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The Turning Point: Canada’s Calls

Pitt had a chance to make Virginia Tech play catch up late in the third quarter

Despite a horrendous start to the game, Pitt’s offense was rolling early in the second half. James Conner was looking like James Conner. The play calling was looking good as well. Nathan Peterman was making a few timely throws. With the defense starting to buckle from a great start, Pitt needed to keep putting up points.

The bend, but don’t break D managed to keep Virginia Tech to a field goal to maintain a two point lead with about seven minutes remaining in the third quarter. Peterman bolted 20+ yards and the Panthers maintained possession after he fumbled the football. This gave Pitt a golden opportunity to put a lot of pressure on the Hokies. They faced a first-and-ten at their own 47-yard line. It was here that I think everyone questioned the next series of plays called by Pitt offensive coordinator, Matt Canada.

On first down, Canada went to a play that has been very successful this year. A jet sweep to Quadree Henderson. Please note that I said “has been” in that last sentence, because from the start last night, it was NOT. It didn’t work all night and you could hear the rumblings in the crowd, as Virginia Tech safety Chuck Clark lit up Henderson for a three-yard loss. From there, Dontez Ford fell down on out pattern downfield. I don’t think anyone had an issue with that, but the next play?

On 3rd and 13, from their own 44, Pitt went ultra conservative and to the jet sweep yet again. This time they tried it with Ford, who was promptly surrounded by four Virginia Tech defenders and dropped for a one-yard gain. Why? Peterman was making throws. Conner was rolling. Pitt had a chance to really put the pressure on the Hokies and missed.

It cost them. Virginia Tech took the lead on the next possession and the best Pitt could do after that was tie the game, at one point, on a two-point conversion. That didn’t last long, as Tech continued to throw deep ball after deep ball against Pitt’s outmatched defensive backfield.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author@BrunoPittsburgh

TWEETCAP: Virginia Tech 39, Pitt 36

Panther of the Game: James Conner

The Pitt running back had his best game of the season

During Pitt’s 39-36 loss to Virginia Tech last night, Panther fans saw the old James Conner. He’s had a nice season and he’s shown flashes of his old self. He’s found the end zone. I think we can all agree that he hasn’t been near his 2014 self, though. That’s a tall order to be truthful and his body has been through a lot since then. But his body received a few extra days of rest before the game last night and it showed.

I think we saw it early, despite the offensive struggles to start the game. When Alex Officer didn’t snap the ball and backed up Pitt a half yard to inside their own one-yard line, Conner seethed. He was beside himself. To get a little extra room, the Panthers called a third down run for Conner. That’s when it happened as Conner spun, drove, and fought for an 11-yard gain. It didn’t gain a first down, but it did show what Virginia Tech’s defense was in for the rest of the night.

Tech came in with a top ten rushing defense but it didn’t matter. He just looked like the old James Conner last night. His speed, stiff arms, and just flat out nasty running was back on display. Conner finished the game with 19 carries for 146 yards and three touchdowns. The Hokies were focused on the jet sweep and the offensive line did a fabulous job, but I think we were all thankful to see that familiar #24 running hard, staring at defenders after they force him out of bounds, and quick hitting of the open holes.

Let’s hope he can keep it up, as he receives another couple of extra days before going on the road to play the Miami Hurricanes. He will need more performances like that for Pitt to be successful down the stretch and to hold off teammates, like Tyrique Jarrett for this award. The Pitt senior interior defensive lineman had another stellar game to make this a tough choice. Despite the usual double teams he faces, Jarrett recorded five solo tackles, three assists, and one sack. He was a disruptive force in the middle, but Conner held him off for this week’s award.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author@BrunoPittsburgh

Pitt falls short against Virginia Tech, 39-36

Eight games into the season, the Panthers continued to confirm what many of us thought about them - they're good, not great.

Pitt fell short yet again against a ranked opponent, this time falling to Virginia Tech, 39-36 with all eyes on them on a Thursday night. Is the loss a bad one? Not really. But it reaffirms that the Panthers still have work to do to become a legit Top 25 team.

As usual, Pitt's offense put points on the board by scoring 36 points. You'd like to think that would be enough to win most games. But it was again Pitt's secondary that helped make the scoring all too easy.

