Fans, last Thursday night was a mixture of highs and lows. However, in true Hokie fashion, the boys from Blacksburg got the win despite giving many fans a mild heart attack in the process. Pittsburgh is always a tough win to get. For some reason, the Panthers seem to have the Hokies’ number, and always make it a very close game.
This game was no different as the Hokies managed to squeak out a 39-36 in a stadium they had never won in. The game was if anything, very entertaining and at times tough to watch because of some atrocious calls, but we will get to that later. In a game like this, there was plenty of good moments, and some very bad ones as well.
Where do I start; well first it could be the passing attack of the Hokies. Now, I know that Pittsburgh defensive secondary is not the caliber that Coach Pat Narduzzi likes to have as his Michigan State team’s corner backs were some of the best in the country when he was the defensive coordinator there. However, that is not the case with his new team.
The Hokies were able to take advantage of these young corners to the tune of 406 yards. Jerod Evans was 24-of-40 while amassing all these passing numbers. The most impressive stat in my humble opinion was the top three Hokie receivers each had over 100 yards receiving.
Bucky Hodges led the way with 145 yards closely followed by record setter Isaiah Ford. Ford had 143 yards receiving and a record-setting touchdown catch. Cam Phillips rounded things out nicely with 109 yards. The only bad thing about the passing game was it was all on three receivers to make plays in the passing game.
The fade was the weapon of choice for Evans as time and time again, the Hokies exploited one-on-one matchups on the outside. It seemed like Evans had the ultimate trust in his top receivers by just throwing the ball up and letting Hodges and Ford make plays. More times than not, the Hokies used these back shoulder throws,and adjustments to under thrown balls to chew up giant chunks of yardage.
These one-on-one matchups have been available to the Hokies nearly all season long. The Hokies’ top two receivers are extreme mismatches for most defenses in the ACC. It was good to see the Hokies take real advantage of these mismatches on Thursday night.
The other great part of the game would have to be the kicking of Joey Slye. Slye not only hit six field goals, but his kickoffs really handicapped the vaunted Pittsburgh return game. Don’t get me wrong, making six field goals was impressive, but just think about how big a weapon he was in the kickoff game.
Quadree Henderson is a very dangerous weapon for the Panthers, Slye was able to help quell any momentum Henderson could have created with a big return. Slye even made a kickoff through the uprights which from roughly 75 yards is quite impressive. The Hokies definitely have a huge weapon with Slye, which could prove very handy as the season comes to a close.
Now in a win sometimes there is quite a bit of bad. First, I will say that when Jerod Evans went down with an ankle injury, my heart quickly jumped to the back of my throat. Evans is a huge part of what the Hokeis want to do on offense. If he was to go down, it would possibly derail a great season under first year head coach Justin Fuente.
Now, I’m not saying Brenden Motley is not capable of leading this team, (he showed he has improved greatly as a passer since when he came in) but there is something to be said for getting the first team reps every day. Evans will need to heal up,and be prepared for the stretch run towards an ACC Championship game. Blowouts could very quickly become a Hokie fans best friend in order to get Evans even more rest.
Another bad part was once again the run game. The Hokies really didn’t need to run the ball with all the success in the passing game. However, it is very discouraging when you have to bring your backup quarterback into the game just to run out the clock, because he is your most effective runner. Many times, it seemed like the Hokies were running into a brick wall of defenders.
The Pitt defensive front is nothing to scoff at as they are almost as stingy as the Hokies are against the run. I blame a lot of the trouble running the ball in the game on the playcalling. After you run into a brick wall over and over, you might want to try a pass to loosen up the front seven. If the Hokies want to try to take some pressure off a wounded quarterback, a strong running game is a must.
Once again, I hate saying the referees cause any bearing on the outcome of any game. That being said folks, I have no idea what pass interference is anymore. This game, it seemed the officials didn’t really know what it was either. If you watched the game, the Pittsburgh sideline would have you believe nothing they did was interference, and the Hokies were draped all over their receivers like wet blankets.
I’m not saying the Hokies never committed a penalty that wasn’t called in this game, but the Panthers were just as guilty. Consistency is all most coaches ask for. Call it both ways so meltdowns like what occurred on the Pitt sideline won’t happen. I just cannot imagine what Pat Narduzzi was seeing that made him think his secondary was not grabbing and holding receivers. In many occasions, both Ford and Hodges were pretty much tackled with no call to be found. It’s pretty bad when the broadcasters are pointing out the blatant missed calls.
The only other ugly part is another part I really don’t want to touch on. The Hokies had no answer for James Conner on Thursday night. I understand he and Dalvin Cook from FSU are 1 and 1a when it comes to tailbacks in the ACC, but come on guys, wrap up and gang tackle. Conner finished with 141 yards and three scores. That’s insane to give up as a defense as talented as the Hokies.
There were many times I almost felt really bad rooting for him to not get the yards he needed. His story is one of the better ones in the nation. The fact remains in the upcoming games, the tackling of the running back needs to be better for the Hokies.
There is no doubt the Hokies will most likely be favored in all of their last four games. However, the mental toughness needs to remain so they can finish strong and get back to the ACC Championship. First step is a Duke team that has proven to be pesky over the years and would love nothing better than to derail this winning train leaving from Blacksburg. I look for the Hokie Nation to travel to Duke and create another home-field advantage away from home. One game at a time fans, and as always LETS GO HOKIES.
Stay up with The Tech Lunch Pail for the latest on the Hokies via Twitter and Facebook plus sign up for our email updates.