The 37-16 win over Miami last Thursday was huge, but this game might be even more important for Virginia Tech.
The Hokies travel to Pittsburgh this week for their second-straight Thursday night game. Virginia Tech will play at Heinz Field, a venue where the Hokies are 0-4.
Luckily for Virginia Tech, most of the people who were around for the 2014 loss to Pittsburgh at Heinz Field are gone, including the majority of the coaching staff. Even at Lane Stadium, Virginia Tech has struggled vs. the Panthers. Since the Panthers joined the ACC for the 2012 season, Virginia Tech is just 1-3 against them.
“It’s not something that we’ve addressed,” said Virginia Tech Head Coach Justin Fuente on Monday. “The previous results have no bearing on future outcomes.”
Foster said that playing at Heinz Field has nothing to do with Virginia Tech’s struggles vs. Pittsburgh.
“I don’t think it’s Heinz Field, I think it has everything to do with Pitt,” Foster said. “They’ve played extremely well when we’ve gone up there and we need to go play. It’s not Heinz Field, and we have the utmost respect for Pitt. We’ve had some great games with those guys. They’ve had our number the last few times, whether it’s home or away.”
Pittsburgh a “heavy run-stop” team
Running the ball on Thursday will be paramount for the Hokies. Virginia Tech had their best game on the ground of the season vs. Miami, rushing for 251 yards. Travon McMillian had arguably the best game of his season so far, carrying the ball 18 times for 131 yards.
“I would say part of it was the way we were being played,” Fuente said. “Travon ran as hard as I’ve seen him run since I’ve been here.”
McMillian credited his offensive line for his breakout performance.
“The offensive line did a great job up front,” McMillian said. “They allowed me to see some creases. I don’t know, I was running with a lot of confidence. The hogs just did a great job up front.”
Jerod Evans had himself quite the day on the ground as well, rushing for 98 yards and a touchdown. Evans said that the running backs are starting get a better feel for Fuente’s offense.
“I think the guys, the running backs, are getting more comfortable with the style,” Evans said. “Trusting what they see. It’s definitely critical in what we want to do, as far as run and pass and not just keying on certain guys. That was definitely beneficial, especially against a talented group like Miami. I mean those guys really are freakish.”
“Yeah this offense, the running scheme and everything, they’re blocked differently,” McMillian said. “You’ve just got to be a lot more patient and see things develop.”
Pittsburgh won’t impress anyone with their passing defense, but they’ve been solid against the run all season. The Panthers are fifth in rushing defense, allowing 96.6 yards per game on the ground.
“The makeup of their team starts with running the football and stopping the run and they’ve been successful at that, that’s why they’re winning ballgames,” Fuente said.
Evans even compared Pittsburgh’s defensive scheme to Boston College, saying that they want to force the quarterback to make plays.
“They’re a heavy run-stop team,” Evans said. “They will force you to throw in man-to-man coverage. I would say a little bit like Boston College, where they force you to throw the football, which I have no problem doing.”
Even though Pittsburgh keys in on the run, McMillian still sees an opportunity for a big game.
“They’re really good up front, their front seven is really good,” McMillian said. “I’ll have one-on-one opportunities with the safeties and things like that, so it’s going to be important for me to make those guys miss and create big runs.”
News and notes
Terrell and Tremaine Edmunds, as well as Woody Baron, all won defensive player of the week awards for their positions due to their performances vs. Miami.
Terrell Edmunds had seven total tackles and a diving interception in the win, while his brother Tremaine led the Hokies in total tackles with 10. Tremaine also registered a sack and two tackles for loss. Baron had the best game of anyone on defense, finishing with 4.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
Ken Ekanem and Nigel Williams both missed the game vs. Miami on Thursday and their status for Pittsburgh is unknown at this point. Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster said on Monday that the team would know more after practice on Tuesday night.