Virginia Tech Football: Pittsburgh Q&A Preview

James Conner is back, and the Panthers are poised to contend for the ACC Coastal title.

The Hokies and Panthers square off in the trenches. [Mark Umansky]

Fresh off their 37-16 thumping of Miami, the Hokies are set to travel to Heinz Field on Thursday evening for a key Coastal division clash with Pittsburgh. To get the Panthers' perspective on this potentially season-defining matchup, I spoke to Chas Rich, founder and fearless leader at Pitt Blather. You can find my answers to his questions here.

JC: We'll start with the most important question first: how f***ing awesome is James Conner?

CR: James Conner defies description at this point. I've run out of superlatives with regards to him.

JC: The Panthers have battled through some uncharacteristic struggles on defense this season, a surprise given the background and recent success of Pat Narduzzi. What's played into the defense's lackluster peformance, and how do you see Narduzzi turning it around?

CR: The secondary. That's the simple answer. The rest of it is a mixture of injuries and talent that doesn't match the scheme as well.

Narduzzi wants to play an attacking defense that defends the run and brings pressure up front. In his ideal scheme, the corners are on islands, and the help comes in pressuring the quarterback to throw too soon or take a sack.

That's the ideal. Here's the problem. Pitt has a good D-line, but not a great one. An injury in the very first game to Dewayne Hendrix at defensive end eliminated a starter. A few games later, linebacker Mike Caprara was hurt and has missed several games.

So that means the corners are alone and with little help coming. Avonte Maddox and Ryan Lewis aren't bad. But they aren't great, and they are on the smaller side. Which really hurts in one-on-one situations. Speaking of which, Maddox was hurt in the win over Georgia Tech -- further weakening the cornerback spot.

The additional problem is that Narduzzi has favored playing Terrish Webb at free safety because he is very good against the run. He is horrid, though, in pass defense. Virginia was targeting him in the first half of the last game almost exclusively. He left the game late in the first half with a (likely) concussion, and Reggie Mitchell took his place. Mitchell is much better against the pass and it showed in the second half, as Pitt shut down Virginia after allowing 28 points in the first half.

The hope from my view is that Pitt plays more Mitchell, due to the threat of the pass. Especially with Bucky Hodges still around.

JC: Offensively, the Panthers have put up some impressive numbers under senior quarterback Nathan Peterman. Conner and Quadree Henderson are the headliners at tailback, but who else should Hokies fans keep an eye on Thursday night? Do you see a shootout materializing at Heinz Field?
(Tyler Boyd is gone, right? Please tell me he's gone. Please.)

CR: Yes, it's true Tyler Boyd is no longer playing for Pitt.

Two names on offense to consider. Chawntez Moss is a freshman running back who has really played well in what is a very crowded backfield. He's a little shiftier and bumps it outside better than Conner.

The other is WR Jester Weah. Weah has great speed. Always has. The problem has been hands of stone. He dropped every pass last year. Literally. He had no pass receptions last year. It wasn't pretty, and if he had transferred, few fans would have complained about having an extra scholarship available.

This year, he has finally developed as a receiver. He's become a reliable target and can stretch the field when Pitt chooses to take a shot.

JC: From an outsider's perspective, it's been hard to get a handle on the Panthers this year. While Peterman and new offensive coordinator Matt Canada have clearly gelled well, the defense has been alarmingly bad at times (read, the first half against Virginia). With more than half the season in the books, where do you stand on how good this Pittsburgh team really is?

CR: Pitt has been maddeningly frustrating for us as well. They have come out in most games looking great and then had to hang on for dear life as the defense has been lit up, and the offense fizzled. And that was as much on Coach Narduzzi.

Again, it goes to how he wants to play (and still being too much of a DC at times rather than a HC) in the second half. Especially the 4th quarter, he has stated in the past that he wants to put the game in the hands of the defense. That means going very, very conservative on offense and leaving it all up to the defense.

Pitt barely got away with it against Penn State, and had it cost them in the losses to Oklahoma State and most painfully, to UNC.

You can look at it as Pitt losing only two games by a total of 8 points, but then Pitt has squeaked past PSU and GT (not to mention Marshall before a late score and pick-6 as the game ended to distort the final score).

