Hokies, Panthers set to open ACC play in soggy Lane Stadium
Virginia Tech will try to reverse its recent history against Pittsburgh when the teams square off Saturday in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener for both squads.
The Panthers (2-1) have won five of the last six meetings, and the Hokies are determined to swing the momentum back in their direction.
”This has tremendous importance to us,” coach Frank Beamer said this week. ”Pitt, always a tough team, tough players, well coached. Although they’ve changed staffs, you see similar results, similar toughness.”
Virginia Tech (2-2) is coming off a 35-28 loss at East Carolina in a game played in steady rain, and the conditions figure to be very similar on Saturday. Quarterback Brenden Motley, making just his third career start, threw for 281 yards and ran for 85 more in the loss.
That doesn’t mean the Hokies expect him to carry such a load every week.
”There’s times that we’re going to come in here and the quarterback is not going to run, but we’re always going to try to do what’s best for our team and for our offense,” offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said.
Pittsburgh poses a stout challenge defensively.
The Panthers rank 17th in the country in overall defense, and are allowing just 92 yards per game on the ground, 15th best. They allow 200 yards per game via the pass.
On offense, the Panthers are still working to find an identity since losing star tailback James Conner to a torn MCL in the opener. First-year coach Pat Narduzzi appears to have settled on Nate Peterman at quarterback, even though dual threat Chad Voytik engineered a 21-16 victory against the Hokies last season.
”It’s accuracy, really,” Narduzzi said of Peterman. ”It’s where he’s putting the ball and his vision, finding the open guy and putting it where it needs to be. Accuracy has got to be the one thing I’d say is good.”
Here are some things to watch when Pitt visits Virginia Tech:
LONG LAYOFF: Pitt’s early bye week made the sting from a 27-24 loss to Iowa on Sept. 19 linger longer than usual. The Panthers tied it with less than a minute to go only to see the Hawkeyes win it on a 57-yard field goal, a kick nailed after Narduzzi initially tried to ice the kicker. ”It’s always miserable in an open week when you’re coming off of a loss because you’ve got two weeks to sit with it as opposed to a week,” Narduzzi said.
PETERMAN’S THE MAN: The Panthers’ early quarterback derby finally appears to have a winner. Graduate Nate Peterman will make his second straight start after beginning the season as the understudy to Chad Voytik. While Voytik could see a handful of plays, Peterman will get the bulk of the snaps barring injury or a setback. Peterman is the better passer and isn’t afraid to go downfield in search of wide receiver Tyler Boyd. But Voytik ran for 118 yards against the Hokies last season, and they have been vulnerable to running QBs.
CROWDED BACKFIELD: While the quarterback situation seems settled, running back is another matter for the Panthers. With James Conner out with a torn MCL in his right knee, Chris James, Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall have met with limited success. Hall was the leading rusher against Iowa, albeit it with just 38 yards, but will miss Saturday’s game with an injury.
SERIES HISTORY: These matchups almost always feature rugged defensive play, and the Hokies spent this week trying to get their unit playing better. They allowed East Carolina quarterback James Summers to gouge them for 169 rushing yards last week, and coach Frank Beamer said missed tackles contributed greatly to Summers’ success.
SLOPPY TRACK: Several days of rain will make the Lane Stadium field more than a little sloppy, and windy conditions could make throwing the ball a dicey proposition. The Hokies lost All-American cornerback Kendall Fuller to knee surgery this week, and his replacements were picked apart by the Pirates a week ago. Pitt will surely hope to do the same with star wideout Tyler Boyd, so any adjustments the Hokies made this week will be critical.
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