By: Joey Raymond
Headline Photo Credit: Virginia Tech Athletics
White Out Week 5 in Blacksburg
This week is not your typical “prime time” game, but it will be played in prime time as Pitt comes into Blacksburg for an 8 p.m. kick against Virginia Tech. It’ll be a whiteout and military appreciation night for the Hokies. The Hokies and the Panthers will be looking to turn things around, as both teams are coming into this one with a record of 1-3. Saturday’s matchup will mark the 23rd game between Virginia Tech and Pitt. The two schools have played one another every year since 2012, swapping stadiums each time. Overall, in series history, game results have been very close, with win totals of 11 for both programs.
What Happened Last Week?
Let’s start with the Hokies, who come into this matchup off of a loss to Marshall. The Hokies lost 24-17 capping off another disappointing loss, furthering the unrest in Blacksburg. To say the fan base is frustrated is an understatement. The Hokies came out hot in the first half, really pounding the rock and working the run game. It looked good until it didn’t. The Hokies and Brent Pry went away from the running game and the offense disappeared. The Hokies went 7 straight drives without scoring anything from the second quarter to the fourth. The Hokies need to find a way to build confidence and continue that momentum if they look to have any sort of chance against Pitt.
Moving on to the Pitt Panthers, they come into this one off of a gut-wrenching loss to ranked North Carolina. Pitt came out strong in that game, before letting the game get away from them in the second quarter when the Tar Heels scored 21 points. Ultimately the defense struggled to get pressure on Drake Maye, and the injury-riddled offensive line couldn’t protect Phil Jurkovec, who would get injured in this game. At the end of the game, North Carolina would run away with it, winning 41-24.
What to Watch For:
I think a massive thing to keep in mind in this game is the struggles both teams have had with injuries. Pitt was without some of its top performers against North Carolina. On offense, Pitt was missing their top two linemen, Jake Kradel and Matt Goncalves. Bangally Kamara, one of the team’s best pass rushers, was inactive on the defensive side of the ball, as was redshirt freshman Sean FitzSimmons, who missed his third contest of the year. With only some seconds left in the first half, starting quarterback Phil Jurkovec took a hit that kept him out for the rest of the game. In the second half, Rodney Hammond Jr. also went down with an injury and didn’t return.
The Hokies, as I’ve gone into depth on before, have struggled just as much with the injury bug. Even though in the Marshall game the Hokies saw the likes of Alan Tisdale and Jaylin Lane back, they still had a ton of guys out. Ali Jennings, Grant Wells, Lane, Keyshawn Burgos, Nasir Peoples, and Cole Beck are all still out with some level of injury. Unfortunately, that’s only the ones we know of, because this coaching staff has kept those injured close to the chest.
This game is all going to come down to which team’s backup players can step up, and truly have that next-man-up mentality. Both teams have been beaten up, and both have struggled to be successful because of it. Pitt has been close to winning every game, just like the Hokies have. Pitt is still a formidable foe, especially with Pat Narduzzi at the helm. On paper, this game should turn out to be a massive defensive battle. Christian Veilleux, Pitt’s backup quarterback is going to have a mountain to climb. He looked massively underprepared for the game against North Carolina, turning the ball over three times in that effort. He’ll have to come into a sold-out Lane Stadium crowd on a night game. The last time that happened, resulted in an Old Dominion loss. I don’t know if Veilleux has the confidence to be successful in an environment like that. My prediction is that this will be an absolute slugfest. The defense will be the key as both squads will need to get some turnovers to win this game. Even though I said in the year preview this would be a Tech loss, I have a hard time believing that they couldn’t win this game with Pitt’s injuries. I’m going to pick the Hokies to win this but don’t be surprised if Pitt somehow manages to pull this one out. Especially if we find out that Phil Jurkovec ends up a hundred percent healthy.