Pittsburgh Preview and Prediction

The Hokies bounced back from the Syracuse loss in a big way against Miami. Now let’s see how they handle coming off a big win. The Hokies didn’t handle success very well last time. They immediately lost to Syracuse after a big win against UNC. Let’s hope we see more focus from the Hokies this time around.

The Virginia Tech-Pittsburgh series is one of the weirdest you’ll see. The Hokies dominated in the 90’s and that flipped in the 2000’s. The Hokies went 7 of the first 8 games in the series. Pitt has won 6 of 7 since 2000.

pittsburgh_series

Unlike previous visits to Heinz Field, I think this visit will get the Hokies full attention. This Pittsburgh team will not sneak up on the Hokies this time. This game is the Hokies biggest remaining obstacle to a trip to the ACC Championship Game.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 12th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 56th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 6th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 23rd

Pittsburgh

Overall S&P+ ranking: 33rd
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 29th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 56th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 63rd

What is Pittsburgh good at? Running the ball and stopping the run. The key to slowing down their offense will be to shut down their run game. Even if the Hokies do that, they need to be able to stop their mobile QB from making plays with his feet. He doesn’t run a lot but can break the pocket to pick up a first down or two. The Hokies need to be ready for that.

Pittsburgh has the 5th ranked rushing defense in the nation.  They are very good at stopping the run. If the Hokies hope to win this game, they will need to move the ball through the air. Pittsburgh ranks 122nd in passing yards allowed. You would think the Hokies should be able to throw against this defense. If the Hokies do pass a lot, watch out for Ejuan Price off the edge. He leads the nation with 9 sacks this season.

On paper, the Hokies should win this game. But games aren’t played on paper. The last three times the Hokies have been to Heinz Field, they scored 6 points or less in the first half. This time they need to get off to a better start and put the Pitt offense and defense on their heels early. Unlike previous meetings, I think that Pitt has the Hokies full attention. I think you’ll see a much better performance than you’ve seen in previous visits to Pittsburgh.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Pittsburgh 24

Miami Preview and Prediction

The Syracuse game was a big bump in the road for the Hokies. No one would’ve expected that to be the next game the Hokies lost. A notable blemish of the Beamer era was that the Hokies dropped games that no one expected them to. It appears in year 1 of the Fuente era that still remains a problem for the Virginia Tech program.

The biggest concern for me from the Syracuse game is that one loss can turn into three losses. The Miami game is only five days after the Syracuse game with only three days of practice. That is not much time for the team to put the Syracuse game behind them. My hope is that one loss does not turn into another loss to Miami which could hurt the team’s confidence. After two consecutive losses, who would feel confident going to play Pitt at Heinz Field?

Another thing that concerns me is that Tech’s losses have come in twos in recent years.

2015
at East Carolina (9/26/2015)
Pitt (10/3/2015)

at Miami (10/17/2015)
Duke (10/24/2015)

2014
East Carolina (9/13/2014)
Georgia Tech (9/20/2014)

at Pitt (10/16/2014)
Miami (10/23/2014)

2013
Duke (10/26/2013)
at Boston College  (11/2/2013)

This suggest a group of players that don’t bounce back well from losses. Which gives me concern given the short week and a tough-to-swallow loss on Saturday. Let’s hope that this staff can get the team to focus on the next game in a short period of time. They did a great job of regrouping after the Tennessee game. The Hokies went out a blew out Boston College the next Saturday.

Now let’s talk about Miami. These look like two very evenly matched teams.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 16th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 79th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 6th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 39th

Miami

Overall S&P+ ranking: 17th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 38th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 12th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 38th

The key to stopping the Miami offense is to limit the running game. If Miami has to go one-dimensional with the passing game then Brad Kaaya’s passing statistics drop. The key to slowing down the Miami offense will be limiting their talented running backs, Mark Walton and Joe Yearby. If the Hokies can do this, they should be able to slow down Miami’s offensive attack.

If the Hokies want to have success against the Miami defense, they will need to use misdirection. Miami starts three true freshmen linebackers. If the Hokies want to have success on offense, they will need to use misdirection to confuse them. That means more read option than we saw against Syracuse.

Both teams are suffering significant injuries. Both teams are coming off losses. Both teams are trying to get back in the Coastal division race. This should be a very close game. In a game like this I tend to give a slight advantage to the home team. It’s a big deal to have to travel when you have five days between games.

The Hokies lost to Tennessee then rebounded quickly to beat Boston College. This coaching staff has shown they can turn things around quickly after losses. Expect the Hokies to put together a better performance than they did against Syracuse. Should be a close game but I expect the Hokies to win.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 24, Miami 21

Midseason Awards and Outlook

Offensive MVP: Jerod Evans

This guy is on pace for 2,700 yards, 34 TDs and 4 INTs. If he keeps it up in the second half, he will receive consideration for all conference awards. And maybe even some national awards. He has been the biggest difference maker for the Hokies this season.

Honorable mention: Isaiah Ford

Defensive MVP: Andrew Motuapuaka

This one might sound kinda crazy but the stats bear it out. He’s been the Hokies most consistent defender. If you are looking for a reason for the defense’s improvement, look to him. He leads the team in tackles with 57. He has 3 TFLs. 1 Sack. 1 INT. 4 quarterback hurries. And 1 fumble recovery. He has been excellent and somewhat underrated.

