The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


September 14, 2012

Pitt eyeing upset against Virginia Tech

PITTSBURGH — Pitt may not be the Big East Conference contender many thought it would be, but an upset against No. 13 Virginia Tech would help put the Panthers in a more positive light.

Considering the results from Pitt’s first two games, chances for an upset look bleak.

Today’s game, which kicks off at noon and will be televised by ESPNU, could at least further the Panthers’ rebuilding process.

It also resumes the rivalry between Pitt (0-2) and Virginia Tech (2-0). The two teams met last in 2003, when Virginia Tech was a member of the Big East. The Panthers won the game 31-28. Virginia Tech was ranked fifth at the time.

A repeat is unlikely, though the game should show the Panthers what it will take to compete next year in the ACC.

But Pitt coach Paul Chryst isn’t looking that far ahead.

“It’s a measuring stick for the right now, and all that really matters is the now,” Chryst said.

Pitt had more than a week to prepare for Virginia Tech and the Hokies’ game-changing special teams. Virginia Tech scored on a blocked punt last week against Austin Peay.

Of course, Virginia Tech’s defense is also capable of making plays. Last year, the unit finished 10th nationally in yards allowed per game.

“They’re going to come in aggressive, and that’s a good thing because we’ve got to play our part,” Pitt running back Ray Graham said. “At the end of the day, we just have to do our job and they’re going to do their job and we’re just going to have to come out on top.”

Graham underwent knee surgery last season and is working his way back to full strength. Graham said he has some things to work on going into this week’s game against Virginia Tech.

“My explosiveness isn’t there right now,” Graham said. “I need to get into that and stay there. And I feel like it’s coming as the games go on.”

With 103 rushing yards against Cincinnati last week, it looks as though Graham is well on his way, even if the Panthers’ offensive line has played poorly.

Senior left guard Chris Jacobson understands that something needs to change before today’s game.

“It’s definitely personal,” he said. “We’re 0-2, we’re coming in against a good defensive front … We’re going to be as good as our front five are going to be.”

In a surprising statistic, the Virginia Tech offense ranks 73rd nationally, while Pitt ranks 66th.

Although Pitt’s offense has been able to move the ball down the field, they have not been able to capitalize when it counts. Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri needs to connect with his wide receivers and make smart decisions in the red zone.

“We’re just inches away from making big plays happen and that’s what we’re missing,” Graham said. “We have to make those big plays if we want to score touchdowns and win big games.”

For Pitt fans, those big wins have been few and far between.

Pitt players can tell you it hasn’t been an easy road to endure. They’ve had to experience a series of coaching changes over the past three years.

It started in 2010 when former Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt was forced to resign after a 7-5 season and was followed by a series of disastrous hires.

Virginia Tech, meanwhile, did its own reconstruction of the football program 25 years ago when Beamer was hired in 1987. By the mid-1990s, the Hokies were a national power.

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