BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) There's a somewhat troubling common thread for Virginia Tech in its two most impressive victories of the season: both came on the road, away from the 60,000 screaming Hokies fans that fill Lane Stadium.
The Hokies (4-2, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) credit an enhanced focus away from home with helping produce a 35-21 victory at No. 8 Ohio State on Sept. 8, and a 34-17 win last weekend at North Carolina.
They need to find that formula again on Thursday night when they face a longtime nemesis, the Pitt Panthers. Pittsburgh (3-3, 1-1) has won four of the last five meetings, and three straight at home.
Free safety Detrick Bonner hopes the Hokies have figured out why.
''I feel like we play to our opponents at home,'' the senior said. ''And I guess we seem a little complacent and very comfortable. ... When we travel, I feel like the energy steps up a lot. We play a lot more aggressive and just the team comes together being at other peoples' stadiums, relying on each other.''
Cornerback Kyshoen Jarrett agrees, and said in what most view as a wide open Coastal Division race, the Hokies' older players need to make sure the younger ones understand the opportunities at hand.
''We've just got to keep rallying the guys and making sure they don't get complacent (any) longer or get comfortable,'' Jarrett said. ''We've got to keep pushing them throughout the rest of the season.''
The Panthers have lost three straight after a 3-0 start. Like the Hokies, they are coming off an off weekend, and Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst said not letting them wallow in the negativity of losing was a goal the past week.
''You've got to be careful,'' he said. ''There are some things that are good that we're doing. You've got to make sure the guys recognize that and see that. You've also got to point out the things that are within your control that you can get better at. You've got to have a reason why we think we can get better. Otherwise it's just hope, and hope is not a method.''
Virginia Tech ended a four-game losing streak in the series with a 19-9 victory at Lane Stadium last season, giving coach Frank Beamer an 8-5 record in the series that dates back to when both were members of the Big East. Understanding what the Panthers represent, and always have, will be key for the Hokies, he said, especially if they fancy themselves as legitimate contenders for the Coastal Division title.
''When you get to be a good football team and get a chance to win championships is when it really doesn't make any difference what day it is, what time it is, what team it is,'' he said. ''... And I think that's been true over the years. Not be an up and down football team and if you've got good enough players, you've got a chance to win championships.''
That championship opportunity is first and foremost in quarterback Michael Brewer's mind, and he thinks the two road victories show that how the Hokies start is critical to the outcome they can expect.
They led 21-7 at halftime at Ohio State, and 24-3 last weekend at halftime at North Carolina.
''We've got to show up and get off to a good start, just like we did at North Carolina, and protect the ball and find a way to put points on the board,'' Brewer said. ''If we do that, we'll be fine.''
The game is a homecoming of sorts for Jarrett, although his Tannersville, Pennsylvania, home is nearly 300 miles from Pittsburgh. Jarrett arrived at Virginia Tech a year after they won their last ACC title, in 2010, and said playing in front of some family and friends will be nice, but secondary to winning.
''Every game from here on out is a championship game and that's the way we have to approach it,'' the three-year starter said. ''Like I said before, just getting the `W' is what's most important.''
AP Sports Writer Will Graves in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.
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