PITTSBURGH – It took 55 minutes and eight seconds for Virginia Tech to find the endzone for its first and only touchdown against Pittsburgh Thursday night.
Because of that late Michael Brewer to Cam Phillips 19-yard connection, and despite an offensive output that ranged anywhere from nonexistent to anemic for much of the game, Brewer and the Hokies found themselves down by five points in a position to lead a last-minute, game-winning drive.
When Brewer’s last-ditch effort on 4th-and-11 ended with Phillips getting hit hard over the middle and the ball falling to the ground though, it became official: Tech’s early offensive struggles would not be eradicated by late-night heroics.
By a final score of 21-16, the Hokies fell to 4-3 on the year and 1-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Tech is 0-4 all-time at Heinz Field.
“I thought we came in here and we made a lot of plays,” head coach Frank Beamer said. “But we sure missed on a lot of plays.”
For the third-consecutive game, the Hokies were poised for another quick start.
On the opening possession of the game, Donovan Riley stripped Pittsburgh quarterback Chad Voytik, giving the Hokies the ball just shy of midfield. Three plays and six yards later, Tech was forced to punt.
At the end of the first quarter, Pittsburgh had seven points – on a 53-yard touchdown pass from Voytik to receiver Tyler Boyd – and the Hokies had seven yards of offense. The Hokies had more penalty yards on one holding call than offensive yards on the 10 plays they ran in the first quarter.
“They did some things new,” offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said. “We adjusted in the second half, which we thought there were some good decisions made at halftime. The fact of the matter is when you can’t run the ball and you’re not staying on the field on third down and penalties, those are killers. Extremely disappointed, I thought the kids had a great week of preparation, and the fact of the matter is we didn’t get it done at all.”
Greg Stroman’s 38-yard punt return five minutes into the second quarter gave the Hokies the ball on Pittsburgh’s 32 yard line. Tech’s offense, by now fully frustrating to Hokie fans, could not move the ball and settled for a 42-yard field from Joey Slye.
It was a similar story on Tech’s final drive of the first half.
Defensive tackle Corey Marshall feigned a pass rush before dropping back into coverage and intercepting a Chad Voytik pass attempt. The Hokies offense came on to the field trailing 14-3 after running back James Conner ran in from 15 yards out (following a J.C. Coleman fumble, on which the official missed a facemasking call), with the ball on Pittsburgh’s 39-yard line.
The Hokies got as close as the three yard line, but before executing a 3rd-and-goal play from the, a pair of back-to-back pre-snap penalties (delay of game and false start) backed them up to the 13 and Tech was forced to settle once more for just three points.
Beamer, Loeffler and Brewer all mentioned a discrepancy between the two on-field play clocks, which led to the delay of game penalty, they said.
“One of the play clocks was at zero and the other was at 12,” Brewer said. “So (the officials) didn’t reset one of the play clocks. You know you can’t leave it in the officials’ hands, but you’d like to have that one back. There is nothing we can do about them not resetting the play clock.”
“I could’ve did more,” Marshall said about his interception, which set up the possession. “The way I look at it is if as a player you walk off the field and you say ‘I could’ve did more,’ you have to put more in and you have to do more. A good return might be the difference in this game.”
The Hokies had 61 total yards in the first half, six of which came via running plays (on 10 attempts). Quarterback Michael Brewer, who was unable to settle into a rhythm all night, was 9-for-19 in the first half for 55 yards. He finished 26-for-45 for 265 yards and one touchdown.
“They crowded, they blitzed us,” Beamer said. “We just needed to throw the ball a little bit better, connect on a couple more that we had an opportunity to and it’s a different game.”
Brewer was forced to throw the ball 45 times as a result of a running game that couldn’t find its way. The Hokies ran the ball just 22 times for 26 yards, with Sam Rogers being the only back with more than one carry to average more than two yards per carry.
Statistically, the third quarter was better to the Hokies, as they accumulated 121 yards in that quarter. Still they were unable to find the end zone.
The Hokies’ only points in the third frame came on a 21-yard Slye field goal when the Panther defense held up on a 1st-and-goal situation.
