Pittsburgh Q&A with The Loyal Sons

This week we are joined by Pittsburgh podcast The Loyal Sons. You can follow them on Twitter (@TheLoyalSons) and listen to their podcast here.

Tell us about yourself and your podcast. 

John “Squid” Cotton, 26

Dylan Mitchell, 26

David Haddad, 27

The Loyal Sons started as Dylan’s burner account under the name “Capel Faithful”, honoring the new savior of Pitt Basketball. While Jeff Capel’s tenure has not exactly been a success, the Twitter account was able to gather a surprising following. As a group of dudes in our mid-20s, modern social mores demanded that we then start a podcast. And so in September of 2021, The Loyal Sons Show was born.

While none of us could break down an All-22 to save our lives, we take pride in capturing the zeitgeist of Pitt Football fandom better than anyone: snake-bitten, yet relentlessly hopeful. Reactionary, but surprisingly patient. And above all, emotionally dependent on Kenny Pickett.

Tell us about your team this year. What are your thoughts on Pitt so far this season?

If we only had one word to describe the theme of Pitt’s first four games, it would be “injuries”. To date, 14 players on Pitt’s 2-deep have missed time, many of whom are crucial pieces with huge expectations. Plugging so many holes has forced Coach Narduzzi to play conservatively against overmatched opponents, This has resulted in unnecessarily close games, including this past weekend’s absolute meltdown against GT – the worst loss of the Narduzzi era. The game plan has been simple: run the ball, do the bare minimum to win, get back on the bus with as many guys as stepped off of it, and get healthy for the meat of conference play. But now we’re 0-1 in the ACC and getting completely (and fairly) written off, so a lot of good that did us.

Pitt fans will tell you we know very little about this team. It felt like all the pieces were there for an ACC Championship contender (or better) until Saturday’s loss. This defense has the potential to be one of the better units in the country once it gets both starting DEs and its Top CB back and in a rhythm. The offense should be capable of more than its paltry output thus far. This team could still be dangerous down the stretch. Or they might totally suck. We just don’t know yet.

How have Pitt fans responded to winning the ACC last season? 

Pitt fans couldn’t have dreamt of a season like 2021. Older fans thought they would die without ever having seen something like it again. Truly a magical ride that will never be forgotten.

Then came 2022 and the dream became an expectation. We went from praying for a 10-win season to getting greedy about rankings and playoff buzz. We came into the season feeling disrespected about the narratives that have surrounded this team. All we heard was “No Kenny, no Addison, no Whipple.” We became an afterthought despite returning everyone in the building but those three. It gave everyone – players, coaches, and fans – a bit of a chip on their shoulders. But the disrespect may have been for good reason.

This season is viewed as a make-or-break for the program. It’s massively important for Pitt to build on last season’s success if it ever wants to return to the glory of the 70’s and 80’s. Kenny Pickett opened a window, and Pat Narduzzi needs capitalize on it. Because we can’t go back to the fucking Sun Bowl.

What are your thoughts on having Virginia Tech added as a permanent rival after this season? 

We’re pretty pumped about it. Pitt hasn’t really developed many “true” rivalries since it came to the ACC, so this could be a huge opportunity. VT and Miami feel like the closest thing Pitt has, given their shared histories in the Big East. The increased familiarity could be big for this rivalry, considering we’ve barely played 20 times.

Also, pretty pumped to get to come to Blacksburg more. Cool town, good food, Enter Sandman, etc.

Do you view Virginia Tech as a rival program? 

We dislike Virginia Tech. It seems like Virginia Tech dislikes Pitt (or at least Pat Narduzzi). We play yinz every year and it always feels like a meaningful game. But The Loyal Sons don’t loathe Virginia Tech. We loathe Penn State. We loathe West Virginia. For VT, it just isn’t there yet.

But it could be! It would be good for both programs for this matchup to grow in importance. The new scheduling wrinkle is going to go a very long way in making that happen. But we also all bear some individual responsibility in pouring a little more gasoline on the fire. So screw you, Treadmill Horse. What kind of name even is that?

What’s your favorite memory from the rivalry? 

Not just our favorite Pitt-VT memory, but one of our favorite football memories, period…

Lousaka Polite’s go-ahead touchdown to put #25 Pitt over the top against #5 VT in 2003. All three of us consider it our earliest memory of watching Pitt Football.

The matchup between Pitt and VT at Heinz Field in 2018 is a fan favorite too. Pitt controlled their own destiny to win the ACC Coastal, and for that reason, Pitt fans were expecting the worst. Plot-twist, Pitt wins by 30 and nearly ran for 500 yards. We still talk about Qadree Ollison stiff-arming Caleb Farley on his 97-yard TD run to this day.

But if you want a least favorite memory, we have one that’s a bit more favorable to your side. In 2019, we rolled about 20 people deep to Blacksburg to watch the Hokies go up 28-0 before halftime in an absolute downpour. We didn’t stay much past that point. Our last memory leaving the stadium was hearing the PA man announce Paris Ford’s targeting ejection. Salt in the wound. 

What’s your outlook on the future of the ACC? 

