No. 3 Virginia Tech and its intrastate rival, Virginia, are teams clearly headed down opposite paths this season. The Hokies (7-0, 3-0 Big East Conference) are off to their best season since 1967. With a trip to struggling West Virginia on Saturday, they will try to go 8-0 for the first time in school history.
But the Cavaliers (4-4, 3-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) are nearing their worst season in years. Virginia has won at least seven games each of the past 12 seasons but will have to win its three remaining games to keep that streak alive.
A loss on Saturday to Georgia Tech would be Virginia's fourth straight home loss, a stretch the Cavaliers have avoided since 1980.
"The mathematics are simple," Virginia Coach George Welsh said. "If we want to have a good year, we've got to have four good quarters every week from now on out."
Four good quarters is something neither Virginia nor Virginia Tech--despite opposite outcomes--displayed Saturday night.
Virginia Tech, having had a week off following its 62-0 dismantling of then-No. 16 Syracuse, was humbled by Pittsburgh's offense. After jumping to a 27-7 lead behind the balanced attack of quarterback Michael Vick (10 of 17, 170 yards and one touchdown) and reserve tailback Andre Kendrick (career-high 162 yards on 16 carries), the Hokies began to look vulnerable.
Pittsburgh sophomore quarterback David Priestley shredded the nation's top-ranked defense for a career-high 407 yards on 28-of-46 passing. With Virginia Tech's two starting cornerbacks leaving the game because of injuries, reserves Ronyell Whitaker and Larry Austin had trouble containing Panthers wide receivers Antonio Bryant and Latef Grim.
"I think we gave them a little too much cushion, and then I thought those guys were very good," said Hokies Coach Frank Beamer, whose team held on to win, 30-17. "I give that quarterback credit--he didn't have many bad throws. But any time they do it that well we certainly feel like it's lack of execution on our part. I think what was young about us, they got to it tonight: the secondary."
That doesn't bode well for Virginia Tech, which will face West Virginia quarterback Mark Bulger, followed by a game at Miami and the Hurricanes' one-two punch of quarterback Kenny Kelly and wide receiver Santana Moss. However, starters Anthony Midget (pulled groin) and Ike Charlton (eye) should be back to bolster the Hokies' secondary.
Things got equally fuzzy for Virginia--and for quarterback Dan Ellis--in the second half of its battle Saturday night with No. 1 Florida State. Ellis absorbed two crushing hits early in the second half. The first resulted in a concussion that knocked him out of the game.
"I feel pretty good now, just a little headache," Ellis said after the 35-10 loss.
Ellis's absence hurt senior tailback Thomas Jones and the Cavaliers' running game. After gaining 113 yards in the first half, Jones managed just 51 in the second. But Jones managed to break Tiki Barber's team career rushing record of 3,389 yards with a 71-yard run in the second quarter. He has 3,473 career rushing yards.