
Special teams were in the spotlight for Virginia Tech in the lopsided win over Austin Peay last weekend, as a long punt return and a blocked punt gave the Hokies a short field to work with.
"Yeah, that [the special teams plays] got us going," Beamer said. "Both of them ended with scores, and we need to keep developing."
Junior QB Logan Thomas did what was needed, throwing for 212 yards and two TDs, while rushing for a third score. The ground game managed 187 yards and three TDs, but lacks a workhorse back like in years past.
Through two games, the offensive numbers have been adequate, but not spectacular. Thomas is a budding superstar under center, but has thus far completed just 59 percent of his throws, for 442 yards and four TDs. The receiving corps is led by big target Marcus Davis (eight catches, 116 yards), but the depth took a hit with the loss of WR D.J. Coles to a knee injury suffered in the opener.
Chryst recognizes the challenge that Thomas will present.
"Obviously a very impressive athlete, but I think he's a very impressive quarterback. There's no way we can mimic it. We don't have a guy on our scout team that is that size and plays quarterback. We'll do our best in preparing for it, but he certainly is a gifted and talented quarterback."
Tech's defense was simply too much for the Governors to deal with, as APSU managed a meager 221 yards of total offense, including just 62 through the air. The Hokies finished the game with 10 TFLs and were led in tackles by junior linebacker Jack Tyler.
Virginia Tech has looked solid for the most part on the defensive side of the ball, recording three sacks and 19 TFLs through two games.
Tyler has been all over the field, pacing the Hokies with 25 total tackles. Junior tackle Derrick Hopkins is next in line with 17 stops. Junior cornerback Kyle Fuller has just three tackles, but is responsible for two of the team's three INTs to date.
All-Big East back Ray Graham rushed for 103 yards, but there weren't many other bright spots for the Pitt offense last time out, as the Panthers fell into an early hole against Cincinnati and could not recover. Quarterback Tino Sunseri was 24-of-37 passing, for 278 yards and one score, but did also throw one INT.
The offensive numbers through two games are pretty disappointing for Pittsburgh, with the team managing just 13.5 ppg, despite almost 400 yards per outing (392).
Graham, who has returned from a knee injury suffered last season, looks good to go, pacing the team with 174 yards through two outings, although he has yet to find the end zone.
Chryst is optimistic in regards to Graham's return to health.
"He certainly got more work against Cincinnati. I think he's kind of been encouraged by it and you'd have to ask him about it because I don't want to speak for him. In my conversations with him it felt like he was a little bit more comfortable with it in the Cincinnati game. We'll see how this week goes with practice as far as if it's taking a toll, but I think it's energizing him and we're one more week in to the process."
Sunseri has completed 64.2 percent of his throws, for 517 yards and two TDs, with his top targets thus far being Mike Shanahan (11 catches, 113 yards) and Devin Street (nine catches, 105 yards).
The Pittsburgh defense has contributed more to the slow start than the offense, as the Panthers are allowing a generous 32.5 ppg and well over 400 yards (422.5). Cincinnati gashed Pitt for 259 yards rushing and a couple of touchdowns to put the game out of reach.
Junior middle linebacker Shane Gordon leads the team in tackles with 17 thus far, including two TFLs and the team's only sack on the year. Freshman linebacker Nicholas Grigsby and senior safety Jarred Holley are a close second in stops with 16 tackles each.