Pittsburgh Q&A with @CzarOfPgh

You can follow Zach on Twitter at @CzarOfPgh.

What are your thoughts on your team so far?

As has been the case with basically every Pitt team I’ve watched, I have really no clue what to make of them. There have been some very positive signs.

The defense, in particular the pass defense, has been night and day different than last year. Last year’s philosophy on defense suited Paul Chryst’s conservative personality quite well: bend but don’t break. Unfortunately, the talent level just wasn’t good enough to avoid breaking. This year, Pat Narduzzi has already implemented a tough, attacking defense. Starting cornerback Avonte Maddox has had a phenomenal season so far, and last year’s top recruit in Pennsylvania Jordan Whitehead has already seized the starting strong safety spot and is among the team leaders in tackles.

On the downside, the run defense is still a work in progress. A large part of this is talent. Paul Chryst failed to recruit the d-line and linebacker positions very well. Still, it’s obvious that the new more aggressive scheme will pay off once the talent level begins to catch up in a few years.

More troubling, the offense is suddenly a mess. Sure the loss of James Conner to injury and 60% of last year’s starting OL to either the NFL or season-long injury has been a major problem. A bigger problem, at least in my opinion, is a lack of a real identity. It’s not clear to me what the offense wants to be. At least with Paul Chryst you knew he wanted a power running attack. Thus far, Jim Chaney seems very hesitant to try to run inside, possibly due to the OL concerns. The problem is that the outside running game hasn’t been so great either. There have been a lot of East-West plays that never really develop. To go with those issues, Chaney quite obviously never trusted Chad Voytik to do… whatever it is Chaney wants to do. Nate Peterman has looked like he can make a lot of accurate throws, but he’s also been fairly turnover prone. I’m eager to see the offense develop into something with a real identity rather than random elements tossed together to see what works.

What are your expectations going into the Virginia Tech game?

I expect a fairly ugly game, especially if the weather is as expected. I know VT’s defense didn’t look like the elite unit it was expected to be against ECU, but I don’t think Pitt can do (or wants to do) the kinds of things on offense that ECU does. I’m terrified that VT’s talented defensive line is going to eat Pitt’s offensive line for lunch. Jim Chaney is going to want to establish the run one way or another, and that is going to be a tough order. Even if the weather were ideal, I’m not sure how well Pitt could pass against a great secondary and strong pass rush. In poor weather, it might be impossible. Unfortunately, I think a good passing game that keeps Tyler Boyd and the tight ends involved is going to be the best chance Pitt has to reliably move the ball.

When VT has the ball, I hope to see an improved rushing defense. VT has a lot of talent at running back, and Pitt is going to need to hold their own in order to have any chance of winning. If the passing defense can keep up its improved play over last year, Pitt’s success is going to come down to how well they can stop the run.  In an ugly game in wet weather, I can’t really say that either team has a clear advantage.

Heinz Field is a house of horrors for VT, how do you feel about Pitt coming to Lane Stadium?

To be honest, the thought of coming into a night game at Lane would terrify me. I want no part of that. Luckily, this year’s game is at noon. It’s hard to think of any stadium that’s truly intimidating for a noon game. Couple that with the expected wet, cold weather, and it’s hard to imagine much of a home field advantage for VT.

At this point, how do you see the Coastal Division shaking out? Which team do you think will end up winning the division?

From the looks of it, Duke is going to be the class of the Coastal. They’re really playing great defense, and if recent history carries any weight, the offense will get going pretty soon too. They’re capable of easily winning the Coastal outright. Miami should be right up there with them, but it’s hard to have any faith in an Al Golden-coached team. They could easily collapse and lose several games that they shouldn’t. I also wouldn’t write off Georgia Tech either. They were too good last year to look so sloppy this year. I think they’ll still have a respectable finish.

What I am trying to say here is that I think Duke probably wins it but everyone has a good shot of finishing well. Except Virginia.

What is your prediction for the game?

Ugly. Maybe not Mizzou-UConn ugly, but pretty bad. These are two flawed teams that have been forced by injury to reconsider what their strengths are. A noon game in wet weather isn’t going to help them figure it out. I expect Virginia Tech to pull out a victory because they’re more talented on defense. If Pitt can figure out an offensive recipe that works–and it was in the VT game last year that the light bulb went off for the offense–then they have a good chance. Still, VT is the more talented team, so unless they get unlucky in the turnover department, I’d expect VT to win close.


