Heinz Field was built in 2001. Virginia Tech had not won a football game in that stadium...
The Hokies overcame several offensive miscues, and absorbed a huge game from James Conner plus a late-game comeback to pull out a crucial victory over Pittsburgh on Thursday night, 39-36. With this victory, the Hokies are firmly in the drivers seat for the Coastal Division and are bowl eligible for the 24th straight year.
The Hokies were led by Joey Slye with an ACC record-tying six field goals and Jerod Evans, who threw for 406 yards and 2 touchdowns. Additionally, THREE Hokie wide receivers went over 100 yards receiving. Isaiah Ford had 143 yards and one touchdown, Bucky Hodges went for 145 yards, and even Cam Phillips joined the party with 109 yards.
The story of this game early was missed opportunities for the Hokies. Throughout the game, Joey Slye had five field goals of 31 yards or less. That means the Hokies stalled within the 14 yard line or closer 5 times. Had Virginia Tech converted just 3 of those 5 opportunities into touchdowns, we would be looking at 60 or so points for this offense.
To further drive home this point, the Hokies had nine scoring drives compared to just 5 for the Panthers. Take away the garbage time touchdown for Pittsburgh, and that difference gets even larger.
The game started well for the Bud Foster defense, forcing two turnovers in the first three plays that Pittsburgh ran. However, neither of those could be converted and Virginia Tech held a 6-0 lead going into the 2nd quarter. Virginia Tech responded well to a Pittsburgh touchdown drive with a touchdown of their own -- Jerod Evans throwing to Chris Cunningham for the 3rd connection of the year between those two. However, Pitt responded with a touchdown to close the 1st and open the 2nd half, and took their first and only lead of the game.
The main positive takes that come from this game was the ability for the Hokies to fight back from adversity. Before this game, there hadn't been a real back-and-forth game for this Hokies team. It has been blowout after blowout -- either for good or bad. This game gave us our first true look at the grit this Hokies' team has and its ability to fight back.
This game was also record-breaking in a couple different ways. Joey Slye tied the ACC record for most made field goals in a game (6), and Isaiah Ford set the Virginia Tech record for career touchdown catches with 23. He passes another Hokie great, Antonio Freeman. It's tough to see Isaiah Ford returning to Virginia Tech for his senior year, but it would be great to see.
Some negative takeaways from this game include the inability to stop a great running back and the injury to Jerod Evans. Going into the game, everyone knew about James Conner, but he was able to run rampant all over the vaunted Bud Foster defense. Whether this was a breakdown on the defensive side, or just the great offensive line for the Panthers -- it worked. If Virginia Tech wants to continue to contend for the Coastal and possibly an ACC Championship, they're going to have to stiffen up on defense a little bit more.
Jerod Evans went down with an ankle injury halfway into the third quarter and Brenden Motley filled in for a drive while Evans got his ankle retaped. Motley led a drive that resulted in a field goal, and did his job as a backup. What is more concerning is whether Evans can be ready to go for the next game against Duke. Luckily, the Hokies will have a couple more days off because of this being a Thursday night game and the Duke game being next Saturday. Evans appeared to be moving ok during the game once he came in, but that might have just been adrenaline and a good tape job. We'll hear more in the next couple days.
Virginia Tech needed to make a statement tonight and that is exactly what they did. They got rid of the Heinz Field demons, took control of the Coastal, and proved they could be a high-powered offense even when faced with adversity. Now the attention turns to Duke and practically clinching the Coastal division.
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