Even after an off week to reflect on its past two games, it's hard to distinguish what the identity of this Pitt football team is four games into the season.
The Panthers had an offensive outburst against Duke, then battled through a defensive stalemate against Virginia.
"Each week you define and you write a chapter of that season, but at the end of the year is the only time you really know who you are," coach Paul Chryst said.
The Panthers will write another chapter, and hopefully take one step closer toward solidifying an identity, today with a noon kickoff against No. 24 Virginia Tech at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Va.
Pitt (3-1, 2-1 ACC) vs. Virginia Tech (5-1, 2-0 ACC), noon today, Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Va. Virginia Tech is favored by 9.
- TV, Radio:
ESPNU, KDKA-FM (93.7).
Coming off second and final open date this season. ... Beat Virginia, 14-3, two weeks ago. ... Just one of three teams in Division I-A with two receivers averaging more than 100 receiving yards per game with Devin Street (111.3) and Tyler Boyd (106.3). The others are Baylor and LSU. ... Senior DT Aaron Donald has recorded six sacks. ... On first three-game winning streak since 2010.
- Virginia Tech:
Coming off 27-17 win last week against North Carolina. ... Lead series against Pitt, 7-5. ... Ranked in Division I-A top 10 in total defense (fifth, 263.7 yards per game), passing yards allowed (ninth, 161.3 yards per game) and pass-efficiency defense (eighth, 92.97 average opponent rating).
- Hidden stat:
Neither team has lost since its first game of the season, with both losses against teams now in the top 10 of the AP poll. Virginia Tech lost, 35-10, against No. 1 Alabama. Pitt lost, 41-13, against No. 6 Florida State.
Pitt struggled mightily in its most recent game against a ranked team, a 41-13 loss to Florida State in the season opener, but most players and coaches think the team has gotten better since then.
"I think it's going to be a true test to see where we're at as a team, going up against a great defense, great offense, great quarterback," receiver Devin Street said. "This is going to be our true test to see where our team's at."
For Pitt to win, the offense will have to appear closer to the version that showed up against Duke rather than the one that sputtered against Virginia.
Virginia Tech ranks fifth in Division I-A in total defense, allowing 263.7 yards per game. The strength of that unit is the secondary, spearheaded by cornerbacks Kendall and Kyle Fuller, as well as freshman cornerback Brandon Facyson, who is tied for the Division I-A lead with four interceptions.
"They have so many looks defensively," Pitt quarterback Tom Savage said. "I can see why they create so many turnovers."
Savage will return for Pitt this week after leaving the Virginia game in the fourth quarter with a mild concussion. He said this week that he feels fine and ready to go.
Not only will he and the Pitt offense have to contend with the Hokies defense, they also will face likely their most hostile road venue this season.
Pitt players are prepared for a raucous Lane Stadium, especially with a Hokies team that now looks like one of the favorites for the Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division title. Pitt practiced with piped-in crowd noise this week, but Chryst admitted that it can't really come close to replicating what it's like on the field.
"It's going to be loud, but that's what you signed up for," Street said. "It's college football."
While the Hokies rightfully enter the game as the favorites, Pitt has had Virginia Tech's number in recent meetings. The Panthers have won the past four contests in the series, though only one of those was in Blacksburg.
If Pitt can repeat its 35-17 upset from 2012, the Panthers could put themselves right in the middle of the Coastal race. Virginia Tech and Miami are the only unbeaten teams in the division, and the Hurricanes have only played one conference game. Pitt plays them in late November at home.
Chryst said his job is to keep the Panthers focused on the small picture.
"Right now, we need to live in the here and now," he said. "It's OK to see the big picture, but that's the beautiful thing about sports; you focus on the now."
For Pitt, the "now" is a chance to make a statement with an upset of a ranked team.
"I think every game you're going out there making a statement, but obviously they're a good team, ranked top 25, one of the best teams in the ACC," Savage said. "I think this is a good game to kind of make our place in the ACC and show them that we're here."
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG. First Published October 11, 2013 8:08 PM