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Aftermath: Hokies vs Panthers

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Gobbler Country details the events of Virginia Tech's ACC play opening loss to the Pittsburgh Panthers.

Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Rookie Head Coach Pat Narduzzi earned his first ACC victory when he and the Pittsburgh Panthers met the Virginia Tech Hokies on Saturday. Both teams opened ACC play this weekend, and both teams were coming off frustrating losses. Only 49,120 fans attended the game. The stands seemed barren at the start of regulation, but started to fill as the match progressed. Lane Stadium’s streak of 93 sellout games ended in 2013, against Western Carolina. Since then Hokie fans have consistently failed to sellout the field. This match against Pitt was the smallest crowd in attendance since November 2, 1998, when No. 23 VT defeated Rutgers, 47-7. No doubt, the cold and wet conditions influenced many to remain indoors. Based on the lackluster performance of the Hokies last week, and the last three seasons, it is reasonable to surmise that the absence of excitement concerning VT’s latest football effort also influenced Hokie enthusiasts' decision to remain home. Unfortunately, those that did brave the elements were not treated to a strong Virginia Tech exertion. VPI was defeated by Pittsburgh, in an all too familiar fashion, 13-17.

The Panthers entered the game as one of the top defenses in the FBS, and showed they deserved such respect as the Pittsburgh defense mauled Virginia Tech. The VT offensive line looked completely ineffective. They failed to open holes for the running game and to provide protection for QB Brenden Motley. This past week Gobbler Country explored the history of VPI against Pitt, and discussed the Hokies inability to run against the Panthers. That reality came to bear more than ever on Saturday when the Hokies were only able to muster up a net of nine yards running, on 33 attempts, for an abysmal 0.3 yard per carry average. The Hokies actually gained 80 yards on the ground, but lost 71 yards rushing. 57 of those lost yards were a result of Motley being sacked seven times. The remainder of lost ground yards was a result of the Panthers consistently meeting VPI in the Hokie backfield. At one point, in the second half, the Hokies average yards gained, on first down, was -5.

The Virginia Tech passing attack showed little better than the rushing attack. After decent performances in the last three games, Motley was finally brought down to earth. In fact, he was brought down to the earth over and over again. The Hokie quarterback was constantly hurried, hit, and sacked. Motley was 9 for 20, with 91 yards. He threw one touchdown and three interceptions. The Hokies were only able to generate 100 yards of net offense, which is the lowest total since Beamer’s first game as the VT head coach. In that game, 29 years ago, the Gobblers only managed 60 total yards against Clemson.

There were flashes of brilliance, from time to time, that seemed to sway momentum in VT’s favor, but the Hokies were never able to fully capture the impetus. Bucky Hodges had two nice receptions to keep Hokie drives alive, and the TD pass to Cam Phillips was a thing of beauty. But, the Hokies were only able to control the game tempo on their single touchdown scoring drive. Isiah Ford was marginalized by the Pitt secondary. Motley maintained his penchant for telegraphing his intentions, and he rarely had any underneath options available when Pitt brought pressure. VPI maintained their affair with long third downs, and were only 4-13 in converting. Loeffler’s play calling continues to be predictable and repetitive. Considering the Panthers had two weeks to prepare and Virginia Tech’s offense failed to show anything fresh, it is no wonder that Pitt was able to completely vaporize Hokie offensive efforts.

On defense Virginia Tech showed some improvement. They held Pitt to 17 points, but still demonstrated an inability to contain the run. The Panthers’ backup RB, Qadree Olliosn, completely outplayed the Hokies defense, running for 122 yards on 19 attempts. He maintained a 6.4 yard average, had a long run of 43 yards, and one touchdown. His disregard of the Virginia Tech defense was best illustrated on Pitt’s opening drive of the second half. In two plays Ollison gashed VPI for 68 yards and the aforementioned TD. As a team Pitt ran for 166 yards. Panther’s backup QB, Chad Voytik, was in and out of the game, and he had five runs for 37 yards. Ollison is the third 100 yard rusher VT has allowed this season. The Hokies have lost all three games where a 100 yard rusher has been permitted. Furthermore, the Hokies have allowed more runs of 20+ yards than any Power Five conference team – 13 total. For the season VPI has allowed 987 yards rushing on 195 attempts and a 5.06 yard average per carry.

The youth and inexperience was evident on defense. There were several instances of busted coverage and incorrect lineups. Pitt’s passing attack was not huge. The Panthers were 9 for 15, 110yds, a 7.3 yard average, one touchdown, and no interceptions. Likely future NFL Draft pick, Tyler Boyd, was the leading receiver with five catches totaling 48 yards. The Panthers fumbled four times, but the Hokies were only able to make the Panthers pay for one of those mistakes. Pitt safely recuperated three of them. Considering the weather and the success Pitt was having on the ground there was little need to rely on the passing game. The defense played better than last week, but they cannot be confused for a good defense, and they are certainly not living up to their preseason reputation of being one of the best ever fielded by Virginia Tech.

The high point for the Hokies was special teams play. Virginia Tech was intimidating during the kicking game, nearly blocking multiple Pitt punts. Eventually, the Hokies blocked a Pitt FG attempt. It genuinely seems that there has been a resurgence of Beamer Ball. VPI also seemed to get the penalty bug under control. After several games showcasing multiple, preventable penalties the Hokies only committed five total infractions for 40 yards. Unfortunately, three of those penalties affected the Panther’s first TD drive. A holding penalty on the punt to Pitt gave them ten yards. During the drive an off-sides infraction and a roughing the passer penalty gifted Pittsburgh another 20 yards, and an automatic first down. That drive concluded with a 23 yard passing TD from Panther QB, Peterman, to Holtz.

Of all the Hokie deficiencies the intangibles were some of the most disturbing. Again the Hokies seemed to play with little passion, intensity, or energy. There was little fan participation and the stadium definitely did not live up to its reputation of being one of the toughest places to visit. One of the most defining images of the game, and the state of the program, occurred during the last play of the final Hokie possession. On fourth and 25 the offensive line again failed to provide a modicum of protection for Motley. In desperation the Hokie QB blindly released the ball as he was hit by a Pittsburgh defender shortly after the snap, which resulted in an interception. After the play was over the team simply shuffled back to the sideline, their backs to Motley, who was already nursing a sore shoulder from being driven to the ground time and time again. As he struggled to find his feet not a single maroon jersey was there to help him stand.

The full box score against Pittsburgh can be seen here.