It's that time of year. No, not Christmas music before Thanksgiving. You heathen.
It's the time of the year to break out the "if X team wins and Y team loses, Z team is eliminated from the ACC Coastal race" discussions. This week it's simple. If Virginia Tech loses to Pittsburgh, they're eliminated from contention. Good thing the Hokies will face a team very similar in style to Boston College, the team that just beat Virginia Tech!
Virginia Tech sits at 4-4 (3-2) on the season. The Pittsburgh
Whining Narduzzi's Panthers have a season record of 5-4 (4-1). That makes sense. The Hokies' elimination game will start at 3:30 pm in the Steel City.
First Down: Reminiscing On The Good Old Days
Last season's Pittsburgh game was a classic. The 4-play goal line stand by Bud Foster's defense was one of the high points of the 2017 season. In case you want to be happy about Virginia Tech football for a little bit, here you go.
For fans, it's fun to reflect on that goal line stand. Meanwhile, the coaching staff is using it as a teaching moment.
"Obviously you can go back to that series, and just show what perseverance and toughness, mental toughness as well as anything," explained Foster. "To go to the next play. I think that's what that showed. I mean, Reggie Floyd chasing the receiver down and then us going four straight plays and playing just hard, relentless football. Yeah, that's a great teaching moment. A big time stand in a big time game where two teams competed extremely hard for 60 minutes. It's a new team though, a new season, and obviously we have tremendous respect for Pittsburgh. I've been here a long time, we've played against those guys a long time. There have been a lot of tough hard-nosed football games. And I expect this to be one too. I know that we've beaten the last couple years and it's going to be, I think, senior day up there this year. There's a lot on the line. They're in the lead of this thing, they want to keep it going. We've got a lot to play for and hopefully we'll have a big time week of practice and get ready to go play a heck of a football game in our own right."
With the way Tech's season has played out, maroon and orange hearts wouldn't withstand another four-down finish. But Foster makes a great point. This is a huge game, not just for the Hokies' but for the Panthers. Both teams are going to be fired up.
Second Down: Even More Defensive Shifting
At the beginning of the season, the Hokies' had at least some depth on the defensive side of the ball. Injuries have taken their toll though. Now the scuttlebutt is backup DT Xavier Burke is out for the season. The silver lining here is redshirt freshman Robert Porcher IV has an opportunity to earn a lot of reps.
Next up on the injury report. Bryce Watts has a fractured forearm, but hasn't been ruled out for the entire season.
"I would just stop short of saying he's done for the year," noted Fuente. "We just don't know. We'll know more in a couple weeks. Obviously, he's not going to play this week. We've been working those guys in there at corner and we'll continue to try and bring those guys along. He was going to go back and return punts this week, didn't make it, it was like the third or fourth play of the game that he went out. Damon did a nice job filling in there and we'll continue to bring those other guys along."
I, for one, would be okay with Watts playing with a huge cast on and using it as a club. The NCAA would probably allow it, given that the Hokies' injury report is longer than a CVS receipt.
That's enough bad news for your Friday.
LB Rayshard Ashby is making strides to getting back on the field. Ashby suffered an injury against Georgia Tech. There wasn't an official announcement from the program, but Ashby was reportedly seen in a walking boot last week.
"He's looking better," said Foster. "He's moving forward, as far as his running and that type of thing. I'm anxious to see today how he moves laterally. He's a guy that has worked really hard. Probably his, they're all banged up and some injuries are a little bit farther along than others. I think he's responded a little quicker than some of those other guys."
Those "other guys" that Foster referenced? LB Dylan Rivers and DE Jarrod Hewitt. They were both day-to-day last week according to the coaches, and then didn't play against Boston College.
"Yeah I don't know, it's day-to-day with those guys right now," added Foster. "We'll find out a little bit more today. I know they're all working extremely hard to get back. Which I appreciate. But that's a day-to-day process right now."
Vinny Mihota continues to improve and look more like his old self. Mihota tore his ACL at the very end of the Pittsburgh game last season. Interestingly enough, it happened on the 74-yard pass which led to that fateful goal line stand.
