written by Debashis Bagchi


The most complete mismatch on the field. Hokie defense has not allowed a team to gain more than 83 yds rushing all season. Pitt must establish somewhat of a running game to keep defensive pressure off inconsistent QB Rod Rutherford. Junior RB Brandon Miree (235lbs) is Pitt's leading rusher with 390 yds, but only 3.7 yds per carry. Miree regained the starting nod last week against Boston College from last year's freshman surprise, Raymond Kirkley. Combined, Pitt's RBs are averaging well under 4 ypc. In fact, FB Lousaka Polite leads the team with 4.4 ypc. Look for Pittsburgh to only utilize the run to keep the Va Tech defense honest. Pittsburgh needs to keep Tech off-balance with a steady diet of Polite and Miree up the gut, complimented with a few draws and bootlegs from Rutherford. Rutherford is a capable runner (214 yds, 3 TDs) and the first such mobile-QB test for the Hokie defense this year. Tech's aggressive defensive front, anchored by DEs Nathaniel Adibi and Cols Colas will be too quick for the Panther OL. Keep on eye on Rover safety Michael Crawford. He likes to sneak up to help stop the run (VA Tech has inexperienced LBs - 2 sophomore and 1 freshman starter). Pittsburgh's goal is to gain 100 yds rushing and, more importantly, convert 3rd and short situations. Don't expect it, though, and look for Pitt to abandon the run quickly. Coach Walt Harris is known to be pass-happy.
HUGE EDGE: Virginia Tech



This dimension will be a giant test both ways. Despite the vaunted VT RB duo of Suggs and sophomore stud Kevin Jones, the Hokies running game has been slowed several times. Temple, W. Michigan and Texas A&M all had repeated success crowding the line and forcing Tech to throw. Suggs averaged only 49 ypg in these three games, opposed to 136 ypg otherwise. Pittsburgh's athletic defense shut down Notre Dame (only 40 yds rushing). The Panthers present the same size and speed challenges as did Texas A&M. Look out for Pitt's brilliant LB trio of All-American candidate Gerald Hayes and experienced outside guys Lewis Moore and Brian Beinecke. These three average 240 pounds and really get after the run. Also, Pittsburgh will risk bringing up SS Tyrone Gilliard to run-stop. Many people have begun comparing Walt Harris' young defense to the UNC defenses of the mid-90's. Pittsburgh needs to contain Virginia Tech to around 150 yards rushing. With this, the Panthers will have a great chance to spring an upset. The game will be won in this match up.
EDGE: EVEN (Surprise, Surprise)



The Panthers would be 8-0 now if only the offense had made a few more plays against Notre Dame and Texas A&M. This is the game for improving QB Rutherford so as to silence his critics. The Hokies have depth and talent at secondary, but they are aggressive and can be exploited. They have allowed over 200 yards passing in all but two games (despite having faced only two strong passing teams, Marshall and Boston College). Rutherford has thrown for over 200 yds the past six games, including 9 TDs and only 4 INTs. The Panthers have a big, talented WR duo in freshman Larry Fitzgerald (6'3", 38rec/543yds, 4TDs) and senior Lamar Slade (6'4", 35rec/515yds, 4TDs). Fitzgerald and Slade need to utilize their advantage over Hokie CBs Garnell Wilds (5'11") and Vincent Fuller (6'1"). The Hokies will rotate DeAngelo Hall (5'11"), the team's best athlete, and Ronyell Whitaker (5'9"). Look for sophomore speedster WR Roosevelt Bynes to get open if the Hokies try to double Slade and/or Fitzgerald. Bynes averages 24.1 ypc. The Panther's primary concern will be pressure from the Tech pass rush. Beamer loves to blitz the back 7 (all LBs and DLmen) and is brilliant at disguising the defensive attack. A key statistic - Pitt has allowed 28 sacks this year while the Hokies have 31. Rutherford is slow to read the pressure and will make mistakes and take sacks. For Pittsburgh to succeed, they must throw the ball away under pressure and remain patient, staying away from 3rd and long. Teammates will be open. Opponents are completing 62% of their passes against Tech. Pittsburgh must throw to their big receivers early to make Tech keep their safeties in coverage. Then MAYBE the Panthers can establish some kind of running game by throwing short passes to TEs and RBs, something they don't usually do.
EDGE: Pittsburgh



Sophomore QB Bryan Randall has done an admirable job since taking over for injured senior Grant Noel. Randall is efficient (66% completion) and mobile (216 yds rushing). VT does not ask for much from Randall, except occasional play-actions and mistake-free ball. Randall will not need to have a big day for Hokie success. WR Earnest Wilford (19rec/357yds) will find it hard going against the Panther DBs. Randall needs to hit his TE and RB short in mismatches against bigger, slower Pitt LBs. Amazingly, Suggs and Jones have combined for only 3 receptions all season. Randall has completed 12 to FBs Easlick and Cedric Humes. Look for Tech to be forced to throw in this wrinkle. The Panthers have two excellent DBs (including the team's best athlete, special team standout and leader in passes defended, senior Torrie Cox). Like the Panther running game, the Hokies need their passing game to generate just enough to keep the defense honest.
HUGE EDGE: Pittsburgh



This is not a typical year for Virginia Tech special teams unit. Kickoff teams have been erratic - kickers are only 8-15 in FGs. On the positive, Tech's DeAngelo Hall is averaging 15.1 yds on punt return and Vinnie Burns has punted for a 41.7 yds average. In stark contrast, the Pitt special teams have been fantastic so far. Don't be surprised if they outplay Tech in this category. Torrie Cox is 10th in the nation at nearly 27 yds per punt return. Panther are 14-20 in FGs, while punter Andy Lee is one of the nation's best at 43 yds per punt. In a game that should be decided by field position, the punters will be key.
EDGE: Pittsburgh



This will be a tremendous game. On paper, Pittsburgh might actually have the better team. The Panthers played Virginia Tech tight (37-34 loss) two years ago and destroyed the Hokies, 38-7 last year. In both games, the Hokies were unable to stop Walt Harris' passing attack. However, the home field at night will be a huge Hokie advantage. Also, the mistake-prone play of Pitt QB Rutherford should have Panther fans worried. This will be a low-scoring game, a real war in the trenches. Panther LB Gerald Hayes can make a national name for himself. For Virginia Tech, it's their last test before Miami. For Pittsburgh, it is a third chance at respect and a possible Top 25 ranking. Two should be Pittsburgh's magic number. If Pittsburgh has less than two turnovers, it is their game to win. Otherwise, it will take 'too' much to overcome a disciplined Hokie bunch.

Pittsburgh-19 Virginia Tech-17
(Third time will be the charm for a very underrated Pittsburgh team)