Honorable mention: Tremaine Edmunds, Ken Ekanem

Special Teams MVP: Greg Stroman

Stroman has been a game changer on punt returns. He has also been good about taking care of the football. Fair catching when he needs to. Taking a knee in the end zone. He’s making all the right decisions and the Hokies are excelling at special teams again.

Honorable mention: Mitchell Ludwig, Joey Slye

2nd Half Outlook

The Hokies are a better team than they looked against Syracuse. They are better on offense and defense. It was just one of those games where it kind of got away from them. Syracuse was the inspired team and didn’t make many mistakes. The Hokies showed up and went thru the motions for a lot of that game. If you do that, you’re going to get upset.

Either way, I only expect the Hokies to lose 1 or 2 more games the rest of the way. Which would put them at 9-3 or 8-4 for the season. That’ll get them to a good bowl game and Justin Fuente’s first season would be considered a success. I still think this program is on the right track but it will take time before this team will be a consistent top 25 team. The program needs improvement in recruiting and more experience in Justin Fuente’s system.

Syracuse Preview and Prediction

Hokies took care of business against UNC. Three straight blowouts can really inject a lot of life into a fan base. After the Tennessee game, fans were wondering if this team would make a bowl game. Now folks are talking New Year’s Six bowl. A lot can change in a couple of weeks.

On to Syracuse. Long-time Hokies fans still have nightmares about the Carrier Dome. That dome has seen a lot of weird games between the Hokies and the Orange. It also has not been particularly kind to the Hokies. But those games were a long time ago. Different coaching staffs and two different programs at this point in time. The players on these teams were young children the last time these teams played.

This Syracuse team reminds me a lot of the Tulsa team the Hokies played in the Independence Bowl. A great offensive passing attack with one really good play-making wide receiver (Amba Etta-Tawo). And not much of anything else. Didn’t that Tulsa team only lose to the Hokies by 3? They did. But Bud Foster’s D is playing much better this year than they were in the bowl game.

Virginia Tech

S&P+ Overall Ranking: 19th
S&P+ Offensive Ranking: 96th
S&P+ Defensive Ranking: 4th
S&P+ Special Teams Ranking: 22nd

Syracuse

S&P+ Overall Ranking: 68th
S&P+ Offensive Ranking: 43rd
S&P+ Defensive Ranking: 96th
S&P+ Special Teams Ranking: 71st

The Hokies have the clear advantage on defense. Even though Syracuse has an excellent passing attack, the Hokies should be able to slow it down. Syracuse also reminds me of ECU, who was able to have some success in the passing game. But the Hokies were still able to limit ECU below their season average. Syracuse does not take a lot of shots downfield. They are a dink and dunk West Coast offense but they still put up a lot of yards.

Key matchup to watch: Virginia Tech’s cornerbacks vs. Amba Etta-Tawo. Etta-Tawo is one of the best wide receivers in the ACC and one of the best the Hokies will see all season. He leads the ACC in receiving yards. It will be a tough task for the Hokies corners to cover him all day.

Syracuse has lost to every decent team they’ve played this year. Their only wins were against Colgate and UConn. All their losses have been blowouts. Syracuse excels in the passing game and at punt returns (#1 in the nation!) but does not do much of anything else well.

I expect the Hokies to have a bit of a letdown in this game. It’s just so hard to play so well for four consecutive games. Eventually you’re going to have one that’s not exactly a masterpiece. This is a classic trap game on the road sandwiched in between two games against ranked opponents. Even if the Hokies don’t play their best, I still think they can win comfortably. Syracuse is not a great team. In fact, they’re not very good overall. Imagine if this team was playing last year’s Tulsa team, they’d probably win… by a lot. The talent advantage is clearly on the Hokies’ side in this matchup.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Syracuse 17

North Carolina Preview and Prediction

The Hokies are ranked! Finally. It’s been a long time since Virginia Tech has been in the top 25. Since September 2014 to be exact. After they beat Ohio State. Since then it’s been a lot of .500 football. They’re back in the top 25 and this time it feels like they’ll stay there for a while.

On to North Carolina. This looks like an even matchup on paper. North Carolina has an elite offense. Virginia Tech has an elite defense. North Carolina’s offense has talent but is inconsistent. You can say the same for the Virginia Tech offense. The advanced stats tell the story.

Virginia Tech

S&P+ Rankings: 14th
S&P+ Offensive Ranking: 73rd
S&P+ Defensive Ranking: 7th
S&P+ Special Teams Ranking: 32nd

North Carolina:

S&P+ Rankings: 27th
S&P+ Offensive Ranking: 7th
S&P+ Defensive Ranking: 101st
S&P+ Special Teams Ranking: 20th

This game will come down to special teams plays and turnovers. The team that can make plays on special teams and win the turnover battle will win the game.

If you’re looking for matchups, watch Mitch Trubisky and VT’s secondary. He hasn’t faced a secondary this good all year. The highest ranked secondary he’s faced all year is Georgia. And they rank 92nd in passing efficiency defense. That’s a big jump in competition.

This is going to be a close game. Both teams are very good and deserve their top 25 ranking. Is Virginia Tech’s secondary good enough to slow down UNC’s high powered passing attack? Can Virginia Tech score consistently against a talented but inconsistent defense? Will the Hokies be able to keep Ryan Switzer in check?

North Carolina played very well against Pitt and FSU and pulled out gutsy wins against both. Then you have the Hokies coming off a bye week. There is the whole rest vs rust argument. History tells us Justin Fuente’s teams are good coming off a bye. Let’s hope that’s enough to pull out a tough fought win against the Tar Heels.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, North Carolina 30