Prediction: Panthers to rekindle old magic vs. Bud Foster’s VT defense

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Prediction: Panthers to rekindle old magic vs. Bud Foster’s VT defense

The Pitt Panthers will put their chances of winning the ACC Coastal Division on the line when they face the Virginia Tech Hokies at Heinz Field Thursday night. Jeff Ahearn | Senior Staff Photographer

The Pitt Panthers will put their chances of winning the ACC Coastal Division on the line when they face the Virginia Tech Hokies at Heinz Field Thursday night. Jeff Ahearn | Senior Staff Photographer

The Pitt Panthers will put their chances of winning the ACC Coastal Division on the line when they face the Virginia Tech Hokies at Heinz Field Thursday night. Jeff Ahearn | Senior Staff Photographer

The Pitt Panthers will put their chances of winning the ACC Coastal Division on the line when they face the Virginia Tech Hokies at Heinz Field Thursday night. Jeff Ahearn | Senior Staff Photographer

By Dan Sostek | Senior Staff Writer

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As a head coach, Pat Narduzzi has never defeated a ranked program. The Pitt football team will have its third chance in two years to change that Thursday night.

Narduzzi’s Panthers host the No. 25 Virginia Tech Hokies at Heinz Field 7 p.m. Thursday in a battle of two 5-2 teams, effectively putting any chance they have of winning the ACC Coastal Division on the line.

With a chance to move to 3-1 on the season in ACC play, Narduzzi and company are keying in on the Hokies’ mobile quarterback, dealing with up-tempo offense and facing VT defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s patented and ferocious defense.

Edging out Evans

After a couple years of mediocre signal calling from quarterbacks like Michael Brewer and Brenden Motley, the Hokies once again field a dynamic playmaker under center.

This team’s quarterback, junior Jerod Evans, has been sensational. He’s looked even more impressive than VT’s last dangerous QB, Logan Thomas, who graduated in 2013. Evans has thrown for 19 touchdowns and just two interceptions, while also posting 417 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

Pitt has faced a handful of speedy quarterbacks already — Penn State’s Trace McSorley and Georgia Tech’s Justin Thomas, for instance. But at 6-foot-4 and 236 pounds, Evans is a larger target.

“He’s bigger,” Narduzzi said. “He’s a more physical runner. Saw that last week. Very efficient with the ball. He’s thrown one or two picks, so he’s not careless with it. He would rather take it down and run, try to gain some yards, instead of throwing to us.”

Pitt linebacker coach Rob Harley discussed how important it is for his unit to maintain its fundamentals against the big and slippery Evans.

“When you get that 11th guy in play, when he’s an athlete, that puts a lot of stress on us as a defense,” Harley said. “On every one of our positions, but especially our front seven, they have to contain him, they have to bottle him up.”

Crowded house

Narduzzi wants a packed home field Thursday, and not just for aesthetic’s sake.

He even pseudo-petitioned for students who had class the night of the game, posting a fake excuse note on Twitter, which said students could miss class for the game.

While he might not be able to get people out of that two-and-a-half hour lecture, he did emphasize the importance of having solid support at Heinz Field.

“It should be an electric crowd, you’ve got two 5-2 football teams battling Thursday night,” Narduzzi said. “So, it’s the only show, at least at 7 o’clock. I don’t know if there’s a later game out west, but it’s going to be a big game. It’s huge.”

Perhaps the biggest reason Narduzzi wants a rabid fan base at the game is for strategic purposes.

Virginia Tech runs what the coach says is the highest-tempo offense Pitt has gone up against, and he added that the team will need help from a noisy crowd while on defense to cause communication issues for the Hokies.

“We expect plays to be snapped somewhere between 10 to 15 seconds,” Narduzzi said. “If we get 20 to 25 it will be a difference, a loud crowd can be an effect on Thursday night. It needs to be an effect.”

Tech taught well

Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster has been on staff in Blacksburg, Virginia, for three decades, and has run the defense since 1995. His fronts are typically some of the toughest in college football, and this year is no exception. Virginia Tech has the No. 3 scoring defense in the ACC and No. 4 total defense in yards allowed.

“With Bud Foster on defense they have continued to be a dominant defense,” Narduzzi said. “Not only in the ACC, but in the nation with where they’re ranked.”

Narduzzi credits Foster for creating a fiery but smart mindset for the Hokies unit.

“[Foster’s] aggressive. I think that probably most important thing about Bud is he does what he does,” Narduzzi said. “He doesn’t get too fancy … they’re very consistent with what they do, very disciplined, they play smart, they know how they fit.”

Tech’s defense is led by brothers Tremaine and Terrell Edmunds, sophomore linebacker and safety, respectively. But Narduzzi says the defense is 11-men deep, and might be the best Pitt has faced thus far.

“I made that comment earlier [in the year], I don’t know who it was against,” Narduzzi said. “But every week it seems like you play a good one. But, based on the stats, without a question [Virginia Tech is the best defense we’ve faced].”

PREDICTION: On a neutral field with neutral circumstances, Virginia Tech would likely have an edge. But with Pitt playing at home and coming off a bye, the Panthers hold a distinct advantage. With five extra days to prepare, expect Pitt offensive coordinator Matt Canada to come up with creative offensive packages to attack the Hokies’ stout defense.

Pitt 38, Virginia Tech 31

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