Israel Abanikanda, Pitt Run Past Virginia Tech, 45-29

Israel Abanikanda and Pitt rolled past Virginia Tech on Saturday. (Ivan Morozov)

Saturday afternoon in the Steel City was the Israel Abanikanda show. Pitt’s junior running back broke and tied numerous records with his 320 rushing yards and six touchdowns in the Panthers’ 45-29 win over Virginia Tech.

He set a new school record, breaking the previous mark set by Tony Dorsett. Abanikanda broke the all-time record against the Hokies for most rushing yards in a single game, surpassing North Carolina’s Giovanni Bernard. And he matched Willis McGahee’s six-touchdown record set in 2002.

“That’s who they are,” Tech head coach Brent Pry said of Pitt after the loss. “They want to run the football and we know that. … We’ve got to tackle better. At times, we slip into this grab mode. It just doesn’t work against good backs. You’ve got to get your pads down, you’ve got to finish and get body-on-body.

“I think more than anyone we’ve played, they’re committed to running the football. … There are some fundamental things to run defense that we didn’t do very well today.”

It didn’t matter that Virginia Tech (2-4, 1-2 ACC) had its best offensive performance of the season, though it was a positive sight. For the first time in 2022, it was the defense that had the short end of the stick.

Grant Wells and the offense moved the ball down the field for much of the game. However, the Hokies punted five times in six drives between the second and third quarters, during which Pitt (4-2, 1-1 ACC) scored 24 unanswered. But on the whole, the offensive group was better.

Grant Wells and Virginia Tech were better offensively, but it wasn’t enough. (Ivan Morozov)

Wells completed 25 of his 47 passes for 277 yards and a touchdown and had a stretch in the first half where he was 9-of-11. Kaleb Smith was all over the place, catching nine passes for 152 yards — two career-highs. And with Malachi Thomas a full-go, the unit totaled 403 yards on 77 plays (5.2 avg).

They had five plays of 20-plus yards, too. Call it “explosive” or use different terminology, but for a team that had just 16 entering Saturday — eight had come from Smith and Keshawn King — it was a welcomed sign.

In Pittsburgh, Smith caught passes for 28, 30 and 37 yards. Da’Wain Lofton added a 43-yard score while Thomas broke off a 29-yard run on a third-and-10.

“I think against a good defense, we played our best game offensively,” Pry said. “I think Malachi, we’ve got to continue to get him greased up. He got 15 carries. He looked pretty good, shaking off some rust. And I liked Grant playing his most confident game. Kaleb, you can’t ask him to do anything more.

“It was good to see us move the ball and compete and keep us in the game. That needed to happen. And I think that’s a closer look at who we can be offensively.”

However, when it looked like Pitt would pull away, Virginia Tech kept it close. After Abanikanda’s third and fourth touchdowns in the third quarter, the Panthers’ lead stretched to two scores, 31-16. Then the pendulum of momentum swung the other way.

Da’Wain Lofton pulled in a 43-yard catch late in the game. (Ivan Morozov)

On a three-play, 65-yard drive, Wells hit true freshman Dae’Quan Wright twice (two of his five catches) before his bomb to Lofton, which he put in a place only the sophomore could get it. Wells said he scanned the field, saw Smith was double covered and shifted to Lofton, who he trusted to make the play in a one-on-one matchup.

That pulled Tech within a score before special teams showed up. After the defense forced a three-and-out — Salem High School alum Jayden McDonald recorded the first VT sack since West Virginia — Radford native P.J. Prioleau got off the edge and blocked a punt. Nyke Johnson fell on in the end zone for the touchdown, the first blocked punt since Virginia in November 2018.

That was the second non-offensive big play of the game after Keonta Jenkins picked off Pitt in the second quarter. And all of a sudden, it was Pitt 31, Virginia Tech 29 in less than three minutes.

“Credit to Coach Holt, P.J. Prioleau, a guy that’s on that scout team, that developmental squad every day,” Pry said. “We gave him an opportunity to start on that unit because of the work he does on scout team. Lo and behold, a guy who just keeps embracing his role, earns an opportunity and takes advantage of it. That was a game-changing play.”