We knew that quarterback Jerod Evans could have a field day. Not only is he capable of passing for a lot of yards, he can also scramble and doesn't make many mistakes. To their credit, the Panthers didn't allow him to scramble too much, but they also gave up 406 passing yards.

Don't get me wrong. Part of that seemed to be on the officials having a terrible night. There were several missed calls, such as the blatant facemask that wasn't called on James Conner. But more importantly, the Hokies got away with quite a bit of pushing off on Pitt's defensive backs. And no, it wasn't only paranoid Pitt fans on Twitter that noticed. Head coach Pat Narduzzi complained outwardly during the game ... and afterward:

Narduzzi became increasingly animated on the sideline as the game wore on, convinced Virginia Tech's wide receivers were illegally giving themselves and advantage on all those alley-oop passes from Evans. "They did a great job pushing off all night," Narduzzi said. "Give them credit for that."

As is the case anytime officiating gets in the way, there were certainly other opportunities to win. I always have a difficult time pinning too much on the officials. Pitt got off to a sluggish start offensively with the Quadree Henderson fumble on special teams and then the Nathan Peterman interception, generating zero points in the first quarter. They allowed points in every quarter. Despite the questionable calls, Pitt still had a chance to win. The problem is that when the pass defense is already as shaky as it has been, it gets very difficult to stop opponents when the officials aren't doing them any favors. Simply put, officiating has to be better than that.

The defense could have been worse. After all, they held Virginia Tech to six field goals despite the Hokies getting deep into Pitt territory on numerous occasions. The flip side is that things could have been much, much worse. If the Hokies convert even two of those drives for touchdowns, it becomes a much more comfortable win. You also have to give Virginia Tech kicker Joey Slye a ton of credit for hitting all six of those attempts. He misses even one and we could have a very different result.

There were bright spots that kept Pitt in the game, obviously. Chief among them was James Conner, who had his biggest game of the year with 141 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Also there was Dontez Ford, who returned earlier than expected, catching three passes for 59 yards - second best on the team. Finally, Nathan Peterman had 267 passing yards and made some key plays. On the other side of the ball, the defensive line again made plays with Ejuan Price picking three tackles for losses while tackles Shakir Soto and Tyrique Jarrett each had a sack.

One interesting thing was that Chawntez Moss, while playing, didn't get a single carry. Maybe I missed it, but not quite sure what happened there.

One other thing to watch going forward is the presence of cornerback Damar Hamlin. Hamlin's redshirt was officially burned as he got into the game with an injury to Phillipie Motley. Narduzzi said afterward that he would continue to play for the Panthers, so the training wheels are off. I think this will only help Pitt going forward. He's going to struggle a bit but the reality is that the Panthers are still not only playing for quite a bit this year, but by playing him now, he'll get a jump on next season and it won't be completely new to him.

There's really not much more to break down here. Pitt has proven to be a decent team by picking up five wins in their first eight games. But games like these are reminders that Pitt still has a ways to go to start fighting for conference titles. The Panthers are good, but not good enough - and it's going to be up to Narduzzi to help them get to the next level.

The ACC Division hopes are essentially dashed with this loss tonight, but there's still plenty to play for. A seven, or even eight-win, regular season is still possible. And despite the setback tonight, eight wins with this schedule would still equal a pretty good year.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

(Don't) Bet the Farm: Pitt vs. Virginia Tech Predictions

The Cardiac Hill staff give their picks for a game that could come to define Pitt's season

Pitt's hopes for a Coastal are very much alive, and Pitt still somewhat controls its destiny a bit if they were to somehow win out.

The first step, however, starts tonight with Virginia Tech coming to Heinz Field. This is a really really big game. I think all of you know that already. History has been very kind to Pitt when it comes to playing Virginia Tech at Heinz Field. Virginia Tech has never won there, and the last time they beat Pitt in Pittsburgh was 1999. Since 2012, Pitt is 3-1 against Virginia Tech. If Frank Beamer hadn't left at the end of last season, I would have a hard time picking against Pitt in this game.

But Frank Beamer did leave, and new coach Justin Fuente was smart and didn't even touch the defensive side of the staff with Bud Foster. He's taken a boring, ineffective Virginia Tech offense from last year and turned it into something pretty formidable. The run game isn't the best, but QB Jerod Evans picks up that slack. He is only 51 yards rushing behind Virginia Tech's leading rusher Travon McMillian.

