PITTSBURGH — A week after being forced to postpone the Georgia Tech game due to COVID-19 protocols, Pitt is set to take the field for its final home game of the season against Virginia Tech.
The Panthers were able to get in three days of practice this week, which constitutes a full slate.
Coach Pat Narduzzi declined to elaborate on which players could possibly miss the Virginia Tech game due to coronavirus protocols. The coach said he was worried about the team being distracted and tried to keep the team focused on football at practice this week.
“I think every coach in the country worries about that,” Narduzzi said. “I think we were pretty detailed with what we had (Thursday) and obviously the two previous days. You worry about it. You start practice off like, ‘Hey, we’re right here; it’s two hours; this all we’re thinking about right now.’ “
The unplanned week off was of some value in terms of allowing players dealing with injuries to get rest, including quarterback Kenny Pickett who missed two games with an ankle injury before returning to the field against Florida State on Nov. 7.
“Yeah, he’s healthier. Is he 100 percent yet? Probably not,” Narduzzi said of Pickett. “He’s significantly better than he was against Florida State. The extra week obviously helps everybody get healthy, but it certainly was beneficial for Kenny Pickett.”
The last two meetings between Pitt and Virginia Tech have been lopsided wins for the home teams. Pitt won 52-22 at Heinz Field in 2018 while being shut out 28-0 by the Hokies in Blacksburg last season.
Pitt’s defense will again be tasked with containing a dual-threat quarterback in the Hokies’ Hendon Hooker.
“Anytime you’ve got a quarterback who can rush the football, it’s the 11th man and that’s always a dangerous thing for any defense, period,” Narduzzi said.
Hooker is Virginia Tech’s second-leading rusher, with 574 yards and nine touchdowns. Narduzzi doesn’t discount Hooker’s efficiency as a passer either. The junior quarterback has thrown for 1,072 yards and seven touchdowns this season.
“I think he’s a complete quarterback, I really do. I think he can throw it very well,” Narduzzi said.
The defense will also have to contend with running back Khalil Herbert, the third-leading rusher in the ACC. Herbert has rushed for 852 yards and six touchdowns in eight games this season.
Narduzzi said the success of the Hokies’ running game is due to strong play up front.