Virginia Tech Offense Finds Its Rhythm Through the Air, Knocks off Pittsburgh 39-36

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Pittsburgh, PA (Heinz Field) — For once, it wasn’t all on the Virginia Tech defense to finish a close game.

Virginia Tech stormed back in the third quarter after surrendering the lead, and thanks to impressive performances from Joey Slye (six field goals) and the offense, the Hokies held off the Pittsburgh Panthers 39-36.

The win marks the first time Virginia Tech has left Heinz Field victorious in five tries dating back to 2001. Though the defense struggled to slow down Pittsburgh, the Hokies amassed 556 yards of offense and Isaiah Ford, Cam Phillips and Bucky Hodges all had over 100 receiving yards. Jerod Evans played well too, throwing for 406 yards, two touchdowns and running for another 33 yards.

“I’m proud of our guys and the way they played,” Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente said. “Obviously, it wasn’t perfect. We played a really good football team, a good football team in all three phases of the game. Every time we got a stop or every time we gained yards, they were hard-earned.”

Virginia Tech’s offense took advantage of Pittsburgh’s decision to stack the box and play man coverage on the outside. Throughout the game, Evans threw 50-50 balls to his receivers, usually resulting in a reception.

“They don’t give you a whole lot of choice with the way they play,” Fuente said. “I thought our guys accepted the challenge, they knew that going in. It certainly wasn’t a surprise.”

Isaiah Ford Virginia Tech
Isaiah Ford (10 catches, 143 yards, 1 TD) broke Antonio Freeman’s 22-year-old record with his 23rd career TD catch. (all photos by Ivan Morozov)

Virginia Tech’s 556 yards followed 523 yards against Miami last Thursday, making it the first time the Hokies have gone over 500 yards in consecutive games since the 1999 Sugar Bowl (503 yards) and the 2000 opener against Akron (549 yards).

Pittsburgh’s offense had plenty of success themselves, racking up 458 yards. Pittsburgh ran for 180 yards, 141 by James Conner alone. Conner ran for three touchdowns as well, on 19 carries.

“He’s playing with a new lease on life,” said Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster. “He’s playing hard. He always has, They did a nice job seeing what we were doing and how we were trying to take away their jet sweep and kind of countering, running back away from it.”

Virginia Tech’s offensive success started early. Evans engineered a 10 play, 76 yard drive that ended up inside the Pittsburgh 15-yard-line. The Hokies stalled in the redzone and were forced to settle for a 31-yard field goal from Slye to go up 3-0. The struggles in the redzone would persist all game.

Pittsburgh’s dangerous returner Quadree Henderson fumbled on the ensuing kickoff, putting the Hokies inside the Panthers’ redzone. The offense couldn’t capitalize, and Slye’s second field goal of the game gave Virginia Tech a 6-0 lead before Pittsburgh’s offense even saw the field.

The Panthers’ first drive didn’t end well. Facing a second-and-15, Nathan Peterman was picked off by Mook Reynolds at the Pittsburgh 30-yard-line, once again giving the Hokies terrific field position. The Hokies proceeded to lose four yards in three plays and thanks to a windy Pittsburgh evening, were forced to punt from the 34-yard-line.

Evans said after the game that the team’s struggles in the redzone were frustrating.

“For somebody that loves to score touchdowns, put up a lot of points, extremely,” Evans said. “That’s the way it is.”

Tech’s redzone struggles continued in the second quarter, as Virginia Tech was stopped at the Pittsburgh 5-yard-line. Slye tacked on another field goal, giving the Hokies a 9-0 lead.

Joey Slye Virginia Tech
Joey Slye was a perfect 6-of-6 on the night, making field goals from 31, 21, 22, 26, 37 and 22 yards.

Two drives later, the Panther offense kicked into gear. Peterman completed five straight passes, including a 37-yarder to Henderson, and Conner capped it off with the touchdown to cut Virginia Tech’s lead to 9-7 with 4:14 left in the half.

The Hokies answered on their next possession. Evans found Phillips and Hodges for gains of 18 yards each and this time in the redzone, Tech punched it in with an Evans pass to Chris Cunningham, giving Virginia Tech a 16-7 lead.