The ACC is in a pretty stable place despite how un-sexy it’s been for like 10 years. The Grant of Rights ties all 14 teams to the conference until 2036 save a majority of schools vote to nullify it and leave. But that would almost require all of the other power conferences in CFB to coordinate together to divy up the 8+ most attractive programs in the ACC, recruit them, whip the votes, and then negotiate their exit – all behind closed doors. 

So that doesn’t seem likely. But that doesn’t do jack for the value or respectability of the ACC in the meantime. The ACC needs to be proactive about the changing winds of college football. And that starts with picking off some desirable brands from the PAC12, Big 12, and maybe even some G5 powers. Realignment is going to continue, and a P5 conference is likely to crash and burn and be picked apart by the vultures circling overhead. It would be easy for the ACC to fall behind if it doesn’t make moves ASAP. Do it for pride, do it for the TV money. Whatever. Just do it.

On top of that, the big brands of the ACC need to stop being pathetic. What the hell happened to Florida State and Miami? Hell, even GT and VT aren’t what they were 20 years ago (rich coming from Pitt fans, we know). We can’t lean on the GoR to survive. At some point, we have to do football good.

What are your expectations for the Virginia Tech game? 

Brent Pry is in a true Year 0. Justin Fuente left the cabinet pretty bare, and in theory there’s a not-insignificant talent deficit between these two teams. Pry has all the resources to build something special in the Commonwealth, but that doesn’t do you much good this season.

We said the same about Georgia Tech though, and we all saw how that ended up. So maybe coaching and preparation might have something to do with wins and losses as well. It doesn’t matter how much deeper we think Pitt is if they keep coming out in a tight 2-WR set on 3rd & long and either running a draw or eating a bad coverage sack. 

VT has the defensive power to keep this game slow and sluggish to start, but at the end of the day, I think Pitt pulls it out because there’s a few starters and coordinators whose jobs might depend on it.

What’s your prediction for the game?

Before the GT game we said Pitt wins 34-10. But now we’re sad and angry so we predict 17-10. Neither team’s offense is going anywhere right now.

Pittsburgh vs. Virginia Tech Preview and Prediction

The Notre Dame game was a tough pill to swallow. The Hokies were so close to putting that game away but couldn’t make the plays in crunch time. Every year there are going to be close games and those games are the difference between good seasons and great seasons. So far, the Hokies are 1-2 in those games. That needs to improve as the Hokies get into conference play.

SP+ Rankings

Virginia Tech

Overall: 49th
Offense: 50th
Defense: 46th
Special Teams: 56th

Pittsburgh

Overall: 10th
Offense: 9th
Defense: 27th
Special Teams: 15th

Kenny Pickett may be the best QB the Hokies see this season. He may not be the highest pick in the draft but he is putting up the best numbers at the college level. Pickett is one of the best in the nation in passing yards, passing TDs and passing efficiency. Virginia Tech has had trouble over the years with NFL-caliber quarterbacks. Kenny Pickett definitely fits that description. The Hokies defensive backs and linebackers better bring their A-game because Pickett is going to be tough to stop.

The Pitt rushing defense will be able to stop the run and make the Hokies one-dimensional. Tech will have to throw to move the ball against Pitt which means winning battles in one-on-one coverage. Braxton Burmeister is going to have to be able to throw the ball up and hope his receiver comes down with it. So far this year, the Hokies haven’t been winning many of those battles when the ball is in the air. This isn’t a game where the Hokies can afford to be tentative on offense.

Tech should have one of the better pass defenses that Pitt have faced. The Hokies’ secondary matches up pretty well against Pitt’s receivers. But it’s a balanced offense that will be tough to stop. They run the ball well which will set up some opportunities to go downfield to their deep ball threats. This Pitt offense has been a nightmare for opposing defenses because they run and pass the ball so well.

Is this a lost cause? Definitely not. Pittsburgh looked extremely mortal in their loss to Western Michigan. Maybe Pittsburgh will look a little rusty after their bye. Pitt has lost in their last two visits to Lane Stadium. The Hokies looked terrible in 2019 in the Duke game and came back the next week and beat a pretty good Miami team. Weird things happen in college football. On paper, Pitt looks like the better team but anything can happen on any given Saturday in college football.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 31, Virginia Tech 17

Pittsburgh Preview and Prediction

The Miami game was a tough way to lose. The Hokies looked like the better team for three quarters against a top ten team. Then the offense went into hiding in the fourth quarter. It’s easy to point fingers but you have to make the plays in crunch time to win the game. Miami did. Virginia Tech didn’t. It’s that simple.

SP+ Rankings

This game comes down to can Hendon Hooker complete passes against man coverage? We know exactly what Pittsburgh in going to do. They will stack the box against the run and make Hendon Hooker beat them against press coverage. If Tech’s receivers can get open and Hendon Hooker can find them the ball, the Hokies should have success moving the football. But if Tech can’t run the ball and Hendon Hooker has trouble finding open receivers, it could be a long day offensively.

