By HANK KURZ Jr.
BLACKSBURG, Va. —
Frank Beamer didn’t hold back.
In his 27 years as No. 24 Virginia Tech’s coach, few teams have had the Hokies’ number like Pitt, which arrives at Lane Stadium on Saturday seeking its fifth victory in a row in the series.
“This is a team that we’ve had a hard time beating,” Beamer said.
Beamer rolled off a list of powerhouse programs that are no strangers to the Hokies, and who can’t claim four straight victories over Virginia Tech: Alabama. LSU. Texas A&M. Clemson. He also included Florida State and Miami, and in reality, those are the only two that can. The Seminoles won their first seven against Beamer’s team and the Hurricanes won four, but it still puts the Panthers in good company.
The Hokies (5-1, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) have won five straight and haven’t needed to be reminded that it was at Pittsburgh last year that their season went badly off tracks in a 35-17 loss.
Wide receiver Willie Byrn said even the coaches seem especially focused for this game.
“I don’t think they like losing period, but I think you can certainly sense a little bit of just a revenge factor for Pitt,” the Hokies’ second leading receiver with 21 catches said. “I don’t know about all four games, but certainly last year. All of our players were there for last year, so we just want to go out there and try to beat them and give them a little bit of a taste of what they gave us last year.”
The Panthers (3-1, 2-1) are in their first year in the ACC, and while Virginia Tech and Miami seem headed for another epic showdown to win the Coastal Division, Pittsburgh is right there in the mix.
The Panthers are led by quarterback Tom Savage and have won three straight, the last two in the most divergent ways imaginable. They beat Duke
58-55 and Savage tied a record with six touchdown passes. They then beat Virginia 14-3, despite Savage getting sacked seven times and knocked out of the game.
He’s been cleared to play, in part thanks to a bye last week that gave him recuperation time, and coach Paul Chryst said he will find out a lot about his team by seeing how they handle a tough road game.
“They’re playing pretty well right now and we’ve got a heck of a challenge,” the second-year coach Chryst said. “I’m excited to get back into game week, go down there and keep finding out who we are as a team.”
Here are five things to watch for when Pittsburgh plays at No. 24 Virginia Tech:
Passing game vs pass rush: Savage showed what he’s capable of with the six TD passes against Duke, and how he’s vulnerable against Virginia when he was sacked seven times and knocked out of the game. Pitt WRs Devin Street and Tyler Boyd each average more than 100 yards receiving per game, making them one of three tandems that can make that claim. The Hokies are No. 1 with 13 INTs and tied for the lead with 19 sacks.
Razzle dazzle anyone? With two weeks to get ready to face what is one of the nation’s best defenses, have Chryst and his staff come up with some trickery that could get them some easy, demoralizing points?
Protecting Logan: Hokies QB Logan Thomas played last week with an abdominal strain and a tweaked ankle and still ran the ball 16 times. Some success by RBs Trey Edmunds and J.C. Coleman and good protection that keeps pash-rushing beast DT Aaron Donald off Thomas would serve the Hokies well.
Eyes on the prize: Sure, the Hokies finished 7-6 last season, but most everyone on the team knows the program more as a perennial 10-game winner. The players have insisted they remain focused game-to-game, but Thomas acknowledged this week that the game against Miami on Nov. 9 could be huge. Looking ahead?
Kick ball through posts: Hokies coach Frank Beamer has been uncanny in his ability to find a reliable placekicker year after year. Until recently, Cody Journell was just the next one line. But Journell has missed half of his six FG tries, along with two of 15 PATs, and backup Ethan Keyserling missed all three of his FG tries in a triple overtime victory against Marshall.