Hokies looking to end hex at Pitt
PITTSBURGH (AP) Frank Beamer doesn’t want to talk about momentum or the way Virginia Tech has reasserted itself as a factor in the ACC’s wide-open Coastal Division following a two-game pratfall against East Carolina and Georgia Tech.
All Beamer knows is his team’s mojo has a way of disappearing each time the Hokies (4-2, 1-1) find themselves in Pittsburgh. As resilient as Virginia Tech looked while beating Western Michigan and North Carolina, it won’t matter if the Hokies can’t end a bewildering run of poor play against the reeling Panthers (3-3, 1-1).
Virginia Tech has lost four of its last five meetings with Pitt, including a surprisingly easy 35-17 romp at Heinz Field two years ago that kickstarted a tumble out of the AP Top 25 in a forgettable 7-6 season.
”I think every year is different of what caused the first loss, second loss, third loss, fourth loss,” Beamer said. ”Different reasons. But the bottom line is they’re always a very physical football team, always very tough. They don’t beat themselves.”
Not exactly. The Panthers have dropped three straight following a torrid 3-0 start, blowing a 10-point halftime lead against Iowa before getting upset at home by Akron and falling behind by three touchdowns against Virginia in a 24-19 loss two weeks ago.
”I don’t want people to take this the wrong way, but like I’ve said, we’re still 1-1 in ACC play, and our goals are still attainable,” Pitt running back James Conner said. ”I know our record doesn’t look too great right now, but we still have to stay focused on the rest of the season.”
One that won’t look nearly as promising as it did a month ago if the Panthers can’t avoid their first four-game losing streak since 2007.
”We can’t wait,” offensive lineman Jaryd Jones-Smith said. ”The bye week really helped us out. It gave us a chance to catch our breath and get our heads back on straight. So, we’re definitely looking forward to Thursday night to kick some butt.”
Some things to look for as Virginia Tech and Pitt play what amounts to an elimination game in the race behind Coastal front-runner Virginia.
RUNNER RUNNER: First Shai McKenzie went down with a season-ending knee injury. Marshawn Williams and Trey Edmunds eventually followed to the trainer’s room, leaving the Hokies with J.C. Coleman and Joel Caleb as the most experienced running backs left on the roster. Virginia Tech’s best running threat might be quarterback Michael Brewer, who will tuck the ball and take off when necessary.
DOUBLE DUTY: Pitt coach Paul Chryst backed off his plan to have Conner play both ways at running back and defensive end after the sophomore got off to the best start by a back in school history. Conner’s production has slowed of late, and he plans on taking a few snaps on defense to help spark a unit that has just 12 sacks halfway through the season.
ROAD WARRIORS: The Hokies have looked better in the road uniforms than when they’ve suited up at Lane Stadium. They knocked off Ohio State last month, arguably one of the best road wins by any team in the country this season. They had little trouble jumping out at North Carolina last week, proof they are maturing quickly.
”When you get to be a good football team and get a chance to win championships is when it really doesn’t make any difference what day it is, what time it is, what team it is,” Beamer said. ”Virginia Tech plays consistent. And I think that’s been true over the years.”
VOLATILE VOYTIK: Pitt’s slide has increased with an uptick in workload for quarterback Chad Voytik. The Panthers relied heavily on Conner in the early going, forcing defenses to counter by stacking the line of scrimmage with eight or nine players and challenging Voytik to beat them. It hasn’t happened. The sophomore is completing just 58 percent of his passes and has struggled to develop a rapport with any receiver outside of star Tyler Boyd.
PRESSURE POINT: Virginia Tech put the clamps on North Carolina by forcing three turnovers and collecting five sacks. The Hokies will go after Voytik in waves. If the Panthers want to move the ball, they know they have to keep Voytik upright.
”The O-line has to give Chad time and be physical up front,” Conner said. ”We know what they’re going to do, but we just have to be ready for it and take it to them.”
AP Sports Writer Hank Kurz in Blacksburg, Virginia contributed to this report.