Pittsburgh kept the reeling Hokies’ defense off guard on the next drive with a 71-yard pass to Scott Orndorff. Pitt finished it off with Conner’s second touchdown of the game, and the Hokies held a slim 16-14 lead heading into halftime.

“We knew it was going to be a 60-minute fistfight and it was,” Foster said.

The fight continued in the second half, when Conner broke loose for a 37-yard run down the Hokies’ 5-yard-line. Conner ran for his third touchdown of the day, giving Pitt their first lead of the day by a score of 21-16.

“He’s got size and speed, power,” Fuente said. “It’s very hard to tackle him with one person. They are very good on the offensive line, but James Conner is a darn good football player.”

Virginia Tech settled for another field goal on the next possession and thanks to a rare stop from the defense, the Hokies took over with 4:47 left in the third quarter to regain the lead.

“We saw it all, but our kids hung in there,” Foster said. “There’s going to be some games like this. Coach Fuente told when he offered me the job that I wouldn’t have to play perfect defense all the time and it was one of those nights.”

The Hokies drove down for another Joey Slye field goal, giving Virginia Tech a 22-21 lead. The Hokies defense, needing a stop, forced a Pittsburgh three-and-out.

Virginia Tech expanded the lead on their next drive. Evans hit Phillips on another 50-50 ball for 37 yards down to the Pittsburgh 2-yard-line. Marshawn Williams capped it off with a run from there, and Tech took a 29-21 lead.

Marshawn Williams Virginia Tech
Marshawn Williams rumbled in from two yards out to put the Hokies up 29-21

True to the back-and-forth nature of the game, Pittsburgh answered Tech’s score. The Panthers ran a trick play to offensive lineman Brian O’Neill for a 5-yard TD, O’Neill’s second touchdown of the season, and after a two-point conversion, the game was once again tied at 29.

The Hokies went into the redzone again on their next drive, but once again failed to get past the goal line. Though it was a disappointment at the time, Slye kicked his sixth field goal of the game, this time from 22 yards, and gave Virginia Tech a 32-29 lead.

Slye’s six field goals set a record for the most in school history. Slye, a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, said that kicking at Heinz was a dream come true.

“I know a lot of kickers have struggles, especially going to the river, that’s kind of like a known fact,” Slye said. “I think I hit four into the river today. Just kind of an awesome experience for me and my family to be able to kick here.”

The Virginia Tech defense was far from perfect on Thursday night, but it stepped up when needed. Tech forced a three-and-out and Pittsburgh was forced to punt with 7:51 left to play.

Evans, who left the game in the third quarter due to an ankle injury, put the game on ice on the next drive. He completed a 41-yard pass to Phillips and then a 16-yard touchdown to Isaiah Ford, giving Tech a 10-point lead with 7:20 to go. The touchdown was Ford’s 23rd career touchdown reception, which breaks Antonio Freeman’s record of 22.

“This one was a long time coming,” Ford said. “I was just ready to get it over with. It couldn’t have happened at a better moment.”

The Tech defense allowed another touchdown with 2:31 left in the game, but Virginia Tech ran out the clock on the last possession. Cam Phillips took a jet sweep on 3rd and 1 from the Virginia Tech 27 with 2:14 left, eluded a defender in the backfield, and lunged to just barely pick up the first down. From there, the Hokies ran out the clock.

Brenden Motley Virginia Tech
With Jerod Evans gimpy from an ankle injury, Brenden Motley saw some playing time and carried it 7 times for 24 yards.

The win puts Virginia Tech at 6-2 on the season and 4-1 in the ACC. The Hokies now hold tiebreakers over Pittsburgh, Miami and North Carolina, who is the only other team with one conference loss.

The team all season has tried to downplay their success, but after Thursday night’s win, they couldn’t help but wonder how well the season could end.

“We’re going to take it one game at a time,” Foster said. “That’s all we can do. We’ve got a lot of big football games ahead.”

“We just can’t get too ahead of ourselves,” said defensive end Ken Ekanem. “We’ve got to take it one game at a time, but yeah, that was a big thing in my recruiting, competing for the ACC Championship, representing our side of the conference. It’s a great feeling and we’re heading in the right direction.”

Tech is now 2-1 on the road this season and two of their remaining four games are away from Lane Stadium. The Hokies will play Duke in Durham, NC next week before returning to Blacksburg to face Georgia Tech.

