Oct 4, 2014; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Marquise Williams (12) is pulled back by Virginia Tech Hokies defensive tackle Corey Marshall (96) after a quarterback sneak during the first half at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
Every game is valuable for the Virginia Tech Hokies in their pursuit of the ACC Coastal title in what is a wide open division. The Hokies play the first of back-to-back Thursday Night football games this Thursday at Pittsburgh in a game that both teams know could have big impacts depending on the result and the way the division continues to play out.
Many fans across the country know about James Conner who is one of the best running backs in college football and the best running back in the ACC. Conner is fifth in the nation with 874 rushing yards in his first full season as the full-time starter for the Pittsburgh Panthers.
Conner is a power runner that is massive at 6-2, 250 pounds which is about 10 pounds bigger than Marshawn Williams. On top of that, Conner is not in bad shape either and that weight is just an example of how big and strong the sophomore running back is.
The Hokies will have a big challenge on their hands and need to do what they can to contain Conner and force Pittsburgh QB Chad Voytik to try to beat them.
Oct 4, 2014; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers running back James Conner (24) carries the ball as Virginia Cavaliers defensive end Eli Harold (7) chases in the first quarter at Scott Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Conner ran for over 150 yards in each of the first four games and the Panthers were 3-1 in those four games. In the last two games, Conner has been held under 100 yards and the Panthers have gone 0-2 and enter this game on a three-game losing streak.
These stats just prove that containing James Conner is critical and that forcing Chad Voytik to make plays will be critical.
Voytik has been solid overall for Pittsburgh but he hasn’t been as good as they needed him to be the last two weeks against Akron and Virginia to avoid those losses. Pittsburgh has a very good wide receiver in sophomore Tyler Boyd but Kendall Fuller can shut down Boyd and make Voytik go to his other options.
The Virginia Tech secondary has had plenty of time to prepare with the bye week and is ready to do damage against Voytik. However, the Hokies’ secondary will need the chance to make big plays and that will come down to the Virginia Tech front 7 stuffing the runs up the middle.
Virginia Tech will need Corey Marshall and Nigel Williams to prevent holes from opening up in the middle with Chase Williams and Deon Clarke being there to help ensure that Conner can’t get more than a yard or two. If Virginia Tech can force long third down situations, the Hokies’ secondary can make the plays that they need to make to shut down Voytik.
When Conner ran for less than 100 yards, Voytik was not able to pick up the load with 220 passing yards against Akron and 195 yards against Virginia. If the Hokies can contain Conner, Virginia Tech will have a great chance to win this game.