ECU Preview and Prediction

In 2015, the Hokies are simply a better team than ECU. Basically, across the board. That was also the case last year but ECU had some weapons in the form of Shane Carden, Justin Hardy and Cam Worthy which evened the playing field a bit. I’m still trying to figure out what happened last year. It was some strange combination of Ohio State hangover, nagging injuries and a sleepy start for a nooner. Either way, ECU earned it last year but I’m not sure they have the horses this year.

On paper, the matchup of ECU’s offense vs VT’s defense appears to favor the Hokies. ECU has a one dimensional offense and their strength (passing) matches up with VT’s strength (secondary). The only caveats to that are health (Fuller & Facyson) and inexperience (Alexander). Otherwise, VT should be able to limit what ECU can do thru the air. On the ground, ECU is a non-factor. The only team they’ve been able to run on is Towson and they’re not exactly a powerhouse. Watch out for their TE Bryce Williams though. He could present some problems for VT’s LBs and secondary.

For the offense and Brenden Motley, this game represents a step up in competition and the atmosphere will be charged. If VT can lean on the run game like they did against Purdue, I think they should be able to move the ball well against this ECU defense. I don’t think they will be asking too much from Brenden Motley in this game. The gameplan should be to methodically move the ball downfield with the run setting up the pass. ECU does not give up many big plays but if VT just takes it one first down at a time, they should be a good shape.

This game is regularly described as ECU’s biggest game on the schedule. ECU will be on national TV in front of a hyped crowd. Expect their best effort. I think the game at Purdue was good preparation for this game. It gave the Hokies some confidence that they could go on the road and win. This game will certainly be more difficult but I think this year’s Hokies are up to the challenge. Key to this game will be the defense forcing a couple of three and outs early and getting the crowd out of the game. If they can do that and avoid a turnover fest on offense, they should be in good shape.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, ECU 17

Q&A with ECU Pirate Cannon

You can follow ECU Pirate Cannon on Twitter @ECUPirateCannon and read his monthly feature at eastcarolina.247sports.com.

What are your thoughts on your team so far?

We’re three games into the season and have a 1-2 record. We just suffered our first conference loss (albeit in the other division) in a triple option drubbing at the hands of Navy and we still have quite the out of conference schedule ahead of us as we host your Hokies and travel to Provo to take on BYU in 2 of our next 3 games.

I like what I see out of our QB Blake Kemp who stepped up when our named starter went down with a season ending knee injury 10 days before our first game. He’s a good leader who isn’t rattled easily. Early on he may have been a bit cautious with the ball, but he’s settled in nicely and can be credited as part of the reason we had a chance at taking down the Gators in the Swamp. Two offensive juggernauts of this team that you cannot ignore are WR Isaiah Jones and TE Rob Gronk… err… Bryce Williams. Honestly, I’m not sure I have a perfect bead on our RB game yet. That aspect of our game needs to show me more against mightier foes to get me feeling more comfortable. Our once great rushing D struggled a bit against Towson (a better team than their previous year’s results may have you believe) and clearly Navy. The defensive backfield might look okay on paper… eh, we’ll just leave it at that. BUT, when the Pirate defense is clicking, as they were a good bit against Florida, they’re a huge asset.

Overall, I’m cautiously optimistic. I’ve seen most of the pieces necessary to be a good team, now let’s put them together in one game… preferably by, say, this Saturday’s matchup.

What are your expectations going into the VT game?

I expect to win. And no disrespect to Virginia Tech, but I always expect to win.

This should be a sold out game as Pirate Nation will be in full force for the 3:30 bout against a fellow P6 foe (see what I did there?) being broadcast on ABC. The energy at kickoff will be electric – your first time visitors to Dowdy-Ficklen should be impressed by our game day atmosphere.

On the defensive side of things, I need our rushing D to step it up. On offense, I’d like us to establish an effective run game again and see a ~60/~40 split by air and by land.

What are your thoughts on the VT-ECU series?

I imagine some of you think that playing ECU is a no win situation, and I’ll never convince that group differently, but I love playing the Hokies. It is my favorite out of state, OOC series that we engage in (true, I might not have a lot to choose from, but I’m considering the likes of WVU and South Carolina, and at this time I can’t think of a replacement I’d like better). Your program is top notch in my book and your fans and game day experience are pretty awesome. In our circles, we use you as the example of what we aim to be. “Give us the chance with the big boys, and we will compete. We can be the next Virginia Tech.” Also, if I can get a bit sappy for a second, one of my favorite moments was our game against y’all in Blacksburg after the shooting. The show of solidarity and appreciation between the universities prior to kickoff was touching. Oh! You also have a nice cannon too (even if you don’t allow him inside your stadium).