“When we’ve been a championship team, we’ve won on the road,” Foster said. “We’ve got to be able to do that. We’ve got to focus. We can’t talk about championships. We’ve got to talk about, we’ve got to go 1-0 every week and if we do that, everything will take care of itself.”

— box score —



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37 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Was at the game last night and thoroughly enjoyed it. Really proud of the way the kids hung in there and gutted it out. It was really special after the game when the entire team circled the stadium bowl high-fiving with the VT fans, who by that time had come down to the front row. A truly satisfying win!

  2. Never saw a game at any level where a defense could hold for 15 yards straight without turning loose????? A coach who was out of control the whole game????? Made London look like an angel! Great win, we have a couple of weak spots as most teams do. Keep it going! Go Hokies!!!!

    1. 3 kneel downs and 40 sec. Between plays would eat up 2:03. Take delay if necessary, no need to chance running plays.

  3. If Cam doesn’t get that first down by inches, we probably lose. Nice of the football gods to favor VT last night. Love this coaching staff.

  4. Couldn’t figure out the logic of having Motley run the ball 3 times on our last possession rather than taking a knee 3 times. Seemed very dangerous to me – suppose we had fumbled the ball on those runs and given Pittsburgh one last chance to score

    1. We needed to run a few extra seconds off of the clock that just taking a knee would not have done. I do believe, however, that the last run was unnecessary.

  5. Consistently running the ball in the red zone left me thinking Stiney must still be calling the offensive plays. Still scratching my head over many of those plays when we were going up and down the field passing the ball. They were not changing their defense regardless of what was going to happen. ???

  6. Pitt has the best O-line in the ACC, that was evident. They are 10th in the nation in rushing defense. Plus tackling Connor is nearly impossible. Given that and the fact that they cheat on every play, we did well to eak out a win. Too bad we left (6*4=) 24 points unscored. That would’ve been a more satisfying 63-36 victory! Maybe next year…..

  7. Will Tech submit film to the ACC about all the non-called holding penalties? What about the Pittsburg coaches antics?

  8. Glad to enjoy a total team win. Yes mistakes were made, but they (Coaches and players) did what was needed to secure the win. Coach Fuente and his organization are on the way to #MVTGA.

  9. I thought there were rules about coach behavior- and that some of the Pittsburgh Jerk-coach behavior should have been flagged for penalty. Getting in the ref’s face repeatedly should have called for a warning and then a flag. And, running on the field- over and over- the same. The ACC should crack down on this behavior. It affects the fairness of officiating in the game, and should be embarrassing to the ACC.
    One other thing- I love Coach Fuente and the whole staff. But, throwing the ball in the red zone would have reaped touchdowns instead of field goals and put the game out of sight for Pittsburgh. Anybody have a guess as to why VT stuck with the run so much in the red zone- especially in the first half?
    Love the win!!!! VT will take Pitt to the woodshed next year in Lane.

  10. Went to the game, did not hear any postgame show on the drive home after the game. Am very curious why with a 10 point lead with 4:10 on the clock and after picking up a first down, we threw the ball on first and second down (both incomplete) which stopped the clock, allowing Pitt to save timeouts and not run any time off the clock. We then ran the ball on third down, but gave the ball back to Pitt with a lot of time and all three time outs. They scored a touchdown quickly and still had all three timeouts. All is well that ends well, but this seemed to be major clock mismanagement. Strange to see that play out and not even mentioned in the article.

    1. Jesse and company addressed it last night during the telecast. VT could have played it that way, but Jesse and company felt that if the relatively simple passes had been executed, then it fit with the proper game plan. A matter of execution more than play calling – you may agree or not, I can see it both ways. Go Hokies

  11. Happy with any win. Trying no to be negative but I do not understand running game. So if every opposing defense stacks the box we will never have a running game? What are we needing? Can not rely on positive outcome every game on 50/50 lob passes. Does Pitt’s defense also prevent sharp passes to CJ, Sam or Steven like the last game? Just wondering about better teams. Waiting to hear from CC and Will.

    1. I think everyone is not really looking at the numbers , we did get 150 yards on the ground, and Pitt the great rushing team got 180. If you would have told me that the rushing yards would be that close, I would take it. Again every game is a different challenge, we did what we needed to win, remember at the first of the year, Pitt, Miami and UNC where all picked ahead of us…. also be happy that the program has made great strides in one year….