The proverbial dagger came less than two minutes into the fourth quarter. Brewer, rolling out of the pocket, was unable to connect with intended receiver Willie Byrn on a fourth-and-two in Pittsburgh territory. Thirty-seven seconds later, the Panthers found paydirt.
On first down, Voytik kept the ball on a read option bootleg for 49 yards. The next play Conner broke arm flailing arm tackles and scored from 13 yards out.
Voytik ran for 140 of Pittsburgh’s 210 rushing yards in the game (while losing 22 yards on sacks and other runs), much of which came on read-option keepers. Conner had another 85 of them.
“I don’t know if it’s necessarily a tough matchup,” Marshall said referring to containing the quarterback run. “What it comes down to is fundamentals and tackling, we didn’t execute today. I think if we wrap that guy up and he doesn’t break several arm tackles, I mean this game is looking a lot different.”
Defensive end Dadi Nicolas blocked a field goal attempt with 7:24 left in the game, keeping the deficit at 12 (21-9). The Hokies then went on a nine play, 80-yard drive, elapsing two-and-a-half minutes of game clock.
The Hokies retook possession of the ball with 2:30 remaining in the game. Because they were forced to burn a pair of time outs in the third quarter however, they were forced to be in a exaggerated hurry up offense.
They were successful converting one first down, but a Nicholas Grigsby sack of Brewer put the Hokies behind the sticks and in a position from which they couldn’t recover.
“It’s very frustrating,” Marshall said, “Our season’s been like that, but it’s not just that. It’s compounding mistakes on the offensive end, sloppy things defensively that we know we can clean up that we know we are better than. When you beat yourself it’s worse than anything they could put up on that board.”
Game Notes, courtesy Virginia Tech Sports Information
• VT Captains: 8 Detrick Bonner, 41 Derek Di Nardo, 82 Willie Byrn, 88 Ryan Malleck
• Virginia Tech is now 0-4 all-time in Heinz Field. Tech lost 38-7 in 2001, 31-28 in 2003, 35-17 in 2012 and 21-16 tonight.
• The Hokies are now 12-24 under head coach Frank Beamer at current NFL stadiums. Prior to last year’s win at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, the Hokies had lost seven in a row at NFL stadiums.
• Virginia Tech wore maroon helmets, with white jerseys and white pants. Tech is now 55-36-1 all-time under head coach Frank Beamer wearing the maroon-white-white combination.
• Sam Rogers got the start at tailback for the Hokies, his first career start at the position. Derek Di Nardo started at the whip linebacker for his second start of the season.
• Nigel Williams recorded his second career sack in the second quarter. His other sack came against Alabama in last year’s season opener.
• Joey Slye’s field goal in the second quarter extended Tech’s school- and ACC-record scoring streak to 250 games, the 11th-longest streak in FBS history and the fifth-longest active streak.
• Slye’s field goal was 42 yards, tying his career long which he made against Georgia Tech earlier this season. He later made a 24-yarder to end the half and a 21-yarder in the third quarter to tie his career high for field goals made in a game.
• Defensive tackle Corey Marshall picked off Chad Voytik in the second quarter, the first interception of his career.
• Freshman Cam Phillips tied his career high for catches in a game with seven. He also had seven against East Carolina earlier this season. Phillips also hauled in his second touchdown pass of the season.
• The six points at halftime were a season low for the Hokies. The previous low was seven against East Carolina. The last time the Hokies failed to score a touchdown in the first half was last season against Duke. Tech trailed 6-0 at the break and lost 13-10 to the Blue Devils.
• Dadi Nicolas recorded Tech’s first blocked kick of the season when he tipped a field goal in the fourth quarter. It was the 132nd blocked kick under head coach Frank Beamer and the 40th field goal.
• Bucky Hodges had three catches to give him 20 on the season. He becomes the eighth tight end under head coach Frank Beamer to record 20 or more receptions in a season. The record for catches by a tight end under Beamer is 38 by Steve Johnson in 1987.
• Isaiah Ford had four more receptions to give him 32 for the season. The 32 catches are the most ever in a season for a true freshman under Beamer, surpassing Jarrett Boykin’s 30 in 2008. The record for catches by a freshman is 40 by Joshua Stanford, who had 40 last season as a redshirt freshman. Phillips also has 25 receptions, putting him within striking distance of Ford with five regular season games left.