What is your prediction for the game?

As a Hokie fan, you may have read what I had to say and you may have seen highlights of our previous games this year and think, this game doesn’t scare you. But your team and fan base are smart enough to not overlook a scrappy ECU team.

A pissed of ECU team + a sound opponent (we love playing up to competition) + a fan base (at home) that needs a solid win = a recipe for Pirate success.

My money is staying in my pocket this week, but my heart says we play inspired ball and win by 7 in a competitive game on both sides of the ball. Call it ECU 28 – Virginia Tech 21. #BOOM!

Purdue Preview and Prediction

Purdue is the Wake Forest of the Big Ten. It’s true. They went 1-11 in 2013 and 3-9 in 2014. So why should we be worried? Because they need this win really badly. Darrell Hazell is trying to save his job and you know he’s going to pull out all stops to get a big win at home over a name team in Virginia Tech.

Why Purdue will win…

  1. A good running game against inconsistent linebacker play by the Hokies. Specifically, a running QB which seems to always give VT fits.
  2. Strong secondary play with two senior cornerbacks against Brenden Motley who will be making his first career road start.
  3. VT collectively not taking this game seriously and not being ready to play.

Why VT will win…

  1. Bud Foster can always scheme around a young, inexperienced MLB.
  2. Austin Appleby is the type of interception-prone QB that Bud Foster’s defenses feast on.
  3. VT will establish the outside run and will make life easy on Brenden Motley.

This is a really tough game to pick. I think you’ll see some jitters from the Hokies in their first road game of the season. We honestly don’t know who the real Hokies are after a really tough game against the unanimous #1 team in the country and an easy win over an FCS cupcake. I think Saturday is the Hokies first true test. We’ll learn a lot about this team this week. I’m going to go with the Hokies by a narrow margin. If the Hokies come ready to play, they can win by double digits but ultimately I think they make enough mistakes to keep this game close.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 24, Purdue 17

Purdue Q&A with BoiledSports.com

You can follow @BoiledSports on Twitter and read their blog at BoiledSports.com.

What are your thoughts on your team so far?

Well, so far this season or so far in our lives? Let’s hit the wayback machine for a minute. Joe Tiller took Purdue out of the cellar and made them perennial Big Ten contenders. The glory days for us were Drew Brees and Kyle Orton, with the Boilermakers getting as high as #5 in the nation in 2004. However, it’s been a steady and nauseating decline since then, with Purdue football firmly back in the basement.

Coach Darrell Hazell came in for the 2013 season and while we really like him as a man, he just hasn’t done much on the field yet, with a record of 5-21 – and three of those five victories have been against FCS foes. Purdue is very slowly improving under Hazell, though, so we’re trying to remain optimistic.

Blowing their first game at Marshall has made it tough to envision more than a couple of wins in 2015, though.

What are your expectations going into the VT game?

I’ll be honest… we’ve been worried about this game for a while. Not because Virginia Tech is the powerhouse they once were, but because we know even in “down” years, they’re no pushover. I specifically remember watching their rivalry game with UVA last November and despite being the worse record, Tech took it to the Hoos. They always come hard with a ferocious D and that alone wins you games against programs that are struggling.

How do Purdue fans view VT’s program?

I remember talking to my co-editor after last season and looking ahead to this game and his exact words were, “You don’t want any part of Beamer.” Now, I don’t know if that’s how most Purdue fans view VT, but I think that’s how fans who know CFB do. He may not be the Frank Beamer of old, but he’s still a wily veteran and he’s been in every kind of game you can imagine. There is nothing about this Saturday that will concern or intimidate him or, in turn, his team. That’s how we view it and it makes us edgy.

What is your prediction for the game?

Purdue fans know this game is quite important for our program. A win or, at the least, a good showing gives everyone some hope that things are indeed heading in the right direction. There are still some fans out there with pipe dreams of making a bowl game this year – if it has any chance of happening, this one really feels like it needs to be a win. As for us at Boiled Sports, our official “Predicto” comes out on Friday mornings, but my gut feeling is that this one is a loss for Purdue. I don’t think Purdue’s QB, Austin Appleby, will be able to deal with the defensive pressure VT will bring and the Hokies may score a defensive touchdown or two.

