Pitt football prepares for Virginia Tech, ACC play

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Pitt football prepares for Virginia Tech, ACC play

Meghan Sunners | Senior Staff Photographer

Meghan Sunners | Senior Staff Photographer

Meghan Sunners | Senior Staff Photographer

Meghan Sunners | Senior Staff Photographer

By Jeremy Tepper / Senior Staff Writer

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For Pitt offensive lineman Adam Bisnowaty, history says everything that needs to be said about the football team’s upcoming game at Virginia Tech.

“We’ve won the past five out of six so it doesn’t really go with rivalry as much,” Bisnowaty said. “But an ACC game’s a big game.”

Pitt (2-1) hopes to continue its recent dominance over the Hokies (2-2) this Saturday afternoon in Blacksburg, Virginia, coming off its first bye week.

Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer and his team are coming off a 35-28 loss against East Carolina. The team’s defense struggled in the game, allowing 410 total yards. Defense has been a surprsing struggle for the Hokies thus far, allowing an average of 375 yards per game.

Most preseason previews — including The Pitt News’ own — ranked the Hokies as a top defense. Even the season-ending injury to star cornerback Kendall Fuller can’t explain the struggles.

The team’s rushing defense, in particular, has been mediocre, permitting an average of 205.3 yards each game.

Pitt’s running attack has also had its share of troubles over the past two games. The Panthers will lean on a rotation of Qadree Ollison and Chris James to gain yards on the ground — freshman running back Darrin Hall will not play because of a leg injury. According to Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi, only time will reveal the team’s starter for the game, as the decision will hinge on who had the best week of practice.

Even without solid run defense and a top corner, the Hokies still have one of the better secondaries in the ACC, according to Pitt wide receiver coach Kevin Sherman.

“They’re long, they’re athletic,” Sherman said. “They’re well coached, they’re physical.”

This physical play has added up to five total passing touchdowns against the Hokies versus six interceptions, which covers up for the porous defensive front.

For as much as the defense has struggled, Virginia Tech’s offense has succeeded, accumulating 453 yards and 36.3 points per game. The Hokies’ rushing attack alone has averaged 205.8 yards each game.

Narduzzi was highly complimentary of Virginia Tech’s offense.

“They’re gonna get their yards,” Narduzzi said. “They’re a power run team. You’re going to see power run from about 50 different ways.”

Virginia Tech spreads its rushing attack around, with four players having already accumulated 100 yards this season — two of whom have rushed for more than 200 yards.

Freshman running back Travon McMillian leads the team with 209 yards in four games, with one start. Quarterback Brenden Motley has rushed for 164 yards and three touchdowns on the year. Motley is an apt passer, too, throwing for 770 yards and six touchdowns. In comparison, Pitt’s two starting quarterbacks this season — incumbent Nathan Peterman and former starter Chad Voytik ­— have combined for 540 yards and four touchdowns, but in one less game.

“He’s a big, physical-looking guy that can throw the ball as well,” Narduzzi said of Motley.

As one of Virginia Tech’s best runners, as well as the field general, Pitt linebackers coach Rob Harley said Virginia Tech’s reliance on Motley has been a sensible strategy.

“He’s an athlete that has the ball in his hands every snap,” Harley said. “Obviously that’s what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to put it in the hands of their playmaker and he’s got what seems like the green light to go make some plays.”

Part of Motley’s playmaking ability revolves around his aptitude to improvise during broken plays. Improvisation is a challenge, though the strategy to stop him depends on filling gaps and being quick to the ball.

“You can’t really draw those up. You’re not drawing those up on the board and saying, ‘We’ve got to fit here, and we’ve got to cover this’ when he’s out there,” Harley said. “It’s important for us to have our eyes on our keys, understand that he’s a playmaker, but at the same time, can’t get caught staring at him the whole game.”

Part of Pitt’s plan to stop the Hokies offense could come in safety Reggie Mitchell, who has missed Pitt’s past two games but is ready to play again.

“We’ll be able to utilize him if needed,” Narduzzi said.

For all the preparation each team goes through, Pitt and Virginia Tech will also have to factor in the weather. The forecast calls for rain at the noon kickoff.

Inclement weather, in many cases, can neutralize a team’s passing game — but Pitt wide receiver Tyler Boyd is confident the rain will not deter him.

“It’s pretty much the worst for a receiver out there, but [it’s not] going to affect me,” Boyd said. “I still trust my game and catching wet balls — we’re already practicing catching wet balls.”

Regardless of the conditions, Narduzzi expects a tough environment and a team to match.

“We’ll face a great football team down there in a tough place to win,” Narduzzi said. “It will be another angry environment like we faced out in Iowa City.”

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