- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 3, 2001

PITTSBURGH (AP) Asked if Virginia Tech would bounce back quickly from an unexpected 22-14 loss at home to Syracuse, Hokies coach Frank Beamer almost didn't know how to answer.

The Hokies have lost only three times in 31 games, so this isn't a subject with which he is totally familiar.

Beamer thinks the No. 12 Hokies (6-1, 3-1 in Big East) will be ready to play today against Pittsburgh (2-5, 1-3), which has won only twice this season and has beaten Tech once in their eight years together in the Big East.

Still, Pittsburgh has played the Hokies tough each of the last two seasons, passing for more than 700 yards combined in the two games. So Beamer is approaching the first of three consecutive road games for his team with some trepidation.

"Check us out Saturday," Beamer said. "I'm not going to sit here and tell you we're going to come back. I think we've got good people, good leaders, but I thought we were going to play a good game [against Syracuse].

"When you start assuming in this business, you're wrong."

Pittsburgh illustrates that. With the Panthers coming off a 7-4 regular season and their second bowl trip in four seasons, they were expecting another big season. They returned 10 of 11 starters from a good defense and All-American receiver Antonio Bryant was back, too.

But as coach Walt Harris tinkered and fiddled with his offense from the start, often yanking senior quarterback David Priestley for the most minor of errors , the Panthers never did fall into a groove offensively or defensively.

An unexpected 35-26 loss to South Florida in the second game of the season started the Panthers on a five-game slide that didn't end until they beat Temple 33-7 a week ago, their first victory over a Division I-A opponent this season.

Priestley, who passed for 407 yards in a 30-17 loss against Virginia Tech two years ago, was allowed to play most of the way in the Temple game and will start again today. The 407 yards were the third-highest total ever against Virginia Tech.

Priestley needed shoulder surgery shortly after that big game against Tech in 1999 and was beaten out last season by John Turman, who threw for 311 yards in a 37-34 loss to the then-No. 2 Hokies last season.

Pitt's best chance for an upset would seem to be getting Priestley into the kind of rhythm he had against the Hokies two years ago and to get Bryant more heavily involved in the offense.

Priestley, working out of a pro set offense rather than the spread offense Pitt used in its first five games, was 18-for-24 for 204 yards and two touchdowns against Temple.

Bryant, who sat out the second half of the Temple game following a misunderstanding with Harris, had nine catches for 127 yards and three touchdowns against the Hokies last year and 13 catches for 215 yards and one TD against them in 1999.

"We made some high-round draft choice catches against them last year," Harris said.

However, those two games represent more production than Bryant has this season (20 catches for 267 yards and two touchdowns) in five-plus games. He missed one game and all but one play of another with a sprained ankle and has never looked like the big-play receiver he was a year ago, when he caught 11 touchdown passes.

Still, the presence of Bryant and Priestley is enough to worry Beamer.

"They've got a kid who can throw it quite well, and he proved that against us a couple of years ago," he said. "When he's hot, he's hot. And I think Pitt is closer to being the best they've been all year right now. They've had almost 750 yards in the last two games against us just throwing."

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