Evans is great through the air as well, with 19 touchdowns to 2 interceptions to go along with 3 rushing touchdowns. In my opinion, he's tied with Mitch Trubisky for the 3rd best QB in the ACC.

That dual-threat combo scares the hell out of me with Pitt's defense. Sure, Pitt's run defense has been more than solid, but elusive QBs have always troubled Pitt through the years. The pass defense also remains the hottest of dumpster fires (though, I liked the impact Mitchell seemed to have at safety in the second half of the Virginia game)

Bottom line: I like Pitt's offense in this game, but Virginia Tech has a great defense as well. If you even those out, Virginia's offense is  better than Pitt's defense, and I think that's where the game will probably be decided.

Don't think I'm too negative. I very much believe Pitt could win this game, but I just have a bad feeling, so I'll take Virginia Tech 31-28. If I'm wrong, I don't think many of us will care with what the win means for Pitt.

Corey - Virginia Tech (7-0)

Anson - Pitt (6-1)

Chris - Pitt (6-1)

JD - Virginia Tech (6-1)

Jim - Pitt (6-1)

Aron - Pitt (5-2)

Stephen - Pitt (5-2)

Pitt-Virginia Tech Game Day Information

Pitt takes on Virginia Tech tonight as they try to stay on a roll. The Panthers will look to win their fourth straight game and it won't be easy against the Hokies and their Top 15 defense. While Pitt was off last week, Virginia Tech is fresh off a big 37-16 win over Miami last Thursday.

Virginia Tech looks strong, but has been vulnerable at times this year. They were outmatched by Tennessee earlier this season in a 21-point loss and lost by two touchdowns on the road against Syracuse a few weeks ago.

If you're not heading down to the stadium tonight, you'll be able to watch on ESPN as it's a nationally-telecast game.

Here are the game details for today's contest:

Date: October 27, 2016

Records: Pitt (5-2) vs. Virginia Tech (5-2)

Time: 7:00 p.m.

Location: Pittsburgh, PA (Heinz Field)


Radio: 93.7 FM The Fan

Last Time: Pitt defeated Virginia Tech on the road, 17-13, in 2015

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

New to the Zoo: Marcus Carr commits to Pitt

Pitt lands their third recruit for the 2017 class

Pitt received some good basketball recruiting news today, as Marcus Carr has committed to the program. Matt Steinbrink of was the first to break the story on the commitment.

Pitt basketball also got good news this morning. It is on the site and article coming soon.— Matthew Steinbrink (@MattSteinbrink) October 26, 2016

Marcus Carr is a 6’2” 170 pound guard originally from Canada. He will be playing for Florida prep powerhouse, Montverde Academy this season. Montverde is among the top five high school basketball programs in the country. Carr checks in as a four-star by, and is a three star by the likes of Rivals, ESPN, and 247.

Carr chose Pitt over offers from other programs such as Baylor, Cincinnati, and Virginia Tech. He becomes the third player of Kevin Stallings first recruiting class joining point guard Aaron Thompson and power forward Terrell Brown. There are still two open scholarships to fill in this recruiting class.

Carr is similar to Aaron Thompson in stature, but their games are a little different. Carr appears to be more of a “combo-guard” and is capable of playing off the ball, and that is likely the role he will play here at Pitt.

There has been much talk about this recruiting class, and for good reason, it’s an important one. Basketball season is right around the corner, and it’s pretty well known this team will be carried by their senior class. This recruiting class will have to usher in a new era of Pitt basketball once these seniors graduate.

There have been some disappointments surrounding this recruiting class, as they have missed out on some of their top prospects. Still, they have managed to grab solid three-star prospects. A concern would be the class lacks “star power” but these prospects are program players that Stallings can at least build with for now.

Still, the class is drawing some praise from some national writers today.

Impressed with the guards Kevin Stallings has headed his way in 2017. Marcus Carr & Aaron Thompson are tough dudes. Fit what he wants.— Evan Daniels (@EvanDaniels) October 26, 2016 Aaron Thompson/Marcus Carr 2017 tandem will bring excellent toughness & defensive skills to Pitt; strong pick-up— Corey Evans (@coreyevans_10) October 26, 2016

As mentioned above, there are two spots still left to fill. It has been reported a few prospects will be taking their official visits to Pitt this weekend, and perhaps another commitment or two could be on the way.

