Pitt expects hostile environment in Blacksburg

Pitt's Devin Street hauls in a touchdown pass over Virginia's Maurice Canady on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Pitt's Devin Street hauls in a touchdown pass over Virginia's Maurice Canady on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Photo by Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Jerry DiPaola
| Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, 9:06 p.m.

Pitt sophomore tight end J.P. Holtz knows what to expect from Virginia Tech on Saturday in noisy, hostile Lane Stadium.

“They are going to be out to get us,” he said.

Virginia Tech has a score to settle with the Panthers, who surprised and defeated the Hokies, then ranked No. 13, 35-17, last year at Heinz Field.

“I think we had a good offensive game plan and coaches had us prepared for them,” Holtz said. “I thought they came out and took us lightly and thought they were going to beat us. But we came out and played really well together.”

Senior wide receiver Devin Street said the Virginia Tech defense is improved — first in the nation in interceptions (13) and fifth overall ­— with the addition of two dynamic freshmen cornerbacks Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller. Facyson leads the ACC with four interceptions and Fuller is one of four Hokies with two each.

“We are definitely going to have to respect them,” Street said.

But familiarity could lead to confidence among Pitt's players.

“Because we played them last year (and) they brought back a lot of those guys, I think we can exploit their weaknesses a little bit,” Street said.The rematch in Blacksburg, Va., finds the Hokies still among the top 25 (No. 24), with five victories in their first six games. Their only loss was in the opener to No. 1 Alabama.

“They create confusion and uncertainty,” Pitt offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said of Virginia Tech's unique 4-2-5 alignment that often puts five defensive backs on the field.

“They have some great players back there and they are not afraid to let them play,” he said. “They challenge you to get the ball downfield.

“They put their guys in position to make plays. It's a challenging prep.”If that's true, the game is setting up as an interesting matchup. Pitt's strength is the deep passing game, which is third in the ACC in yards per attempt (9.6), behind only Florida State and Miami. The Panthers could be walking into a trap, especially if the running game (11th in the ACC) continues to falter and Pitt can't protect quarterback Tom Savage, who was sacked seven times by Virginia in its most recent game.

Savage, who will play in his first game since getting hit in the head 11 days ago, has thrown six interceptions in four games.

Perhaps, he will look a little longer at his tight ends, who usually run quicker-developing, intermediate routes.

So far, Street and Tyler Boyd have 44 of Pitt's 65 receptions. Meanwhile four tight ends have combined for only 10 while their blocking duties have increased.

“You would like to have more catches,” Holtz said, “but you have to do what you can do to help the team out.”

Rudolph said Pitt needs better blocking from everyone.

“Virginia did a nice job of pressuring us and there were times we just had breakdowns and weren't able to hold up,” Rudolph said. “It was across the board we didn't get it done.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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