Yet, the Panthers never relinquished the lead. After they went three-and-out once more, defensive lineman John Morgan III forced Smith to fumble in Tech territory after a 10-yard gain. Dagger.

Israel Abanikanda was unstoppable for Pitt. (Ivan Morozov)

Two plays later, Abanikanda raced into the end zone from 10 yards out. And after Hokies kicker Will Ross missed his first field goal of the season from 36 yards — he was previously perfect on eight attempts — it took Abanikanda one play to seal the victory. First play of the drive, 80 yards, untouched.

“He’s got breakaway speed,” Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said afterwards. “If he pops through there, good luck to you. There’s not many guys that can catch him.”

In the big picture, Virginia Tech had numerous issues on Saturday, despite the offense giving the team somewhat of a fighting chance to win. It started with eight penalties for 74 yards.

On the second offensive series, left guard Jesse Hanson was called for a false start on fourth-and-one at the Pitt 29. That forced the Hokies to settle for a field goal. But a delay of game moved them back five more yards. A previously promising drive was wasted.

A similar situation occurred right before halftime, too. On first-and-ten at the Pitt 23, right tackle Parker Clements was flagged for a facemask. That bumped the Hokies to the edge of Ross’s field goal range before Wells was sacked for a loss of 11. Instead of a field goal try, the half ended in a Wells heave from midfield.

“Upsetting,” Pry said of the facemask penalty. “I think we were better. I think the guys are trying to eliminate penalties, I think they’re more mindful of it, but again, there were a couple of costly ones today.”

Brent Pry and the Hokies shot themselves in the foot multiple times. (Ivan Morozov)

Tech had some special team gaffes, too. Peter Moore had one punt blocked and averaged just 33 yards on eight attempts while Jadan Blue returned punts for the first time in 2022 and muffed one (though he was ruled down). Ross had an extra point attempt blocked, too.

In the end, though, it was Abanikanda’s night. Tech was without defensive end TyJuan Garbutt — he had a nagging injury and the staff decided to rest him — and cornerback Dorian Strong, who is dealing with a hand injury.

Pitt quarterback Kedon Slovis didn’t put on a show — he didn’t need to — but he hit on 15 of his 28 passes for 170 yards. The Panthers were also fabulous on first down: 32 attempts for 346 yards (10.8 avg). For comparison, Tech had 32 plays for 114 yards (3.6 avg).

Overall, no one could stop Israel Abanikanda. And while the Hokies seeing life out of their offense was a positive, they’ve yet to couple a solid performance together in all phases of the game. Back against the wall, maybe next Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. homecoming game vs. Miami is that chance.

“That’s the closest we’ve come to complementary ball, which we hope to do,” Pry said. “To give us a chance to win a game on the road against a good ACC opponent. We’re in it deep into the fourth quarter. We’ve got good opportunities. There were ebbs and flows to the game.

“Momentum kept shifting, we hung in there, we battled, we clawed back in it. We just didn’t do enough things well enough to win the game in the end. There were some good things, but against a good football team at their place, we’ve got to play better.”

Box Score: Link 

27 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Pry needs to learn game time management. Cost us points in every game so far. Hope he is making players run stadium stairs for these stupid penalties

    1. Even one of the announcers noticed him giving the Moore (?) grief after the delay of game on the FG attempt and said why didn’t he (Pry) just call the timeout then?

  2. I believe there is enough talent, right now, on this team to beat any team outside the usual top prgrams. However, Tech needs to continue to improve on Focused Execution. Every play. Every moment. Never accept defeat. When I was much younger I read a biography about Jerry Kramer, guard for the great Packers teams in the late sixties and seventies. He said they never lost a football game, but sometimes they just ran out of time. Defeat is never accepted. My VT pep talk. Go Hokies, Always!

      1. Maybe that’s the book. I remember a picture on the cover, or maybe inside, of him pulling on a sweep.

  3. It appeared that several of our defensive players DID NOT want to engage with 2 … not all of them, but some of them. Am I alone in this assessment?

  4. As embarrassing as the Hokies performance was, the most embarrassing thing of the day was the Pitt fans that booed their team for running the ball twice in a row and getting stuffed in the third quarter when VT actually had some momentum. The guy ran for 320 yards and 6 touchdowns and they were booing the playcalls to hand it to him more?!!? Perhaps they were just spoiled from seeing him getting 10 yards a clip.

