The Virginia Tech Hokies finally won in Pittsburgh on Thursday night, defeating the Pitt Panthers, 39-36, in an exciting back-and-forth contest. It’s Tech’s first win in the Steel City since 1999 and its first-ever win at Heinz Field.
Now, the Hokies are firmly in control of the Coastal Division if they can avoid a letdown like the one in Syracuse a few weeks back. Tech’s schedule lets up a bit now as the Hokies face a struggling Duke team this weekend before returning home to host Georgia Tech next week. While the Yellow Jackets’ triple-option offense can give opponents fits, Hokies’ defensive coordinator Bud Foster usually does a good job of limiting its effectiveness.
Now that we’ve had a few days to digest it, let’s take a look back at Tech’s huge win on Thursday night.
Jerod Evans solidified his leadership role
The junior quarterback went down late in the second half with a sprained ankle and he struggled to get around. He went out for a series with Brenden Motley coming in and doing a solid job. However, with the game on the line Evans would not be denied. The training staff taped up Evans’ ankle and he came back in and continued to move the ball down the field with accurate throws. Once the Hokies got into the red zone, though, Evans could barely walk and Tech had to settle for a field goal.
His teammates were fired up. Seeing a player, especially the quarterback whose game is built on mobility, limp around and continue to play impressed teammates. Isaiah Ford was among those impressed.
"He's all in,” Ford said, according to Andy Bitter of the Roanoke Times. "Our motto is hard, smart and tough. And to hurt your ankle in the middle of a dogfight, to suck it up, I know he was in a lot of pain tonight. And to go back in and help us win the game, that spoke volumes about his character and his leadership."
This team, both players and coaches, are firmly behind Evans.
Tech struggled in the red zone
The Hokies could’ve put this game away in the first quarter. A couple of turnovers combined with the offense moving the ball at will was a great combination, right? Well, not so much.
Tech struggled to punch the ball into the end zone, so they settled for field goals; six field goals in total. So, instead of jumping out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, Tech led 6-0 at the end of the first quarter. With the way the Hokies were moving the ball, this game should not have been as close as it was.
Pitt scored two touchdowns in the second quarter and Virginia Tech was fortunate to head into the half with a 16-14 lead.
Head coach Justin Fuente had a simple strategy in this game. Challenge Pitt’s struggling defensive backs over and over and never stop. While that strategy worked between the 20s, things tightened up a bit in the red zone. Moving forward, the playcalling must become a bit more diverse in the red zone. Some option plays would’ve loosened things up a bit for Tech.
Overall, the Hokies made nine trips to the red zone. Only three of those visits ended with a touchdown.
Defense had its share of struggles
The defense has shown some vulnerability in recent weeks. Against Miami, Foster’s defense allowed some big plays in the passing game. Against the Panthers it was running back James Conner. Once Conner made it through the defensive line, Tech’s linebackers and defensive backs struggled to get the big man down on initial contact. That’s understandable. Conner is a load to bring down and one of the more talented backs in all of college football.
On one such big play, Pitt tight end Scott Orndoff caught a pass and went 71 yards. In the process, he ran past several VT defensive backs. That’s a concern because Orndoff isn’t exactly Bucky Hodges with the football in his hands.
For the most part, VT’s defense did a good job against Pittsburgh’s passing game. Foster must find a way to limit the big plays for the remainder of this season.
Isaiah Ford breaks another record
Junior wide receiver Isaiah Ford continues his assault on Virginia Tech’s record book. The All-ACC wide out caught his 23rd career touchdown pass, moving past Hokie great Antonio Freeman.
It’s just another record for Ford. He already holds the single-season record for receptions, receiving yards and touchdown receptions. He is currently second in school history in receiving yards. When Ford is done in Blacksburg—either after this season or next—he will own every major receiving record in school history.
Say what you want about this being a pass-happy era. Ford was dominant the last two years playing under Scot Loeffler. No one will confuse Loeffler for Bill Walsh, or Bryan Stinespring for that matter. Let’s all appreciate Ford for what he is, which is one of the best players in Virginia Tech history.
Pat Narduzzi acts like a petulant child
The second-year Pitt coach made his name as a defensive coordinator at Michigan State under Mark Dantonio. Now, Narduzzi will be a popular Google search due to his sideline antics and postgame comments after last week’s histrionics.
Pat Narduzzi on VT WRs: "They did a great job pushing off all night. Give them credit for that."— Chris Peak (@PantherLair) October 28, 2016
Instead of coaching his team up, Narduzzi would throw his headset, stomp, spit, elbow-drop his jacket and chase the officials after every play he felt was questionable. Every time Evans dropped back to pass, he would essentially challenge Pittsburgh defensive backs with a jump ball. And, each time, the Pitt DBs would be a little too physical with the Hokie wide receivers. Officials called it pass interference several times, but they also let several go, too.
Narduzzi’s actions were so blatant and disconcerting that the officials were almost scared to throw a flag. For his part, Narduzzi was fined $5,000.
After seeing Narduzzi, doesn’t it make you appreciate Fuente that much more?
#Hokies Justin Fuente on Pat Narduzzi: "My boss and I have a clear definition of what the head coach should be like." (1/2)— Ricky LaBlue (@RickyLaBlue) October 31, 2016
Regardless, that wasn’t a good look for Narduzzi or the Panthers on Thursday night.