The Virginia Tech Hokies arrived at Acrisure stadium to face off against the defending ACC champions, the Pittsburgh Panthers. VT looked sharp with all maroon helmets, white jerseys, and maroon pants. I really like those all-maroon helmets. If you had told me the Hokies were going to enter halftime down by only one point, I would not have believed you. Improvements seemed evident for the Hokies, during the first half, but failed to manifest during the second half. Kaleb Smith had his best game of the season and Malachi Thomas returned to the line up and demonstrated how dangerous and special a player he is. Thomas’s first run of the season was a hard fought, five-yard, TD run, up the middle – something that seemed impossible to conceive from the VT offense during the previous five games. Virginia Tech had six drives deep into Pitt territory, but only came away with 16 points. In two of those trips the Hokies were within field goal range and then took themselves out of range with self-destructive pre-snap offensive penalties. Although we saw similar mistakes and miscues there was improvement shown in run blocking and the rushing attack overall. Certainly, a player of Malachi Thomas’ talent can have that effect, but the line has also shown improvement.
The defense showed an ability to halt the dangerous Pitt RB, Israel Abanikanda, but the prolific and powerful back had a banner day against an undersized VT defensive line that was often manhandled by a stout Pitt offensive line. This really showed itself during the second half when the Hokies d-line seemed outmatched and tire, letting Abanikanda run for two TDs during the third quarter alone. Tackling issues continued to plague the Hokies and several Panthers ball-carriers earned way too many yards after contact. The third quarter was almost another dismal start to a second half for the Hokies until Wells hit Lofton for a 43-yard touchdown. The defense carried that momentum into their efforts and finally sacked Kedon Slovis after failing to sack UNC’s Drake Maye last week. Pinned deep in their territory the Panthers had a punt blocked and then recovered by the Hokies in the endzone. VT failed the two-point conversion, but I really liked the creative shovel pass play they dialed up. The Hokies defense simply had no answer for Abanikanda, and no matter how many times the special teams or offense put some points on the board, the Pitt rushing attack almost always had an immediate retort.
One of the best things to see today was the explosive plays the offense has been lacking showed up. Coach Bowen’s unit looked better than it has all season, in all facets – pass protection, run blocking, passing, and rushing. The defense was able to slow Pitt, in places, but never consistently and the Panthers knew that if they kept running Abanikanda against the undersized VT d-line and slow-ish linebackers that he would break runs, which is exactly what he did. There were missed opportunities on the offense, but today’s loss has much more to do with the defense. The Hokies aren’t big enough or fast enough to be missing tackles and the athleticism and talent deficit shows up when an offensive line and running back unit, like the Panthers, shows up. The Hokies fought hard, and there was incremental improvement, on the offense, but the Hokies fell to the Panthers, 45-29.
FACES UP AND CHESTS OUT, BOYS AND GIRLS, WE AIN’T DONE YET.