Nov 6, 2021; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Sam Howell (7) runs as Wake Forest Demon Deacons defensive back Luke Masterson (12) defends in the first quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

High-powered offenses square off as North Carolina faces No. 21 Pitt

North Carolina and No. 21 Pittsburgh know all about big point totals.

Now they’ll match up against each other for a key game in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division on Thursday night in Pittsburgh.

The outcome could have a huge impact on the divisional race.

Pittsburgh (7-2, 4-1 ACC) controls its destiny in the division, although another showdown looms against Virginia. North Carolina (5-4, 3-3) can stay in contention with a victory.

“They’re talented, preseason favorite (in the Coastal Division),” Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi said of the Tar Heels.

The Tar Heels are fresh off a 58-55 comeback victory against then-No. 9 Wake Forest. So they’ll match up with a ranked team for the third week in a row.

But the Panthers, who appeared in the first College Football Playoff rankings at No. 25, recovered from a loss to Miami with a convincing triumph against Duke.

Pittsburgh rang up 636 yards of total offense for the sixth-highest total in program history. The Panthers have eclipsed the 600-yard mark twice in the same season for the first time.

This matchup will be ripe with storylines involving North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell and Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett.

“It has nothing to do with me and Sam, 1-on-1,” Pickett said. “It’s Pitt vs. North Carolina. It’s going to be a great game, for sure.”

The Panthers have gone above the 50-point mark in four games this season, the most for any Pittsburgh team since 1905. North Carolina has reached 58 or more points three times.

Yet defensive shortcomings are disturbing for Tar Heels coach Mack Brown.

“We have to limit the explosive plays,” Brown said. “We’re getting better and we’re growing. But we have to change some things in that area to get better and do it quickly.”

Howell is North Carolina’s career leader in touchdown passes and passing yardage through 34 games.

The Tar Heels have added a rushing component that has been valuable lately, with Ty Chandler becoming the first Tar Heel to rush for four touchdowns in a game since 1993 when he sliced through Wake Forest’s defense last week.

“He’s showing his quickness and his speed and he’s got more patience now,” Brown said. “I think he’s in tune with the offensive linemen; he has good chemistry with them now.”

North Carolina has gone nearly a month without an ACC game, with an open week and then facing Notre Dame and Wake Forest (an ACC member, but it was a non-league game for those teams).

“It’s such a short week,” Pickett said. “It’s really kind of a mental preparation this week more than physical, especially that it’s late in the season like this.”

Despite all the positive plays against Duke, there were others that created concerns — particularly allowing a kickoff return for a touchdown.

“A lot of ones that we have to clean up for Thursday night,” Narduzzi said.

Pittsburgh had three players out on the offense nursing injuries in the Duke game. Then several other players departed with various ailments.

“It’s obviously concerning,” Narduzzi said. “We’ll have a smart week of practice and keep our guys fresh if we can.”

North Carolina won six straight games in the series until Pittsburgh’s 34-27 victory in 2019. All seven meetings since the Panthers joined the ACC have been decided by seven points or fewer. The divisional foes didn’t meet last year because of a revised pandemic-related schedule.

–Field Level Media

Sep 25, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  New Hampshire Wildcats quarterback Bret Edwards (17) scrambles with the ball as Pittsburgh Panthers defensive lineman Deslin Alexandre (5) chases during the second quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Kenny Pickett fuels Pitt’s record-setting rout of New Hampshire

Kenny Pickett threw for 403 yards and five touchdowns and Pittsburgh set a school record with 707 yards of offense in a 77-7 rout of visiting New Hampshire in a nonconference game on Saturday.

Pickett completed 24 of 28 passes for the Panthers (3-1), while Jordan Addison had six receptions for 179 yards and three touchdowns. Rodney Hammond Jr. rushed for 100 yards and three scores and Israel Abanikanda ran for 75 yards and one score. Pitt’s previous record was 654 yards against Virginia Tech in 2018.

