Football: Panthers visit Virginia Tech looking to extend winning ways

Football: Panthers visit Virginia Tech looking to extend winning ways

By Nate Barnes / Sports Editor

Pitt football hits the road for just the second time this season, as the Panthers travel to Blacksburg, Va., for an ACC Coastal Division showdown with No. 24 Virginia Tech. Pitt (3-1, 2-1 ACC) will put its three-game winning streak on the line against the five-game streak held by Virginia Tech (5-1, 2-0 ACC).

Tight end J.P. Holtz believes that the Panthers need to keep the same approach from the team’s three previous victories in order to extend their winning streak to four.

“We just have to keep doing what we’re doing,” Holtz said. “I feel like we can beat anyone if we play together like we have been.”

Virginia Tech will pose a greater challenge than New Mexico, Duke or Virginia did in the last three games. Starting on offense, dual-threat quarterback Logan Thomas enters the contest with 1,212 passing yards and eight touchdowns over his first six games. 

“He’s a guy that can hurt you running the ball as well as throwing,” Chryst said. “They’ve got a couple good receivers. Like a lot of teams, they can spread you out, but they can run power with him. He’s pretty good.”

Those receivers include Willie Byrn and Demitri Knowles, who accounted for nearly half of Thomas’ passing yards this season. Byrn has caught 21 passes for 303 yards and a touchdown this season, while Knowles has hauled in 24 balls for 267 yards and a pair of scores. 

Pitt has its own pair of Biletnikoff Award candidates. Devin Street leads the team with 445 yards on 21 catches with three touchdowns, while true freshman Tyler Boyd has a team-high 23 receptions for 425 yards and a team-best four touchdowns.

Street and Boyd look forward to the way Virginia Tech’s secondary will match up with the Panthers, which could leave the two receivers with a lot of room in which to work on the outside. 

“It’s going to be a lot of one-on-one’s, a lot of man-to-man’s,” Street said. “We’re looking forward to the one-on-one matchups and we’re going to have to win one-on-one.”

Virginia Tech plays a 4-2-5 defensive scheme, meaning the Hokies utilize four players on the line, two in the linebacking unit and five in the secondary. The secondary is filled with playmakers who have combined for 12 interceptions already this season.

“They’re playing fast in the back end and aggressive up front,” Chryst said. “They’re physical when they run the ball, and they can create havoc, turnovers and sacks. I think they’re playing really confident, and they should be.”

Pitt’s defense will get a boost this week because, as Chryst said Thursday, both linebacker Shane Gordon and defensive end Bryan Murphy will play after the two missed Pitt’s 14-3 win over Virginia due to injuries.

Pitt will also enter Saturday’s game with a four-game winning streak against Virginia Tech, the latest of which came last year in a 35-17 Pitt victory at Heinz Field. Hokies head coach Frank Beamer learned a valuable lesson from that game.

“We learned that Pittsburgh will pound you if you don’t play well yourself,” Beamer said. “They’re always going to be a team that’s tough for us to beat. They’ve beaten us the last four times we’ve played, so we know we’ve got great respect for Pittsburgh.”

Virginia Tech awaits the Panthers at Lane Stadium, which is widely regarded as one of the nation’s most difficult places to play. While that may have something to do with the quality teams Beamer fields every season, Pitt will get its first true road test in a raucous, hostile environment. 

“With my past experiences, obviously when you go on the road and are on offense, crowd noise is going to be a factor,” Chryst said. “I’m looking forward to taking these guys down to a great atmosphere, but we have to be able to handle it.”