Virginia Tech hosted the Pittsburgh Panthers on Senior Day at Lane Stadium, eager to put two horrendous losses in the rear view mirror. And the Hokies certainly started the game off like it, scripting together a nice opening drive, as a huge catch-and-run by Chris Cunningham for a gain of 37 yards put the offense in a goal-to-go situation. Jackson kept it on an option play for a four-yard touchdown run, his fourth rushing score on the year.
The two teams exchanged punts, and Pittsburgh got the ball back needing to string together a few first downs. They did just that, evening up the score on a 13-yard wide receiver screen to Araujo-Lopes. It was not an impressive series for the Hokies’ defense, allowing the Panthers to go 68 yards on just nine plays, with coverage busts and whiffed tackles galore.
The Hokies started to respond on their next drive, but a holding penalty committed by Chris Cunningham on a screen to Cam Phillips forced Virginia Tech into a third-and-long situation where Jackson was promptly sacked. However, the the gobblers would get the ball right back. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben DeNucci was flushed out of the pocket and heaved a prayer down the right sideline, only to have Reggie Floyd come over from the opposite hash and come down with the interception. That was Floyd’s third pick on the year.
The turnover seemed to energize the offense, as Jackson hit Kumah on a third down strike to pick up eleven yards and subsequently threw a slant over the middle to Cam Phillips to put the Hokies on the edge of the red zone. However, the drive stalled at the 13-yard line, and kicker Brian Johnson – who played in relief of Joey Slye – knocked through a 30-yard field goal (first of his career) to give the Hokies a 10-7 advantage.
Jovonn Quillen, who started the game as the team’s primary kick returner, got his hand on a Pittsburgh punt and was credited with a block. Fuente dialed up a deep shot for Phillip Patterson on the first play of the series but Jackson just overthrew him which would have been a sure touchdown. Jackson was rushed into a decision on third-and-nine, and the Hokies were forced to punt.
Pittsburgh had trouble dealing with Hokies’ pass rush, as they were unable to let their downfield routes develop. They started to max protect but as a result were unable to find any open receivers due to good coverage. Neither offense was playing inspired to this point, and Josh Jackson ended up throwing a fade route that was intercepted by Pittsburgh cornerback Adonte Maddox.
With some momentum, the Panthers used a 26-yard jet sweep by Quadree Henderson to get into the red zone. But Tremaine Edmunds got his lunch pail and knifed into the backfield on third and short, dropping the running back for a loss to hold Pittsburgh to a short field goal attempt. It was not short enough, as Pitt’s kicker pushed it wide right to keep the Hokies in front as the two teams went into the break after another lackluster possession by the Virginia Tech offense, which has not looked confident since the UNC game.
Pittsburgh received the ball to start the second half. Tremaine Edmunds immediately said “hey, remember me?” to the Pittsburgh offense, making a bone-crushing TFL on first down. Trevon Hill got in on the action, sacking Pickett on third down to force a punt. The Hokies offense still looked flat after halftime, however, and went three-and-out with a terrible throw by Jackson on third down.
#Hokies' last four drives have netted 1, 15, 12 and 5 yards.— David Teel (@DavidTeelatDP) November 18, 2017
Despite it being senior day, the offense played with little emotion and “want to”. Whether that stems from the quarterback or the playcalling would be determined.
Eventually, Josh Jackson was able to gather himself, making a nice throw to Patterson on an in-cut and nearly picking up a first down with his legs. Then “bad” Josh Jackson showed up the next set of downs as he telegraphed a pass to Patterson that should have been picked off, but “good” Josh made an impressive throw on the run to Phillips to pick up the first on 3rd and 10. The Hokies faced a 4th and 3 later in drive and decided to go for it. Jackson had Phillips for a brief second but failed to put the ball on the proper shoulder, leading to a pass breakup which gave Pittsburgh the ball back.
A creative shovel pass schemed up by Narduzzi for Darrin Hall went for a gain of 44 yards, followed up by another first down pass which put them on the Hokies’ 18-yard line. The defense stiffened, and forced a fourth down.
Then this happened…
A swinging gate formation and play call led Pittsburgh’s long snapper to get free in the end zone, and catch the ball to put the Panthers in front 14-10. Trickery only works on fools, I guess.
It was imperative that the Hokies responded well on their next series, and Cam Phillips kicked things off with a huge catch and run on second down for a gain of 36 yards. After a third down conversion, AJ Bush came into the game for Jackson as JJ was shaken up on a 5-yard run. Jackson came back into the game on a key 3rd and 8 inside the red zone but his pass fell incomplete on (another) fade pattern. For some reason, the coaching staff still thinks Isaiah and Bucky are the X receivers in this offense. Brain Johnson knocked through his second FG, cutting the lead to 14-13.
The Hokies then followed the field goal up with a major stop on defense. You could make the case that Greg Stroman has been the most consistent DB, and he undercut a corner route to make a HUGE play for a struggling team. It’s only fitting that a play of that magnitude happened on senior day.
The fade route had about a 10% chance of working on the day, but apparently if you throw it ten times, it will connect once. That’s exactly what happened, as the Hokies retook the lead after Jackson threw it up for Cam to come down with, resulting in a 23-yard touchdown. Phillips became the school’s all time leader in receiving yards, passing Isaiah Ford for the most in Tech history. 20-14, good guys.
Up by just one score, the Hokies needed to get a stop with about five minutes remaining. They did so, after a Tremaine Edmunds sack and incomplete pass on third down. Pittsburgh wanted to go for it, but decided to punt it away and play defense. The Hokies played to run out the clock, but failed to convert on 3rd and 2 on a QB power call and punted it back to the Panthers. Bradburn hit a beauty of a punt, booming the ball 53 yards down the field which set Pittsburgh’s offense up with less-than-stellar field position.
Two incomplete passes and a six-yard scramble later, the Panthers faced a 4th and 4 with the game on the line. And….
74-yard gain, to the Hokies’ 1-yard line. Blech. Awesome job by Reggie Floyd to stop him short of the goal line, however.
The four plays for Pittsburgh at the goal line went like this:
· 1st down: run stuffed for no gain. Deep breaths. Deep breaths.
· 2nd down: another run stuffed for no gain. *Takes heart medication*
· 3rd down: Fade route. Incomplete.
· 4th down: STUFFED. GAME OVER.
A little more exciting than most of us would like, but hey, I’ll take it.
Up next: UVA on Friday night. The ‘Hoos were on track to upset Miami today, and won’t be easy, especially if the Hokies played the way they did today on offense.