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Cluttered Coastal race continues at Pitt

9/27/2013

Never count out Virginia Tech.

Even when the Hokies aren’t at their best, they’re still good enough to win, thanks to that smashmouth D. At 1-0 in league play after Thursday night’s win at Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech is once again front and center in the ACC’s Coastal Division race.

Miami is still hanging around. So is Georgia Tech. And UNC. And Pitt.

Yes, Pitt.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the flavor of the week (from Georgia Tech to Virginia Tech in four quarters), but when it comes to the ACC’s Coastal Division, the wise fan knows there is more than one flavor to choose from. With the exception of Duke, nobody in the division has more than one league loss right now, which means there is no true frontrunner.

In one of the most overshadowed games in the country this weekend, Pitt has a chance to win its second ACC game as a member of the conference when it hosts Virginia on Saturday. In case you haven’t noticed, the Panthers are pretty darn good on offense. Quarterback Tom Savage threw six touchdown passes in last week’s 58-55 win over Duke, and the Panthers have found a way to run the ball effectively and open up the play-action pass for receivers Tyler Boyd and Devin Street. The Panthers have scored 107 points in their past two games combined. It’s a legitimately talented group that could make a serious run at the division title if it can find some defense to complement that offensive success.

Pitt enters Saturday’s game No. 102 in the country in total defense, No. 108 in third-down conversion percentage defense, No. 110 in red zone defense, and No. 118 in scoring defense, allowing 41 points per game. Sounds about as good as Virginia Tech’s offense, but hey, so far it’s been good enough.

Paul Chryst said the problem against Duke was the defense gave up too many big plays and was out of position.

“We had a couple plays where guys were trying to make up for someone else and then they put themselves in a bad situation,” the second-year Pitt coach said. “So I think it's just truly being confident in what you're doing and doing it the best you can, but also confidence -- certainly, we did a lot of good things in that game, but you don't feel real good when you give up that number of big plays which results in one of those games that is a track meet.”

Pitt’s lone ACC loss was to Atlantic Division heavyweight Florida State in the season opener. The Panthers have yet to play the Coastal Division favorites, and are just getting started in the league race. There’s still plenty of time for the defense to adjust to the new scheme of first-year coordinator Matt House -- including a two-week conference hiatus after facing Virginia Tech before they travel to Georgia Tech in the first week of November. And it certainly won’t hurt the defense to be playing Navy the week before they have to face the spread option in Atlanta. Timing is everything, and don’t forget that Pitt hosts Miami in its regular-season finale, a Friday night game in the Brrrr-gh. Not a good time for the Canes to be travelling North.

Miami and Virginia are the only two teams in the division that have yet to play a league opponent. That will change for the Hoos today, when they travel to Heinz Field. If Pittsburgh can win its second straight ACC game, that will make the Oct. 12 game in Blacksburg all the more important. If Virginia wins, they’re right there next to the Hokies at 1-0.

While everyone in the Atlantic Division is waiting for the Oct. 19 showdown between Clemson and Florida State, the Coastal Division gets more interesting every week. Today’s game in Pittsburgh should add yet another team to the conversation.

And don't count out Virginia.