BLACKSBURG, Va. –
Who: Virginia Tech at Pittsburgh
What: The Hokies first road game of the year, a non-conference date.
Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh
Why: The Panthers will be joining the ACC next year, but for now, this is a non-league game against a Big East school for Virginia Tech. The Hokies are 2-0 and looking to improve on their offensive play.
Four things to watch for
First down: Will Virginia Tech shrug off its tendency for sluggish offensive starts and jump on the Panthers?
The Hokies offense has looked strong in the second half and exceptional in its two-minute, hurry-up phase. But in the first quarters of games, Virginia Tech and Logan Thomas have been mediocre.
With Pittsburgh reeling at 0-2, a big start would go a long way to giving the Hokies control of the game.
“We’re playing, like, a wounded animal,” Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “They’re going to be backed up in a corner. They’re playing at home. They’re playing a quality opponent in us. They’re going to play their tail off. We expect that.”
Second down: Can the Hokies control the line of scrimmage?
Anytime you play Pittsburgh, even an 0-2 version that lost to FCS Youngstown State in its opener, you have to match the Panthers’ physical style of play, especially up front. Defensively, that shouldn’t be a problem for the Hokies. Their much-ballyhooed defense is built on a strong and athletic defensive line.
“They’re physical up front, they want to establish the run,” Tech senior linebacker Bruce Taylor said this week. “It’s power football. They’re big up front. They’ve got two good, probably great, running backs.”
On the offensive side of things, one of the reasons Virginia Tech has been rotating sophomore Brent Benedict in at right guard is that he’s more of a physical presence than senior Michael Via.
Third Down: Does the running game have a big play in it?
Offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring this week praised the play of his rookie tailbacks, noting that both redshirt freshman Michael Holmes and true freshman J.C. Coleman have impressive yards-per-carry averages (Holmes is getting 4.3 yards per rush, while Coleman is at 5.4).
But no one is denying the Hokies could really use some long runs. Holmes has the longest rush by a tailback this season at 19 yards. Virginia Tech’s best running play was a 26-yard gain by wide receiver Marcus Davis on an end around.
“We need to get more explosive plays out of the running game,” Stinespring said.
Fourth Down: How healthy is Pitt’s star running back, Ray Graham?
Graham is coming off a knee injury that cut short his 2011 season. At the time he was hurt, Graham was leading the Big East in rushing. Now, he’s back. And through two games he’s been effective if not spectacular.
Graham has rushed for 174 yards on 33 carries, ripping off a 50-yarder already this year and averaging 5.3 yards per carry. But he hasn’t found the end zone yet.
“Graham, he looked good in the Cincy game,” Taylor said, “but I feel like he’s still nursing that knee a little bit.”
Last game, the Hokies gave up over 100 yards rushing to Austin Peay’s Wesley Kitts.
Extra points: Virginia Tech’s injury report Thursday listed center Andrew Miller (ankle), linebacker Bruce Taylor (ankle) and safety Detrick Bonner (leg) all as probable for the Pittsburgh game.