The FCS member Wildcats (3-1) were held to just eight first downs and 160 total yards by the Panthers, who jumped out to a 28-0 first-quarter lead.

After Pitt scored a safety on New Hampshire’s opening series, Pickett capped an eight-play, 77-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to make it 8-0 before Ben Sauls missed the extra-point attempt.

Pittsburgh’s defense extended the lead when Damarri Mathis stepped in front of Bret Edwards’ pass and returned it 35 yards for a 14-0 lead before Sauls missed a second straight PAT.

Abanikanda’s 15-yard run capped a seven-play, 61-yard drive for a 21-0 lead after Sam Scarton made the extra point.

The Panthers pushed their lead to 28-0 in the final minute of the opening quarter when Shocky Jacques-Louis caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Pickett.

The Wildcats got on the scoreboard on their next drive on Edwards’ 4-yard touchdown pass to Sean Coyne just five seconds into the second quarter.

The Panthers made it 35-7 on Pickett’s 24-yard strike to Jordan Addison with 11:17 left in the half. Three minutes later, Pickett and Addison connected on a 47-yard touchdown pass for a 42-7 lead.

Pickett extended the lead to 49-7 with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Taysir Mack with 11 seconds left in the second quarter.

Addison found the end zone for the third time when he caught a 46-yard pass from Pickett less than two minutes into the third quarter for a 56-7 lead.

Beckett was then replaced by Nick Patti, who led the Panthers to three touchdown drives that were all capped by runs by Hammond.

–Field Level Media

Sep 11, 2021; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers defensive lineman Deslin Alexandre (5) tips a pass from Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Hendon Hooker (5) during the second quarter at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Kenny Pickett leads Pitt to narrow win at Tennessee

Kenny Pickett passed for 285 yards and two touchdowns and also added a rushing score to lead Pittsburgh to a 41-34 nonconference victory over Tennessee on Saturday in the Johnny Majors Classic at Knoxville, Tenn.

Receiver Jared Wayne threw a touchdown pass on a trick play for the Panthers (2-0). Pickett completed 24 of 36 passes and Brandon Hill collected a key interception.

Hendon Hooker completed 15 of 21 passes for 189 yards, two touchdowns and one interception for the Volunteers (1-1). Starter Joe Milton III left in the second quarter with a leg injury after being sacked by Pitt’s Keyshon Camp. Milton completed 7 of 12 passes for 50 yards.

The game was scheduled in tribute to Johnny Majors, the College Football Hall of Famer who died in June 2020 at age 85. Majors was an All-American running back at Tennessee who later coached 16 seasons at the school, and he also coached Tony Dorsett-led Pitt to the 1976 national championship.

The Panthers racked up five sacks and held a 397-374 edge in total offense.

Pitt held a 34-20 lead after Pickett scored on a quarterback sneak from inside the 1-yard line with 4:49 remaining in the third quarter. Tennessee moved back within seven on Hooker’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Warren with 2:32 left.

Pitt pushed the advantage back to 14 when Pickett hit Jordan Addison on a 5-yard scoring pass with 12:22 remaining in the contest. Jaylen Wright scored from the 1 just more than two minutes later as the Volunteers crept within seven.

However, Wright was stopped on fourth-and-1 from the Panthers’ 3 with 6:59 left. A short time later, the Volunteers were at the Pitt 34 but Hooker was intercepted by Hill and Pitt took over with 4:52 left.

The Panthers collected two first downs to close out the victory.

Pitt scored 27 second-quarter points en route to holding a 27-20 halftime lead.

Christian Charles blocked a punt to set up Jabari Small’s 2-yard run with 13:34 left in the opening quarter and Chase McGrath kicked a 37-yard field goal as Tennessee took a 10-0 advantage.

Pickett tossed an 11-yard scoring pass to Melquise Stovall to start the Panthers’ second-quarter splurge. McGrath kicked a 48-yard field goal for the Volunteers, but Pittsburgh executed a double pass with Wayne connecting on a 16-yard score to Lucas Krull to give Pitt a 14-13 edge with 9:25 left.

