Pittsburgh is a program in transition in so many ways. They've had 4 coaches in a little over a season. Think about that - 4 COACHES! In addition to that, the Panthers are going to be leaving the Big East and joining the ACC next season. There's just so much in the way of distractions, that it can't help but cause a loss of focus in these players. And that has shown up in their first two games, where they looked terrible and were blown out in both, one of which was to Division I-AA Youngstown State.
But make no mistake, when you put the film on, these guys are still big, strong and fast. Talent is not the issue in Pittsburgh. Their problem is that they are making tons of execution mistakes all over the field. The distractions I already mentioned on top of learning a brand new offense and defense for the 3rd time in 2 seasons is just resulting in tons of missed blocks, balls thrown to the wrong spot on the field, as well as defensive assignment breakdowns.
Despite all of those issues, the Panthers still have a stud RB in Ray Graham who has gone for over 100 yards in both contests and he's as tough to bring down as he ever was. And if this is any indication of how seriously the Hokies still need to take this opponent, their offense has actually gained more yards than the Hokies. If that isn't a sign of just how amazing Pitt coach Paul Chryst is, and how wrong something has gone with Stinespring's move up to the press box this year, I don't know what is.
Fortunately, the Hokies have some key players who now are listed as probable against Pitt, that earlier in the week looked like they wouldn't play. Starting center Andrew Miller will play, as will LB Bruce Taylor and free safety Detrick Bonner. I have no idea how effective those three will be, and I suspect Bonner and Miller will play less snaps than Taylor in the game, based on the fact that their injuries seem more serious than his. Michael Cole had better be ready for primetime at rover and Caleb Farris needs to have all of his snapping jitters that he showed last Saturday out of his system.
In fact that brings me to the key to this game - it's the first road game. The Hokies have been very good on the road the past several seasons and they have more talent than Pitt this season, but none of that means a hill of beans if this bunch of young guys, many of whom will be playing in their first game outside the friendly confines of Lane Stadium, step out into a hostile environment and wet their pants. Can they still execute on offense without being able to hear the snap count? Can the Hokie defense get a key stop without the roar of the crowd helping cause false starts or delays of game against the opposing offense. And maybe the most important question of all - can the Hokies get off to a better start than they have been? The first quarter has been an absolute trainwreck for VT so far this season and if they fall behind by a couple of scores early in the game at Pitt, the Pitt crowd will get into it and suddenly, the momentum will become a very elusive thing to recapture. My nights are filled with scary thoughts like these heading into this game.
Thank goodness the Hokies are catching Pitt early this season. As the players get more familiar with Paul Chryst and his system, they are only going to get tougher to beat. The Panthers are going to play at 110% to try and avoid going down 0-3, but just wait until that effort is combined with a team that knows what it's doing. They will be good, just hopefully not starting Saturday. At the end of the day, Tech should win this game, but as Beamer pointed out last week - it doesn't matter what should happen, it only matters what happens.