I'm hopeful that the defense will play more in pass defense with the safeties. Especially against the Hokies, but I can't be totally sure.

JC: Time to put you on the spot: who wins Thursday night, and why?

CR: I remain an optimist. It will be a wild game with Pitt edging VT 44-40.

Comments

No comment on picking Pitt over VT, that is his opinion and he is more than welcome to pick any game however he chooses.

That said, I don't think Pitt scores 40+ points on us, win or lose.

If Pitt scores 40 its going to be a really long night for us and you will find me inside of a bottle of bourbon for the foreseeable future.

In his defense, they have averaged 38 so far this year.

In our defense, Bud Foster.

In our defense, Bud Foster.

I like our defense better.

Pain is Temporary
Chicks Dig Scars
Glory is Forever
Let's Go Hokies!!

Well then I guess its good we have a defense that has made a habit of holding opposing offenses to well under their season averages this year.

Don't let this comment take away from the fact that Arkansas blew a 24 point 2nd half lead in the Belk Bowl.
Don't let the Belk Bowl take away from the fact that Matt Ryan blew a 25 point 2nd half lead in the Super Bowl.

Good insightful answers from a knowledgeable Pitt writer.
He was quick to point out the shortcomings on offense and defense (which something always apparent to a true fan.)
Hopefully VT comes out and prepared and takes advantage of what Chas pointed out.

"When you're green, you're growing. When you're ripe, you rot." -Ray Kroc

Every other article/interview that I've read basically reads like "no way VT stops Pitts O and no way VT moves the ball on Pitt". At least this one hints that we should bother showing up for the game.

Go hokies

Hokies, Local Soccer, AFC Ajax, Ravens

It seems all attention could be focused on Isiah for obvious reasons and Bucky after a great week last week, I expect Cam and Chris Cunningham could have a surprising impact.

Another white bronco? The first one didn't go too far.

Keeping Evans upright on passing downs is going to be key for any of these guys to make the impact that they should against a lackluster secondary.

Evans is a big man on campus now, I'm sure he'll have no problem keeping himself upright with all the girls in Bburg

VT Marketing Class of 2009
Current Roanoke-Hokie
Go Hokies!

Boner jokes always get legs from me.

so I'm fairly new to the whole keyplay forum scene.....are legs just up votes or is this something completely different

VT Marketing Class of 2009
Current Roanoke-Hokie
Go Hokies!

You can cash them in on the first of each month for pussy touchdowns.

I have no idea why my username is VT_Warthog.

Arkansas blew a 24-0 lead in the Belk Bowl.

Another white bronco? The first one didn't go too far.

I thought you won a full dipping in dork magic if you got to 1000 legs.

Take the shortest route to the ball and arrive in bad humor.

And when you hit 50k, well, you wouldn't believe me if I told you.

that's just...

mean spirited...

If a tree falls in Scott Stadium does it make a sound?

Quick! Someone ask Alum07

I feel like Gump when he started shrimpin'.....

I only got 64.....

VT Marketing Class of 2009
Current Roanoke-Hokie
Go Hokies!

After 100 pussy touchdowns........

Since none of the smart-asses (I say that in jest) actually answered your question, yes, legs are upvotes.

VT Marketing Class of 2009
Current Roanoke-Hokie
Go Hokies!

The best thing you can do in order to get the most legs is you have to ask for them.

I don't know much about football but IMHO as a spectator and VT fan, if Pitt scores 40, I don't see the good guys winning. The O is better than last few years but I think it would be struggle for the good guys to match that number.

Have a leg for this prediction!

Only way Pitt gets into the 40s -- in regulation -- is if the Bristol Fumble Demon comes up to Pittsburgh for a visit.

I don't quite see that happening.

No, I *don't* want to go to the SEC. Why do you ask?

We don't love dem Hoos.

We played a game in Bristol?! I don't recall.

Another white bronco? The first one didn't go too far.

Must have been that bad dream I had last month.

No, I *don't* want to go to the SEC. Why do you ask?

We don't love dem Hoos.

Was that really only last month? Seems longer...

Preseason game, yes

There isn't a football stadium in Bristol so I don't think so.

It's Time to go to Work