Pat Signal: Charles Reeves Picks Pitt

Pitt snags their third TE commit of the 2017 class

Pitt is in desperate need of talent and depth at the tight end position and it shows in the upcoming recruiting class. The Panthers already had two commits at the position. Things got even better this morning, as Steubenville, OH tight end, Charles Reeves committed to Pat Narduzzi and Pitt.— Charles Reeves Jr©®™ (@munchhiie_17) October 26, 2016

The announcement ends an interesting recruiting story, as Reeves was originally committed to Kentucky, but opened back up and then ended it this morning. Reeves is rated a three-star prospect by Rivals and 247, but a four-star on Scout. His tight end ratings, in the same order, are 27th, 13th, and all the way up to number five on Scout.

The Panthers beat out a slew of other big-time programs for Reeves’ services. Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State, and Nebraska were among his top choices, according to Rivals. Scout also credits him as having offers from Alabama and Tennessee. Reeves is the 16th commit in the class and the third tight end for 2017. The decision follows a couple of delayed announcements by the big prospect. He had originally said he would announce two previous times and then said later on this month, before deciding on Pitt this morning.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author@BrunoPittsburgh

Against the Odds: Pitt vs. Virginia Tech

Checking the betting line for the Va Tech game

Pitt enters the big Thursday night showdown with Virginia Tech as an underdog. As of now, Virginia Tech will come into Heinz Field as a 4 1/2-point favorite (up slightly from the opening line of four) for the primetime national TV game on ESPN. The Hokies support a 5-2 record and check in 25th in the most recent rankings.

Virginia Tech has been pretty impressive this season, especially on defense. The are 11th nationally in total defense, which has been a staple of the Bud Foster era. The difference this season appears to be a more wide open offense that is putting up more points than in recent seasons. Junior quarterback Jerod Evans is having a pretty ridiculous season with 1,611 passing yards and 19 touchdown passes. He’s also a capable runner, and had a season-high 98 yards in their win against Miami last week.

So pretty much, Pitt is facing a team with a strong defense and a quarterback that can pass and is mobile. Sounds like a recipe for disaster. Those strengths can definitely exploit Pitt’s weaknesses. This very well could be the best team Pitt has faced this season as a whole.

Now, it’s not all doom and gloom. Pitt is a pretty good team in their own right, and it’s a four point spread, not a 40 point spread - it should be a good game. They have played well at home this season, and are 4-0 at Heinz Field. The Panthers are alwo enjoying one of their best offensive seasons in school history, as they have put up 36 or more points in each of their last six games.

There is also history on Pitt’s side. Pitt has won two straight against Virginia Tech, including a Thursday Night showcase like this two years ago. In fact, Pitt has won 6 of the last 7 meetings with the Hokies, and that spans multiple coaching regimes. As a whole, Pitt just matches up well with the Hokies.

I think four points is a fair spread, but I’m tempted to take Pitt. It’s a must win for both teams who still have a chance of winning the ACC Coastal Division. I think both teams have a shot in this one, but it might be a different kind of Pitt-Virginia Tech game then we are used to seeing. Points will be scored. Last year’s game was 17-13 in favor of Pitt, but I expect a few more points to be scored this time.

What do you think? Can Pitt score the big nationally televised win?

UnScripted: The Cardiac Hill Podcast w/ Corey Cohen (S2 Ep 7)

In this episode of UnScripted: The Cardiac Hill Podcast, Corey Cohen welcomes Jim Hammett to discuss Pitt's chances in the ACC Coastal and their Thursday night matchup vs. Virginia Tech.

In this episode of UnScripted: The Cardiac Hill Podcast, Corey Cohen welcomes Jim Hammett to discuss Pitt's chances in the ACC Coastal and their Thursday night matchup vs. Virginia Tech. Plus they answer the Three Rivers Pack of Questions along with choosing a Panther of the Week.

Please follow us on Twitter @CoreyECohen and @JimHammett along with subscribing to the podcast on SoundCloud and iTunes.

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