Sam Scarton tacked on field goals of 38 and 27 yards to give the Panthers a seven-point edge before Jimmy Calloway turned Hooker’s short pass into a 44-yard touchdown to tie it at 20 with 2:16 left.

Vincent Davis scored from the 2 with 19 seconds left to give Pitt the seven-point lead at the break.

–Field Level Media

Nov 21, 2020; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) passes against the Virginia Tech Hokies during the second quarter at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh won 47-14. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

UMass brings 11-game losing streak to Pittsburgh

While it’s uncertain how vital Pittsburgh’s celebrated depth will prove to be, it should be showcased against a Massachusetts program that hasn’t won a game in nearly two years.

The Panthers open the season looking to hand the visiting Minutemen a 12th straight defeat on Saturday.

After going 6-5 last season, Pitt boasts 21 seniors, including 13 “super seniors,” those whose eligibility did not run out in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Panthers return roughly 11 starters from 2020.

“The culture here, I think, is great, and that’s why we’ve got guys that stick it out and play, and guys that come back and play a fifth year or sixth year or seventh year,” said coach Pat Narduzzi, who is 42-34 entering his seventh season at Pittsburgh.

Pitt averaged 29.0 points last season under quarterback Kenny Pickett, who enters his fourth year as a starter. He has completed 60.4 percent of his passes for 7,984 yards during his four seasons at Pitt, and matched a personal high with 13 touchdowns in 2020.

He threw eight of those touchdowns over five home games.

Defensively, the Panthers hope to show some improvement from a unit that allowed 30 or more points five times last season. Linebacker SirVocea Dennis was second on the team with 57 tackles last season, including 14 tackles for loss and four sacks.

According to the school, Pitt’s 97 recorded sacks during the 2019-20 seasons were the most in the nation over that span.

None of that likely bodes well for UMass, which posted one touchdown while being outscored 161-12 in the four games it played — against Georgia Southern, Marshall, Florida Atlantic and Liberty — last fall. The Minutemen return more than 10 starters from that group, but face a daunting task as an independent program with the likes of Boston College, Coastal Carolina, Florida State and Army also on the schedule.

UMass is 1-17 since Nov. 10, 2018, and has dropped 11 in a row since a 37-29 home win over Akron on Sept. 28, 2019.

“We’ve got to do a nice job putting our players in position to make plays,” head coach Walt Bell said. “Utilize our personnel groups where we have strength.”

Colorado transfer Tyler Lytle is slated to start at quarterback for the Minuteman. The senior attempted just 13 passes in six games during his three seasons with the Buffaloes.

This will be the first meeting between the schools.

–Field Level Media

Oct 24, 2020; Clemson, South Carolina, USA;   Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) makes a pass during their game in the second half against Syracuse at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

No. 4 Clemson hopes to unleash Lawrence against Pitt

Trevor Lawrence may finally get back in the game.

Clemson’s junior quarterback, who hasn’t played in more than a month, said Tuesday he’s eager to return to action Saturday against Pitt after missing two games with COVID-19.

He was set to play Saturday at Florida State, but that game was postponed, meaning Lawrence hasn’t played since an Oct. 24 win against Syracuse.

“I had a really good week of practice and was ready to go,” Lawrence said. “I felt like I was in a good spot. Hopefully, everything goes well this week and we get to play.”

The No. 4 Tigers (7-1, 6-1 ACC) will host Pitt Saturday on Senior Day at Memorial Stadium, and there’s a chance that coach Dabo Swinney’s team also will welcome back three key defenders who have missed substantial time with injuries, including top linebackers James Skalski and Mike Jones Jr. and All-ACC defensive tackle Tyler Davis.

Clemson is riding a 27-game home winning streak and hasn’t lost a home game in 1,477 days. Ironically, that defeat came 43-42 at the hands of Pitt on Nov. 12, 2016; the Panthers would go on to win their final two regular-season games before losing to Northwestern in the Pinstripe Bowl and finishing 8-5.

Clemson never lost again that season, reeling off five straight victories en route to the national title.