  12. Objectively, it was probably an exciting games, but in many ways it was quite an ugly game. Bit concerned about the Hokie run defense.

  13. Our team beat a 12 man team last night. Nard was hectoring the refs all night. With all his cb’s grabbing jerseys on every play he was basically daring the refs to call PI’s and when they did his tantrums had the desired effect. They were hesitant to call on them and even called a few extremely questionable ones on us to give him some “balance”. He has replaced CPJ as my favorite coach to root against now. Next year without his team full of seniors we will grind them into the Worsham Field turf……

    1. I felt the same way. Their cb’s held just about every pass play and the ref’s were not calling it. When they did call a hold, Pitt’s coach cried about it. He should be glad 10 more flags were not thrown.

  14. 3 extremely frustrating things watching this stressful game:

    1) The ridiculous pass interference and defensive holdings that were not called. A conservative 6 more could have been called.

    2) Narduzzi. They let him act however he wanted, and I would have been embarrassed if he was our coach. Then, this guy had the gumption to complain about calls during the halftume interview and after the game. Said we did a great job of pushing off al night. Bucky got snart and pushed off 2 or 3 times, but because he was being destroyed and held on routes over and over.

    3) Why we continually passed, passed and passed down the field, and 5 times ran 2 of 3 times in the redzone to settle for fgs. Even the commentators were in disbelief this was happening.

  15. This is a win and this is also a learning experience for the team. We have to get better in the red zone and the coaches and players can review that and learn from it. On defense we have to do a better job filling gaps. Conner is sensational but a couple of his runs he got to the edge way too easy. We are giving up too many big plays on the 1st play after a scoring drive and we are giving up too many points at the end of the first half. Our pass protection was very good but other than that Pitt really did a number to us in the trenches. We need a couple more offseason weightlifting sessions with the new strength coach to help even out the trenches between us and Pitt. The reason we won the game is because the skill players on offense and our kicker won it for us. In years past we lose this game because we would have relied on the defense to win it and they would not have stopped Pitt. Also, we would have lost in years past because Jerod Evans was not our QB. His play last night was about as good as it gets for a QB that had to win the game for us throwing the ball in a swirling wind with a bad ankle. Great win for the program but we still got a lot of room for improvement. It is more fun to work on improving when you are winning though.

    1. Tend to agree. I wonder what our record would be without Evans and Fuente? Ugly, but a good win. Defensive line pressure was a real disappointment for me. The Bye week really helped Pitt, and we overcame that. That’s a sign of a good team.

  16. It appears they’ve learned how to win a close contest now. Love to watch this team evolve. This was as much a contest of coaching as it was of playing. They played contain the QB a lot. They didn’t play the refs. Swapped players and strategy at will and won with offense with defense making plays when they had to. A complete game and effort in all facets while breaking a ton of records in the process including “the streak”. It wasn’t pretty but the better team found a way to win and do it with composure.

  17. Great win against a lot of odds. Refs were inconsistent all night. We witnessed numerous holding calls and the flags were not thrown against Pitt. The tv announcers also made note of this. The Heinz Field win finally a fact!

  18. Wondering if we’d botch a shotgun snap while running out the clock had me a nervous wreck! Good execution at a time when it was really needed.

  19. That was a nerve racking game to watch, but will take the W gladly. Six field goals, 4 of them below 30 yards and all of them below 40 yards. I was thinking to myself that if we had converted on at least 2 of them to TDs, this game wouldn’t even have been close. Pitt converted on all 5 of their long drives for TDs and an extra point to boot. It seemed like we were the better team, but could not execute well enough on O in the red zone and with the D on their big plays. But in any case hats off to the Hokies for staying focused and disciplined and most importantly taking care of the football. This was not an easy win!

  20. Last week someone posted that on his back juggling catch by Freeman, when he was with the Packers, that resulted in a TD. That one catch by Ford, w/o the TD, looked just like it. He is amazing.

  21. Good on Motley….stepped in and delivered twice without any hiccups. Even amidst the yo-yo “don’t know who is going in strategy game”. No mistakes and cool execution. This in my opinion was key to the victory.

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