"I'm getting to the point where I don't really notice it that much in practice or during games," said Mihota. "I'm just getting really comfortable with the brace, as well."
Mihota was cleared by the team doctors at the eight-month mark, but added this interesting note about recovering from an ACL tear.
"Most of what I've heard through the surgery was you really start to feel normal at like a year. To the point where it doesn't affect you too much," explained Mihota.
Last year's Pittsburgh game took place on November 18. This year's contest will be 357 days later, on November 10th. Mihota being a force on the defensive line again would be massive for the Hokies. Yes, a 100% Mihota would boost Tech's d-line talent level. In addition, having a veteran among the inexperienced d-lineman would also help with focus and execution. For how much Fuente has been preaching about executing more, that seems ideal.
Third Down: Quincy Patterson Hype Train Keeps Chugging On
The highly-anticipated arrival of Patterson has gone according to schedule. Sure, maybe one writer predicted the QB to be the breakout player of the year. But that might have been a little overzealous. The true freshman has played in two games so far this season. That leaves two more contests that Patterson can take snaps in without burning his redshirt.
"Yeah I think it's certainly a possibility," explained Fuente. It hasn't been a situation where his number has been called and you've got a feeling that he was anything other than ready. He just plops in there and goes and executes and runs whatever play is called. Obviously, we don't have him responsible for the entire package right now, but something that we could continue to use situationally as before."
Does this writer want Patterson to play as much as possible without burning his redshirt? Yeah. I've been pretty vocal on my desire to have QP in there. See the TKP Slack archives for the hot takes.
However, Patterson won't have his redshirt burned. That would be an awful decision by the coaching staff. That doesn't mean that he won't get his full four games. It's more of a question of how much run Patterson gets in those two games. Brad Cornelsen provided some insight into the thought process behind playing Patterson in the Boston College game.
"Well Hendon got in and fumbled the snap," noted Cornelsen "Both of those two guys have been repping with the two's in practice. We've played them both, I've felt pretty good about both. Just wanted to go with Quincy, he got in there, and I thought did a good job. Got us a first down, and then we got into second and long or third down and Willis was ready to go back in."
In his final two games, will Patterson stay as a situational quarterback — or will he get a couple drives? Or maybe even, gasp, a whole quarter.
Fourth Down: Pitt FAQ
What have they done so far this season?
Pitt's 5-4 (4-1) record, how weird is that? The Panthers lost badly to Penn State, defending national champions UCF, and Notre Dame during their non-conference slate. Want to get even more weird? Pitt's only loss in-conference is UNC. Pitt's quality win of the season comes in the form of a 44-37 victory over No. 13 Syracuse. The Panthers also hold tiebreaking wins over divisional opponents UVA, Georgia Tech, and Duke.
Which Panther player should the maroon and orange faithful keep an eye on?
It's hard to make a case that there will be one player that makes or breaks this game for the Panthers. It's going to be a team effort from the Panthers, just like usual. Fuente said it best.
"I'd say it's a vintage Pitt team from my limited experience with them," said Fuente. "Physical. Run the ball and play-action. Play their four-press with their changeup looks on defense. Very well coached, playing hard, starts with them running the football and stopping the run. Been pretty darn good on special teams as well."
That sums it up best. The Panthers are going to use a plethora of running backs and tight ends to run play-action.
Who wins and why?
This is getting to be a super fun question to answer on a weekly basis.
Pittsburgh is a weird team.
What's the deal with Pitt?— Hi, I'm David👋 (@ADavidHaleJoint) November 3, 2018
"The last two years, look how close these games have been," said Fuente. "Look at the execution and the toughness and the discipline level it's taken as a team to pull off the last two year's worth. Two years ago we went up there and they were very very good. If I'm not mistaken, they beat Clemson that year. And [we] won the game by three points. This past year it took a goal line stand on senior day to win the game. It's going to take a similar type of toughness and execution and grit to accomplish a similar or same result."
If you think this version of Virginia Tech football has the toughness and execution similar to the Jerod Evans and Isaiah Ford season, then pick the Hokies to win.
If you internet-laughed (soft exhale of air through your nose) at that last sentence, then pick the Panthers to win.