    As for the Hokies, this is just a bad team that does a lot of things poorly and only a few things well (I guess we can remove punting from that list), so over the course of a full game, the odds are that the bad will outweigh the good most of the time, even if the details change from game to game. Tough to watch.

  5. Many plays hurt us by penalties on Hansen and Clement cost us possibly ten points plus key missed tackles by Strohman when we would have gotten ball back up 16-7 and Nelson were killers. Special teams today an F with exception of blocked punt thanks to their punter dropping ball. Pry showing major inexperience

  6. #1 – Moore is short legging his kicks. It appears that he is uncomfortable with the formation that lets a couple of rushers run free to the wall.

    #2 – Not sure how the OL can have these false starts each game. Especially when there is no crowd noise at Pitt.

    #3 – Can’t teach speed.

    #4 – Wells had a good day. But – would’ve been better if he had thrown some passes with a little bit of a touch.

    #5 – NO excuse for a delay of game on a FG attempt. Appeared to be confusion as whether it was going to be a FG or a punt. No matter – somebody wasn’t watching the clock.

    #6 – First VT ACCN game I got to watch. Interesting how I can’t subscribe to the ACCN on Comcast – but I can get the games, etc.

    1. Responding to Mr.67 point-by-point:
      #1 – Spot on. Moore is uncomfortable and showing it by rushing his routine and abandoning proper mechanics. Changing the formation may help but right now the issue resides in Moore’s head.
      #2 – The false starts are indicators of undisciplined play and these habits are not being addressed properly or not being taken seriously. I know how my boss would react to me making the same mistakes day in and day out.
      #3 – No, you can’t teach speed but you can teach proper tackling techniques and pursuit angles.
      #4 – Wells is still a work in progress. I see glimmers of hope that are followed with head scratching plays. Not having good support from O-line, an inexperienced receiving corps and lack of creative play calling will delay his development. Hopefully he can overcome this and eliminate the need to do it all.
      #5 – The coaching staff is showing their lack of awareness. Everybody is trying to focus on different aspects while nobody is paying attention to the little things. In the heat of the battle there are no generals.
      #6 – You haven’t missed anything.

      1. #4 – 25 for 47 passing and 5.9 yards per completion – ugh
        I tracked 28 passes between the yard numbers and sidelines and 8 passes down the middle of the field. The passing game needs to attack the middle more to give receivers room to run.

  7. I used to call this team the Chokies, now they are the Jokies. Way to go Wit, what a disaster!

    1. If you can’t even spell his name correctly, you shouldn’t invoke his name. (Whit).
      I’m sure you believe it’s Fu’s fault too.

      1. Ahem, maybe jpfor misspelled Mr. Babcock’s first name on purpose in a disparaging way, like, uh, short for Nitwit? That was my take. And why do you have to bring Fu’s name into it? Geez already.

      1. Exactly, Hokie Sean. W-h-i-t is NOT the problem. If this team still looks like this 3 years down the road, it’s Whit’s to own then. Until then, wish the dolts could grasp what a *rebuild* entails.

  8. I believe you’ve summarized the day pretty well. It was nice to see a running game emerge, I wasn’t sure there was one this year. Hope it continues and if it does it will help the passing game too. I guess the only thing I disagree about is that we are possibly close to bringing things together. There’s too much to fix for that to happen anytime soon. We can always hope though.

  9. Punting needs some serious attention. Oh yeah, and play clock awareness. Delay of game penalty AGAIN.

    1. Yep. Punting was an absolute trainwreck and that delay of game penalty was inexcusable.

      Pry either needs to assign clock-watching to a staff member or realize he needs to look up from scribbling in his notebook long enough to see the clock ticking down so he can call a TO if needed. Situational awareness.

  10. I saw some sparks today that gave me brief glimmers of hope. And I thought the team competed well for most of the game. But the uneven play and mistakes by all 3 VT units simply was not enough. I wouldn’t expect us to allow 320 yards and 6 TD’s to Barry Sanders, fer goodness sake.

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