The Tigers’ only defeat this season came in a 47-40 double-overtime loss at Notre Dame on Nov. 7, the last time the team played. Pitt (5-4, 4-4) has posted two straight impressive victories, rolling past Florida State and Virginia Tech by a combined 57 points.

“Pitt’s a good football team,” Swinney said. “A lot of people had them ranked really high early in the season and when you watch them, you’ll see why. They’re 5-4, but they easily are a 7-2, 8-1 team. They had two one-point losses.

“They’re first in the country in tackles for loss, second in the country in sacks. A fun team to watch on tape, to be honest with you, because they play the game the way I think it should be played — physical, tough, great effort, aggressiveness. We know we’ll have our hands full with this group.”

The Panthers’ recent resurgence has a lot to do with the return of quarterback Kenny Pickett following an ankle injury. Pickett is coming off a 404-yard passing game in a win against Virginia Tech.

“Everything starts with their quarterback,” Swinney said. “He’s a really good player — a veteran guy, he’s savvy, understands what they’re doing.”

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi is perhaps most impressed with Clemson’s balance. The Tigers are one of only two teams to rank among the top 17 nationally in both total offense and total defense.

“Those are two really, really good ratings when you’re both,” Narduzzi said. “A lot of times you see a team that’s got a top-rated offense and maybe not as good of a defense and vice versa, but they’re good at everything they do. We know they’re a talent-rich football team.”

It goes a long way toward explaining why Clemson is a 24-point favorite.

“You really worry about what we do — not worrying about Clemson and who they are,” Narduzzi said. “It’s about us executing.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 10, 2020; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; Virginia Tech Hokies quarterback Hendon Hooker (2) passes the ball to tight end James Mitchell (82) as North Carolina Tar Heels linebacker Chazz Surratt (21) pressures in the third quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt, Virginia Tech hoping to play despite COVID-19 concerns

You could say there are three opponents in play for Saturday’s ACC game between the Pitt Panthers and Virginia Tech Hokies at Heinz Field. The interloper is COVID-19, which could force a postponement.

As of Tuesday, Pitt’s football activities were shut down because of the virus, which forced the postponement last week of the Panthers’ game against Georgia Tech. An unknown number of Pitt players tested positive last week, and test results this week will determine the status of the Virginia Tech game.

“It’s a silent little killer,” Pitt linebacker Chase Pine said. “It got us, but we’re going to come back stronger.”

Pitt (4-4, 3-4 ACC) broke a four-game losing streak two weeks ago with a 41-17 win over Florida State, but any momentum might have been lost with the forced open weekend.

At the least, Pitt will have limited practice this week.

“We can practice once (and be prepared), to be honest with you,” Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi said. “But you like to get two in.

“We expect to play the Virginia Tech game. We hope we’re not let down again. It will be up to our team and players on how safe they are out there.”

The Hokies (4-4, 4-3) have lost three of their past four games but nearly pulled off an upset last week in a 25-24 setback against then-No. 9 Miami, a game they led for 54 minutes before the Hurricanes pulled it out.

They are preparing and practicing as per usual.

“We deal with uncertainty every day,” Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said.

“I think our guys have done a great job handling (the pandemic). We can’t approach this week with any different mindset.”

If Pitt gets clearance to play, the matchup to watch will be the Panthers’ defense against Virginia Tech’s offense.

The Panthers rank first in the ACC on defense, allowing 296.5 yards a game. They lead the country with an average of 11.6 tackles for loss, with linebacker SirVocea Dennis tied for second nationally with 13.5. They also lead the ACC and rank second in the nation with 4.75 sacks a game, led by defensive end Patrick Jones II’s eight.

In particular, Pitt is stingy against the run. Opponents are gaining just 78.8 yards a game and a national-best 2.2 yards a carry on the ground.

Something, then, will have to give, as the Hokies lead the conference with 262.8 rushing yards a game. Khalil Herbert averages 8.2 yards a carry and quarterback Hendon Hooker 5.6.

