No. 13 Hokies to give Pitt taste of the ACC
OK Pitt, you asked for it.
A year after the Panthers stunned the Big East by announcing they were joining Syracuse in a mad dash for the stability of the ACC, Pittsburgh gets a taste of what awaits in 2013 when it hosts 13th-ranked Virginia Tech on Saturday.
The Hokies (2-0) made the jump nearly a decade ago, finding immediate success in the ACC. Coach Frank Beamer isn't sure if his program provided a blueprint on how to make the switch and he's not entirely certain the struggling Panthers (0-2) need one.
''I think they are going to come right into the ACC and compete very well,'' Beamer said.
Maybe, though Pitt hopes it doesn't have to wait that long. It hasn't been the easiest transition for first-year coach Paul Chryst. The Panthers were stunned by Youngstown State in the season opener before getting blown out by Cincinnati last Thursday.
The defense has struggled. The passing game has created nothing downfield and Pitt has shown little spark. And now the Panthers have to find a way to contain a team that is hinting at being the ACC's best.
Chryst called the Hokies a ''measuring stick'' and insists his players are ready despite a disappointing start.
''I don't feel like it's a team in fragile state of mind,'' he said. ''Would we have liked to have won our first two games? Yes, but it didn't happen and we have a great opportunity this week.''
To do it, they'll have to find a way to slow down an opponent for the first time this season. Youngstown State beat a Bowl Championship Series conference team for the first time two weeks ago by spreading the field and controlling the clock. Cincinnati started Pitt's final season in the Big East by rolling up 464 yards in a 34-10 romp.
Not exactly a positive trend with Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas coming to town. The junior has been solid if not spectacular in victories over Georgia Tech and Austin Peay and now faces a defense still looking for its first turnover of the season.
Beamer downplayed Pitt's issues, calling it a simple byproduct of having three different head coaches in as many seasons.
''I think when you go through coaching changes there are adjustment periods,'' Beamer said. ''I think that's just the way it is. We have always had respect for them and we sure do have respect for them now.''
Beamer has his reasons. Pitt had a habit of ruining perfectly good seasons by the Hokies during the 11 years the schools faced each other in the Big East. The last time Virginia Tech played at Heinz Field in 2003, the Panthers knocked off the fifth-ranked Hokies 31-28 behind a wide receiver named Larry Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald, however, won't be around on Saturday. Too bad. Pitt could certainly use him. Quarterback Tino Sunseri's numbers are OK - he's completing 64 percent of his passes and averaging 258.5 yards per game - but the decision making needs some work.
So does the pass protection. Pitt gave up more sacks than any team in the country in 2011, and has already allowed six through two games. Chryst stresses there is plenty of blame to go around, from the offensive line to the running backs to the receivers to Sunseri not getting rid of the ball on time.
The Panthers will need to be considerably crisp against the Hokies. Virginia Tech has picked off three passes, is allowing opponents to complete less than half their passes and shown a nasty streak that's been part of the program's trademark under Beamer.
''I feel like we've played real well,'' said safety Kyshoen Jarrett, a Pennsylvania native who originally committed to Pitt but switched to Virginia Tech after Dave Wannstedt stepped down in 2010. ''As long as everybody is comfortable with each other and confident in each other's play, I feel like we'll be just fine.''
A victory on the road might also start opening doors for the Hokies. They return home next week to take on Bowling Green then play Cincinnati at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., There's a real chance they could start 5-0 heading into the heart of their ACC schedule.
It's one the Panthers will join next season as part of the Coastal Division. Chryst, however, isn't worried about trying to send a message. Considering the current state of the program, he knows he can't afford to look ahead a day let alone a year.
''It's a measuring stick for right now,'' Chryst said. ''All that really matters is the now.''
Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP
AP Sports Writer Hank Kurz in Blacksburg, Va., contributed to this reported.