BLACKSBURG, Va. – Due to a recent hot stretch led by quarterback Herndon Hooker, Virginia Tech controls its own destiny when it comes to the Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal division title. Tied with Virginia and Pittsburgh with two conference losses apiece, the Hokies host the Panthers on Saturday before wrapping up the regular season with a potential division title showdown Nov. 29 against the Cavaliers.
TV: 3:30 p.m. ESPN2. LINE: Virginia Tech -4.
Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente benched starter Ryan Willis after a 45-10 loss to Duke on Sept. 27, and Hooker has won all five of his starts, with the only defeat coming by one point to Notre Dame when Hooker sat with an injury. The sophomore led the Hokies to a 45-0 win over Georgia Tech last week and is completing 61 percent of his passes for 981 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions to go with 235 rush yards and four scores. "He's handled the emotions," Fuente said. "He's played on the road. He's been calm and been able to play the next play, and for the most part, execute what we've asked him to do." Pitt, the defending Coastal champions, has won six of seven after last Thursday's 34-27 overtime win over North Carolina behind 359 yards and three total touchdowns by Kenny Pickett, who provided the game-winner with a short touchdown run in OT.
ABOUT PITTSBURGH (7-3, 4-2 ACC)
Pickett, who has already thrown for a career-high 2,311 yards this season, is averaging 256.8 passing yards per game, which ranks 25th nationally and third among ACC quarterbacks. Pickett, who rushed for 53 yards on 12 carries against the Tar Heels, accounted for 412 of the Panthers’ season-high 498 total yards, including a 74-yard touchdown pass to Shocky Jacques-Louis that equaled Pitt’s longest scoring play of the season. The Panthers lead FBS in sacks (45) and rank second in the league in total defense (298 yards per game) and are led by tackle Jaylen Twyman, who has a team-high 9.5 sacks and ranks seventh nationally (second in the ACC) with an average of 0.95 per game.
ABOUT VIRGINIA TECH (7-3, 4-2)
The Hokies amassed 461 yards of total offense against the Yellow Jackets and are averaging 448.6 yards per game since Hooker entered the lineup - 111 more than when Willis was running the show. Virginia Tech also excelled on defense last week, holding Georgia Tech to 134 yards - fewest allowed since a win over North Carolina in 2016 - with cornerback Caleb Farley intercepting a pass and returning it for a touchdown. The sophomore leads the ACC in passes defensed (breakups and interceptions) with 15 and is tied for the league lead with four interceptions.
1. Pitt has won seven of the past 10 meetings, including a 52-22 victory at Heinz Field in 2018. However, the Panthers are just 2-6 all-time in Blacksburg, including a 20-14 loss two years ago when the Hokies stonewalled four consecutive runs from the 1-yard line to seal it.
2. Virginia Tech P Oscar Bradburn has been named one of 10 semifinalists for the Ray Guy Award, leading the nation with a 48.3-yard gross punting average. On the season, he has hit 20 punts that have traveled at least 50 yards and placed 17 of his 40 total punts inside the 20.
3. Pitt is surrendering an average of just 90.9 rush yards, the lowest in the ACC and seventh nationally. Pitt last yielded fewer than 100 rushing yards per game in 2000 (97.0 for 12 games).
PREDICTION: Virginia Tech 28, Pittsburgh 24