However, Virginia Tech had a season-worst 160 yards rushing against Miami, as Hooker was sacked six times (with 46 yards in losses) also a season-most for the team.

“We’ll have a similar challenge (against Pitt),” Fuente said. “These guys are just as big and just as athletic on the defensive line, but they put more people in the box than Miami. We’re going to go against a big, athletic defensive line that pressures the passer.

“I know that there’s nobody in America that devotes as many hats in the box to the run game as Pat (Narduzzi) does. It makes it very, very difficult to run the ball at all.”

And that’s if the game is played at all.

–Field Level Media

Oct 10, 2020; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; Virginia Tech Hokies quarterback Hendon Hooker (2) passes the ball to tight end James Mitchell (82) as North Carolina Tar Heels linebacker Chazz Surratt (21) pressures in the third quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt, Virginia Tech hoping to play despite COVID-19 concerns

You could say there are three opponents in play for Saturday’s ACC game between the Pitt Panthers and Virginia Tech Hokies at Heinz Field. The interloper is COVID-19, which could force a postponement.

As of Tuesday, Pitt’s football activities were shut down because of the virus, which forced the postponement last week of the Panthers’ game against Georgia Tech. An unknown number of Pitt players tested positive last week, and test results this week will determine the status of the Virginia Tech game.

“It’s a silent little killer,” Pitt linebacker Chase Pine said. “It got us, but we’re going to come back stronger.”

Pitt (4-4, 3-4 ACC) broke a four-game losing streak two weeks ago with a 41-17 win over Florida State, but any momentum might have been lost with the forced open weekend.

At the least, Pitt will have limited practice this week.

“We can practice once (and be prepared), to be honest with you,” Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi said. “But you like to get two in.

“We expect to play the Virginia Tech game. We hope we’re not let down again. It will be up to our team and players on how safe they are out there.”

The Hokies (4-4, 4-3) have lost three of their past four games but nearly pulled off an upset last week in a 25-24 setback against then-No. 9 Miami, a game they led for 54 minutes before the Hurricanes pulled it out.

They are preparing and practicing as per usual.

“We deal with uncertainty every day,” Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said.

“I think our guys have done a great job handling (the pandemic). We can’t approach this week with any different mindset.”

If Pitt gets clearance to play, the matchup to watch will be the Panthers’ defense against Virginia Tech’s offense.

The Panthers rank first in the ACC on defense, allowing 296.5 yards a game. They lead the country with an average of 11.6 tackles for loss, with linebacker SirVocea Dennis tied for second nationally with 13.5. They also lead the ACC and rank second in the nation with 4.75 sacks a game, led by defensive end Patrick Jones II’s eight.

In particular, Pitt is stingy against the run. Opponents are gaining just 78.8 yards a game and a national-best 2.2 yards a carry on the ground.

Something, then, will have to give, as the Hokies lead the conference with 262.8 rushing yards a game. Khalil Herbert averages 8.2 yards a carry and quarterback Hendon Hooker 5.6.

However, Virginia Tech had a season-worst 160 yards rushing against Miami, as Hooker was sacked six times (with 46 yards in losses) also a season-most for the team.

“We’ll have a similar challenge (against Pitt),” Fuente said. “These guys are just as big and just as athletic on the defensive line, but they put more people in the box than Miami. We’re going to go against a big, athletic defensive line that pressures the passer.

“I know that there’s nobody in America that devotes as many hats in the box to the run game as Pat (Narduzzi) does. It makes it very, very difficult to run the ball at all.”

And that’s if the game is played at all.

–Field Level Media

Oct 10, 2020; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; Virginia Tech Hokies quarterback Hendon Hooker (2) passes the ball to tight end James Mitchell (82) as North Carolina Tar Heels linebacker Chazz Surratt (21) pressures in the third quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt, Virginia Tech hoping to play despite COVID-19 concerns

You could say there are three opponents in play for Saturday’s ACC game between the Pitt Panthers and Virginia Tech Hokies at Heinz Field. The interloper is COVID-19, which could force a postponement.