Grading the Unis

Ohio State

Helmet: B

Jersey/Pants combo: A

Overall: B+

The Hokies have worn far worse in big games (see Alabama 2013). This uni looked pretty good. It’s always hard to make an orange helmet work with a uniform that was almost completely maroon. But the helmet didn’t look out of place. Wasn’t my favorite uni ever but it looked pretty good overall.


Helmet: B

Jersey/Pants combo: A

Overall: B+

I really liked the helmet. Only loses points for being a rehash of Navy’s helmet from 2013. The jersey/pants combo is the best white uni combo we have. A problem we’ve had in the past was pairing a good jersey/pants combo with a bad helmet (see the cartoon helmets from 2012). This uni combo was a winner. The only issue I can find with it is that it’s not particularly original.

Furman Preview and Prediction

Run. The. Ball. I normally don’t give coaching advice because Frank Beamer has forgotten more football than I’ll ever know. But in this game, the Hokies need to line up and pound the rock. I don’t care who is behind center but they aren’t going to be able to move the ball like our RBs have the potential to.

The Hokies interior offensive line has a serious size and strength advantage over Furman’s starters. The Hokies should have a good day running the ball if they can stick to run and get into a rhythm. JC Coleman, Shai McKenzie and Trey Edmunds should all have big days.

As for the QB situation, Brenden Motley will start but I believe we will see Dwayne Lawson enter the game next followed by Chris Durkin getting some mop up duty. I do not, however, think that the coaches will open up the offense. Expect it to be really conservative with minimal downfield passing. I don’t think the coaches want to take too many chances in the passing game.

So about Furman- this is an improving FCS team that won three games last season. Last week, they took FCS #1 Coastal Carolina to the wire eventually falling 38-35. They can definitely pose a challenge for the Hokies coming off four days rest.

Furman has the potential to put up some points, but if the Hokies defense shows up ready to play they should be able to limit the Furman offense to 13 points or less. The Hokies d-line should be able to dominate the undersized Furman offensive line. 

The Hokies should be able to win this game in convincing fashion. I still have the JMU game fresh enough in my memory to be slightly concerned. But ultimately, if the Hokies take this game even slightly seriously they should win going away. I’ll start getting nervous if it starts pouring rain and Brenden Motley starts off slowly. 

Otherwise, Hokies roll.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 38, Furman 3 

Ohio State Preview and Prediction

This is going to be a very good game. Ohio State has had a year to stew on the one blemish on their otherwise perfect record last year. Virginia Tech is hoping to show the nation that last year was no fluke and they can do it again this year at home.

Ohio State is clearly the more talented team. Urban Meyer has recruited very well in his first three years in Columbus and he has four and five star talent all over the field in addition to very good depth. This is a team not to be taken lightly. It is probably one of the best teams to come to Lane Stadium in the last 20 years.

So why should Hokie fans have hope that VT can win? A couple of reasons. First, we have Bud Foster. He is one of the best minds in college football and the battle between him and Urban Meyer will be worth the price of admission. They will be making adjustments and counter adjustments all night long.

Second, don’t discount the effect that a rowdy night game at Lane Stadium has. I know Lane Stadium hasn’t been quite what it’s been in the past the last three years. But this is a night game on national TV going against the #1 team in the country. There will be no other football on TV Monday night. It doesn’t get any bigger than this and Hokie fans know it.

Third, the VT offense was ill-prepared to pull the upset last season. The offense was very young. They had a new QB that had spent all of four weeks learning the offense. An offensive line that was still working on coming together. And RBs and WRs who were in high school just months before that game. This time the offense has had a year under its belt and it should be a more even match up.

This is a really tough game to pick. First off, week 1 of the college football season is always crazy. You’re never quite sure what’s going to happen in any game. But beyond that, you know that Ohio State has had this game circled since last September and the Hokies know it’s a big opportunity for them to make a statement on a big stage. Ultimately, I think Ohio State just has too much fire power across the board for the Hokies. I think it’ll be a close game going into the 4th quarter with Ohio State pulling away by 10-14 points. Ezekiel Elliott is the difference. The less yards he gets, the more likely it is that the Hokies win this game.

Prediction: Ohio State 27, Virginia Tech 17

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