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Virginia Tech Vs. Pitt: Panthers Have Significant Challenge In Hokies

Pitt will no doubt need to rely on Ray Graham to pull off the upset.

Sep 6, 2012; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers running back Ray Graham (1) runs past Cincinnati Bearcats defensive back Chris Williams (20) during the first half at Nippert Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE
Sep 6, 2012; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers running back Ray Graham (1) runs past Cincinnati Bearcats defensive back Chris Williams (20) during the first half at Nippert Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE

With an 0-2 start already under their belts, things don't get much easier for Pitt as they will face Virginia Tech at home on Saturday. The Panthers are looking to avoid their first 0-3 start since Dave Wannstedt's first season as head coach back in 2005. But that will be difficult when the No. 13-ranked Hokies roll into Heinz Field.

For Pitt, the key to the game may rest with their defense. The Panthers actually enter the game with a more prolific offense based on total yardage in the first two contests, and the Hokies haven't been truly dominant when they've had the ball. The problem for Pitt is that their usually sound defense has been anything but this season.

The Panthers were unable to stop FCS foe Youngstown State from prolonged drives and quarterback Kurt Hess methodically picked the Panthers apart, scoring 31 points. Things got worse last week in Cincinnati as the Bearcats rolled to 34 points.

Getting back to the offense, while Pitt has outgained Virginia Tech in total yards, the Hokies have had a far easier time completing drives and scoring points. Virginia Tech's 31 points per contest place it right near the middle of FBS teams. Pitt, meanwhile, has only come away with 13.5 points a game, ranking near the bottom. Defense may be the biggest factor of Pitt being able to compete in the game, but finishing drives and converting yards into points isn't far behind.

It's difficult to imagine Pitt will score a boatload of points. The Hokies haven't played any offensive juggernauts yet, but giving up only 12 points a game, they have been sound defensively. More to the point, the Panthers haven't had a lot of offensive juice. To win the game, Pitt likely needs to play a ball control style and move the ball down the field on the back of their fairly strong running game, led by Ray Graham. Allowing the defense to rest will be critical and a few turnovers wouldn't hurt, either.

The game will be broadcast on ESPNU if you can't make it down to Heinz Field.

Stay tuned to this storystream for more information on the game. For more on Pitt football, head over to SB Nation's Pitt blog, Cardiac Hill.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.