As of Tuesday, Pitt’s football activities were shut down because of the virus, which forced the postponement last week of the Panthers’ game against Georgia Tech. An unknown number of Pitt players tested positive last week, and test results this week will determine the status of the Virginia Tech game.

“It’s a silent little killer,” Pitt linebacker Chase Pine said. “It got us, but we’re going to come back stronger.”

Pitt (4-4, 3-4 ACC) broke a four-game losing streak two weeks ago with a 41-17 win over Florida State, but any momentum might have been lost with the forced open weekend.

At the least, Pitt will have limited practice this week.

“We can practice once (and be prepared), to be honest with you,” Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi said. “But you like to get two in.

“We expect to play the Virginia Tech game. We hope we’re not let down again. It will be up to our team and players on how safe they are out there.”

The Hokies (4-4, 4-3) have lost three of their past four games but nearly pulled off an upset last week in a 25-24 setback against then-No. 9 Miami, a game they led for 54 minutes before the Hurricanes pulled it out.

They are preparing and practicing as per usual.

“We deal with uncertainty every day,” Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said.

“I think our guys have done a great job handling (the pandemic). We can’t approach this week with any different mindset.”

If Pitt gets clearance to play, the matchup to watch will be the Panthers’ defense against Virginia Tech’s offense.

The Panthers rank first in the ACC on defense, allowing 296.5 yards a game. They lead the country with an average of 11.6 tackles for loss, with linebacker SirVocea Dennis tied for second nationally with 13.5. They also lead the ACC and rank second in the nation with 4.75 sacks a game, led by defensive end Patrick Jones II’s eight.

In particular, Pitt is stingy against the run. Opponents are gaining just 78.8 yards a game and a national-best 2.2 yards a carry on the ground.

Something, then, will have to give, as the Hokies lead the conference with 262.8 rushing yards a game. Khalil Herbert averages 8.2 yards a carry and quarterback Hendon Hooker 5.6.

However, Virginia Tech had a season-worst 160 yards rushing against Miami, as Hooker was sacked six times (with 46 yards in losses) also a season-most for the team.

“We’ll have a similar challenge (against Pitt),” Fuente said. “These guys are just as big and just as athletic on the defensive line, but they put more people in the box than Miami. We’re going to go against a big, athletic defensive line that pressures the passer.

“I know that there’s nobody in America that devotes as many hats in the box to the run game as Pat (Narduzzi) does. It makes it very, very difficult to run the ball at all.”

And that’s if the game is played at all.

–Field Level Media

Oct 10, 2020; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; Virginia Tech Hokies quarterback Hendon Hooker (2) passes the ball to tight end James Mitchell (82) as North Carolina Tar Heels linebacker Chazz Surratt (21) pressures in the third quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt, Virginia Tech hoping to play despite COVID-19 concerns

You could say there are three opponents in play for Saturday’s ACC game between the Pitt Panthers and Virginia Tech Hokies at Heinz Field. The interloper is COVID-19, which could force a postponement.

As of Tuesday, Pitt’s football activities were shut down because of the virus, which forced the postponement last week of the Panthers’ game against Georgia Tech. An unknown number of Pitt players tested positive last week, and test results this week will determine the status of the Virginia Tech game.

“It’s a silent little killer,” Pitt linebacker Chase Pine said. “It got us, but we’re going to come back stronger.”

Pitt (4-4, 3-4 ACC) broke a four-game losing streak two weeks ago with a 41-17 win over Florida State, but any momentum might have been lost with the forced open weekend.

At the least, Pitt will have limited practice this week.

“We can practice once (and be prepared), to be honest with you,” Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi said. “But you like to get two in.

“We expect to play the Virginia Tech game. We hope we’re not let down again. It will be up to our team and players on how safe they are out there.”

The Hokies (4-4, 4-3) have lost three of their past four games but nearly pulled off an upset last week in a 25-24 setback against then-No. 9 Miami, a game they led for 54 minutes before the Hurricanes pulled it out.