The Panthers struggle to run the ball and like to move the ball in the air. That plays to the advantage of the Hokies. Tech is better at stopping teams thru the air than on the ground. Kenny Pickett will have his work cut out for him against Virginia Tech’s secondary. Pitt ranks 71st in the nation in scoring offense averaging 27.6 points per game. Watch out for Jordan Addison in the passing game. He is Pitt’s go-to receiver.

This is a game where the Hokies want to get the tight ends involved. If James Mitchell is healthy, he would be the featured receiver. If he’s not able to go, the Hokies will need to lean on Nick Gallo. Expect this game to be a low-scoring affair, where the Hokies will HAVE to move the ball through the air. If all-else-fails the Hokies should run the Jerod Evans offense and have Hendon Hooker throw up jump ball after jump ball to his receivers. In the end, the Hokies will make a couple more plays offensively and win a one possession game on the road.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 28, Pittsburgh 24

Pittsburgh Preview and Prediction

Hokies are bowl eligible of an NCAA-leading 27th consecutive season. The first goal for any season is to make a bowl game. Start with that goal first, then worry about division titles. A bowl game was a good goal for this team — especially after waiting until their 12th game to make one last year. Their excellent play of late has them in the thick of the race for the Coastal division. But to get there they need to win two difficult games against Pittsburgh and Virginia.

SP+ Rankings

Pittsburgh

Overall: 52nd
Offense: 112th
Defense: 10th
Special Teams: 92nd

Virginia Tech

Overall: 44th
Offense: 67th
Defense: 35th
Special Teams: 39th

Pittsburgh reminds me of Virginia Tech teams from the mid-2000s. Elite defense. Pedestrian offense. Pittsburgh wins by keeping the opposition out of the end zone. Pittsburgh is giving up an average of 22 points per game in ACC games this season. Pitt’s defensive statistics are impressive. 11th in total defense. 7th in rushing defense. 9th in pass efficiency defense. To beat Pitt, you need to be able to complete passes against press coverage. Wide receivers need to win the one-on-one battles. This is a good week to get tight ends involved in the passing game. If the Hokies hope to have success on offense, they need to stay out of third and long. And use the screen game against an aggressive defensive line.

This is not the offense that you’ve seen from Pitt in the past. When you think of the Pitt offense you think of a run-heavy game. This year, the Panthers have not been able to run the ball and have turned to a pass-heavy offense. Pittsburgh’s offensive numbers are ugly. 106th in scoring offense. 106th in rushing offense. 96th in passing efficiency. This is an offense that does just enough to let their defense win the game for them.

This is going to be a close game. Pitt’s defense is good enough that the Hokies aren’t going to be able to go up and down the field on them. The goal for the Tech offense will be to not turn the ball over and try to grind out a few scoring drives to win the game. The Pitt defense is good but not unbeatable. Tech needs to take a methodical approach to their offense. Take opportunities as they come but don’t force it. The Hokies offense should be able to put enough points on the board to win. And the defense is playing well enough now to keep Pittsburgh’s offense mostly in check.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 24, Pittsburgh 17

Pittsburgh Preview and Prediction

This year’s Hokies have been the definition of inconsistent. One week, it’s the defense. One week, it’s the offense. I would argue the Hokies have only had two complete performances this season – against William & Mary and against Duke. Other than those games, you either get the Hokies offense or the Hokies defense or neither. If the Hokies hope to make a bowl this season, they need to close the season with a couple of complete performances.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ Rank: 61st
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 37th
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 81st
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 34th

Pittsburgh

Overall S&P+ Rank: 71st
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 50th
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 87th
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 61st

This is the third consecutive game against a team with a strong running game. Hokies struggled mightily with Georgia Tech and looked significantly better against Boston College. They will need to be even better to stop the Pitt rushing attack. They are led by Qadree Ollison who leads the team with 819 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns. He is backed up by Darrin Hall who has big play ability and is averaging 7.4 yards per carry. He also had 229 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns against UVA last week. Pitt uses a lot of reverses and misdirection to confuse the opposing defenses. If the Hokies defense loses track of the ball carrier, then it’s off to the races.

Pitt’s defense has been a very up and down this year – just like the Hokies. In some games, they have looked excellent and in others they’ve looked mediocre or worse. You never know what you’re going to get from this defense. Their performance last week against UVA was probably their most complete performance of the year. This defense is better at stopping the run than the pass but they have struggled with both at times this season. This defense is good at getting in the backfield to generate sacks and tackles for loss. Watch out for Rashad Weaver getting pressure on Ryan Willis.

The Hokies remaining games are winnable but the Hokies need to put a complete performance together. This one isn’t a great matchup but it does look like a winnable matchup and the Hokies need to take advantage to get a win where they can. They need to avoid penalties and turnovers. If the defense shows up like they did against BC, and the offense can show up like they did against Georgia Tech, the Hokies should be in good shape. It’s difficult to predict games this year with a team as inconsistent as this year’s Hokies. If the Hokies want to get to a bowl game, this is where they need to go on the road and pick up a win in a place that’s been tough for them to get wins in the past. They are due for a complete performance.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 28, Pittsburgh 27

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