Pitt quarterback Tom Savage will have to try to take advantage of a stingy Georgia Tech defense through the air.
By Sam Werner / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
On the plane ride home last Saturday from Baltimore, just hours removed from a heartbreaking 24-21 loss to Navy, Pitt quarterback Tom Savage and coach Paul Chryst did some seat shuffling so they could sit next to each other.
Matchup: Pitt (4-3, 2-2 ACC) vs. Georgia Tech (5-3, 4-2), 7 p.m. today, Bobby Dodd Stadium, Atlanta, Ga. Georgia Tech is favored by 101/2.
TV, Radio: ESPNU, KDKA-FM (93.7).
Pitt: Coming off a 24-21 loss against Navy. ... Leads series against Georgia Tech 5-2, with most recent win a 42-14 victory at Georgia Tech in the second game of Pitt's 1976 national championship season. ... Defensive tackle Aaron Donald has eight sacks on the season, but none in the last two games. ... Redshirt senior receiver Devin Street became Pitt's all-time receptions leader with nine catches last week, putting him at 186 for his career. He is 370 yards away from all-time receiving yards record, currently held by Antonio Bryant (3,061 from 1999-2001).
Georgia Tech: Beat Virginia 35-25 last week ... Has not beaten Pitt since 1956 Gator Bowl, a 21-14 Georgia Tech win. ... Ranks fifth in I-A in third-down conversions, making 54.5 percent. ... Safety Jemea Thomas had a career-high 15 tackles (12 solo) last week. ... Ranks fourth in I-A in rushing yards per game (315.6) and third in time of possession (34:11).
Hidden stat: Georgia Tech (18.37) and Pitt (14.26) rank in the top 15 in Division I-A in passing yards per completion.
Then, over the course of the hourlong flight back to Pittsburgh, they watched the video of the loss to the Midshipmen.
"The last thing I want to do is sit down and try and think about what I did wrong," Savage said. "It eats at me."
It wasn't a mandatory film session, but if Savage was up for it, so was Chryst.
"There's times when they want to be as far away from me as possible," Chryst said.
Savage said the goal was to help put the loss behind him as quickly as possible and move on to the next game, against Georgia Tech at 7 tonight in Atlanta.
Savage and the rest of the offense will face different challenges against the Yellow Jackets, who have the 16th-best total defense in Division I-A. They have been vulnerable through the air, though, allowing 225.3 passing yards per game.
Last week, Virginia quarterback David Watford completed 43 of 61 passes for 376 yards and two touchdowns against Georgia Tech.
"Just from watching [Georgia Tech games against] Miami, BYU even, a lot of teams went deep," wide receiver Devin Street said. "It's definitely out there, but it's all about executing."
Deep passes are a part of the Pitt offense that has gone stagnant recently. Each week gets further and further away from the offensive explosion Sept. 21 against Duke. Pitt had three touchdown passes of longer than 20 yards in that game, but have had just one since. Savage hasn't connected on a pass longer than 30 yards since a 19-9 loss to Virginia Tech three weeks ago.
"I think we'll take the shots when they're available," Savage said. "I think we've got to work on just getting the ball out and putting it in our playmakers' hands."
The defense will get a familiar look as it lines up against a triple-option offense for the second week in a row. The Panthers had success stopping Navy's attack early in last week's game, but the Midshipmen put together three second-half scoring drives to win.
Defensive coordinator Matt House said there are plenty of similarities between Navy and Georgia Tech -- Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson coached the Midshipmen from 2002-07 -- but also enough differences to make preparation difficult.
"They're real explosive," House said. "Their fullbacks are better athletes than the ones we faced last week.
"They're guys that can take runs and take them the distance."
Yellow Jacket quarterback Vad Lee might also test the Panthers in the passing game more than Navy's Keenan Reynolds did.
Lee had more than 20 pass attempts in two games this season, but has thrown just eight times in the past two. He completed six of those eight attempts for 163 yards and a touchdown.
"When they're effective on offense, they don't have to [throw it]," House said. "But they're going to pick their spots. The thing you have to be careful with on defense is don't be fooled by the numbers.
"When they do throw the ball, they're messing with your eyes and going for a home run."
The message Pitt coaches have been preaching to players this week is that good teams don't lose two games in a row. The Panthers have yet to do so this year, but last year's team lost back-to-back games three times.
A win tonight would be a huge step toward bowl eligibility, putting Pitt one win from securing a postseason bid with four games to go.
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG.
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