It was one of the ACC’s biggest surprises in 2012.
Virginia Tech was ranked No. 13 in the country, heading to Pitt having won 13 straight true road games -- a 2-0 team facing an 0-2 Pitt team that had just lost back-to-back games against Youngstown State and Cincinnati.
None of it mattered. The Hokies got whupped.
It was a stunning 35-17 loss in which Virginia Tech was manhandled up front on both sides of the ball.
“We learned that Pittsburgh will pound you if you don’t play well yourself,” Virginia Tech coach Beamer said on Wednesday. “They had a lot to do with that, too – us not playing well. I’ve always been impressed with the kids in Pennsylvania. We’ve done some recruiting up there ourselves. I think there’s a toughness about those kids, and they do a good job of coaching ‘em up. You put that combination together and they’ve got talent, they’re tough, well-coached and they’re always going to be a team that’s tough for us to beat. They’ve beaten us the last four times we’ve played, so we know we have a great respect for Pittsburgh.”
As they should: all five of Pitt’s wins in the series have come against nationally-ranked Virginia Tech teams – and the scene is set on Saturday for the Panthers to try and do it again.
The Hokies are ranked No. 24 this week, their first appearance in the Associated Press top 25 all season. Once again, Virginia Tech’s lunchpail defense is predicted to have the edge up front against a Pitt offensive line that allowed nine sacks against Virginia two weeks ago. This series, though, has taught us to expect the unexpected.
For whatever reason, Pitt has been a thorn in Virginia Tech’s side the past four meetings, mainly while the two programs were members of the Big East. This year marks the first time they’ll play as members of the ACC’s Coastal Division, and another Pitt win would put the Panthers squarely in the conversation to win the division. Right now, Virginia Tech and Miami are the only two teams left in the division that are undefeated in ACC play, as Pitt’s lone loss was to No. 11-ranked Florida State in the season opener.
Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller said defensive coordinator Bud Foster this week “harps on how the game went last year and how we can’t allow that to happen again.”
“It was definitely a disappointment,” Fuller said. “I know our guys are hungry, ready to come out and show that we’re a lot better. That happened last season. That’s over with. We just want to continue to build on what we have going on this season.”
Which is exactly why the Panthers’ are expecting Virginia Tech’s best shot.
“They’re a great team,” said Pitt receiver Devin Street, “but we’re definitely expecting them – especially how we played them last year – we’re expecting them to come out blazing, especially at home as well."
This is Pitt’s first trip to Blacksburg as a member of the ACC, but even as members of the Big East, the Panthers have had the Hokies’ number. The teams haven’t met in Lane Stadium since 2002, and Pitt won, 28-21. Pitt coach Paul Chryst, who is in his second season, said the staff hasn’t tried to use history as motivation.
“Each team is different, each year is different,” Chryst said. “None of that carries over. The focus has all been about this group, this year, this week’s opponent. I think Virginia Tech is playing well right now. They’re confident defensively, they’re getting into a bit of a rhythm offensively. In all three phases we’re going to be challenged.”
That was the case for the Hokies last year.
They were beaten soundly up front on both sides of the ball, and quarterback Logan Thomas threw one touchdown and three interceptions against a defense that managed just one sack and no turnovers in the first two losses. Pitt junior guard Matt Rotheram, who started against the Hokies last year, said both teams have since improved.
“You don’t want to look back at the last time you played and say, ‘Hey, we did good last time, we’re going to be good this time,” he said. “You’ve got to approach every single game like it’s the first time you’ve played them.”
Pitt’s win last year was a sneak preview of what was to come this fall, validation that the program could and would be a formidable opponent in the ACC’s Coastal Division. Street said those within the program aren’t content, though, with merely contending.
“It feels good but just from my standpoint and a team standpoint, we never want to settle at all,” he said. “We played Duke and Virginia, but we’re playing a 5-1 team who’s pretty good. Virginia Tech, this is going to be our true test to see where we’re really at. Florida State was a top team in the country, Duke and Virginia, they’re good teams, but Virginia Tech, they’re a better team. This is going to be a huge test as to where we’re at as a team.”
As a program, they’ve already passed that test -- four straight times.