They are preparing and practicing as per usual.

“We deal with uncertainty every day,” Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said.

“I think our guys have done a great job handling (the pandemic). We can’t approach this week with any different mindset.”

If Pitt gets clearance to play, the matchup to watch will be the Panthers’ defense against Virginia Tech’s offense.

The Panthers rank first in the ACC on defense, allowing 296.5 yards a game. They lead the country with an average of 11.6 tackles for loss, with linebacker SirVocea Dennis tied for second nationally with 13.5. They also lead the ACC and rank second in the nation with 4.75 sacks a game, led by defensive end Patrick Jones II’s eight.

In particular, Pitt is stingy against the run. Opponents are gaining just 78.8 yards a game and a national-best 2.2 yards a carry on the ground.

Something, then, will have to give, as the Hokies lead the conference with 262.8 rushing yards a game. Khalil Herbert averages 8.2 yards a carry and quarterback Hendon Hooker 5.6.

However, Virginia Tech had a season-worst 160 yards rushing against Miami, as Hooker was sacked six times (with 46 yards in losses) also a season-most for the team.

“We’ll have a similar challenge (against Pitt),” Fuente said. “These guys are just as big and just as athletic on the defensive line, but they put more people in the box than Miami. We’re going to go against a big, athletic defensive line that pressures the passer.

“I know that there’s nobody in America that devotes as many hats in the box to the run game as Pat (Narduzzi) does. It makes it very, very difficult to run the ball at all.”

And that’s if the game is played at all.

–Field Level Media

Sep 26, 2020; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Louisville Cardinals quarterback Malik Cunningham (3) scrambles with the ball against the Pittsburgh Panthers during the second quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

No. 21 Pitt holds on to defeat No. 24 Louisville, 23-20

Quarterback Kenny Pickett passed for 220 yards and ran for 28 more, and No. 21 Pittsburgh overcame squandering a 13-point lead in the first half to hand No. 24 Louisville its second straight loss, 23-20 on Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh.

Pickett threw two touchdown passes, Alex Kessman made all three of his field goal tries — all from 40-plus yards — and Pitt’s defense delivered with three fourth-quarter stops.

The Panthers (3-0, 2-0 in ACC) got another strong performance defensively despite the points they allowed. Save for a 75-yard touchdown run for the Cardinals’ Javian Hawkins late in the first quarter, Pitt limited Louisville (1-2, 0-2) to only 41 more rushing yards as a team.

Hawkins’ 12 other runs gained three total yards. Quarterback Malik Cunningham was injured late in the game, hit as he threw, and had to be attended to on the field. He was taken off the field on a stretcher and cart wearing a neck brace, but gave a thumbs up.

Pitt entered the game with the nation’s top ranked rushing defense at 26 yards per game. The Panthers also sacked Cunningham seven times, with three for senior Patrick Jones II.

Freshman Jordan Addison caught seven passes for 77 yards and a touchdown, and Taysir Mack caught a 40-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter which he kept moving forward after apparently being tackled and ran untouched into the end zone to give Pitt a 20-17 halftime lead.

The play was reviewed to see if Mack’s knee touched the ground, but it was upheld.

The Cardinals rallied from a 13-0 deficit to take a 17-13 lead on Cunningham’s 21-yard touchdown pass to Tutu Atwell, who was left alone on a coverage mixup.

James Turner made two field goals for the Cardinals. Cunningham finished 9 of 21 for 107 yards with three interceptions.

With Louisville trailing by three and Pittsburgh in the red zone, C.J. Avery intercepted a Pickett pass with 11:27 to play in the fourth quarter and returned it 40 years to the Cardinals’ 45-yard-line. But two plays later, Damar Hamlin intercepted a Cunningham pass, and the Panthers re-took possession.

The Panthers’ defense got a key fourth-down stop with 6:02 to play to forced a punt on Louisville’s next possession, and then finished off the Cardinals with Jason Pinnock’s interception with 1:26 left on the game clock. Cunningham was injured on that play.

–Field Level Media