The Virginia Tech Hokies (3-2; 1-0 in ACC play) are in a key battle for the Coastal Division with several teams, including the Pittsburgh Panthers (4-1; 1-0 in ACC play). This Saturday, Virginia Tech will have their third consecutive home game as they host Pittsburgh for first place in the Coastal Division.
The outcome of this game may be an indication of how well the Hokies will be through the remaining season. If Virginia Tech wins against another high-caliber Coastal Division, they will have hope for the remaining season and could potentially win the division for the first time since 2016. If they have another close game like they did to West Virginia and #14 Notre Dame, they may have to make some tough decisions with their team.
The defense, especially the secondary, has a huge task ahead of them
Virginia Tech will face one of the most explosive and efficient passing offenses in the nation in Pittsburgh. The Panthers rank first in the nation in points per game (52.4) and fourth in the nation in passing yards per game (377.6). Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett threw for 1,731 yards, 19 touchdowns, only one interception, and a quarterback rating of 194.7 on 121 completions (out of 168 passing attempts) in five games this season.
The Panthers have not faced an efficient defense like Virginia Tech yet this season. The defense of Virginia Tech ranks 41st in the nation in total yards allowed per game (324.4) and 24th in points allowed per game (18.6). They have high-caliber talent through each position group of defense and all of them will need to be relied on to significantly slow down the passing offense of Pittsburgh.
The defensive backs of the Hokies will need to keep their assigned man coverage receiver in check long enough for the pass rush to pressure Pickett enough to throw any passes. The secondary, led by cornerback Jermaine Waller and nickelback Chamarri Conner are two of the ACC’s most efficient coverage players. They will not give up the big plays, but the defense will need to be fast and reactive in stopping the receivers in short-to-mid-range plays, otherwise, the drives will be extended and the defenders will be gassed out.
The offense for Virginia Tech will need to have their best game of the season
The offense has had goals all season of trying to be more explosive and quicker. The Hokies have been anything but explosive and quick despite the talent that their offense possesses. Virginia Tech averages 24.6 points per game (92nd in the nation) and 310.8 total yards accounted for per game (114th in the nation). Most of the blame for their inefficient offense goes to the poor play-calling and preparations from offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen.
The Hokies might have to be able to endure a shootout with a high-scoring offense of Pittsburgh. Their defense ranks 32nd in total yards allowed per game (307.6) and 20th in rushing yards allowed per game (102.2). This will be a game where Hokies quarterback Braxton Burmeister will have to play his best game through the passing game. He is capable of making the big plays through the air but has faced the complications of completing short-to-mid-range passes.
The offense of Virginia Tech will need to keep Burmeister protected in the pocket against an efficient pass rush of Pittsburgh. The defense of the Panthers has accounted for 18 sacks in five games this season. Burmeister might be able to wear down Pittsburgh’s defense through some smart runs on non-blitzing plays.