Never let a past mistake define your future. That’s exactly what Virginia Tech quarterback Kyron Drones had to do in his first home start Saturday night against Pittsburgh.
Following the Panthers' second long touchdown of 60+ yards or more, Tech’s lead was chopped down 28-14 in the third quarter when Drones hit the turf hard from a Pitt sack, coughed up the football and saw the Panthers take it back to the end zone, cutting Tech's lead down further to 28-21.
When Drones trotted back to the sideline, Virginia Tech head coach Brent Pry was the first there to counsel the young signal caller.
“I told him this is what we talked about. You played so well and it’s just one play. Put that one behind you and let's get on to the next series,” Brent Pry said. “I felt the need to say it because I didn’t want him to worry about that play any longer. You need to move on.”
Two ensuing punts after the scoop and score, Drones righted a past wrong when he connected with the speedy Jaylin Lane for a 53-yard touchdown, ballooning Tech’s lead back to 14 points. Overall, the redshirt sophomore QB accounted for five total touchdowns to lead Virginia Tech to the emphatic 38-21 victory over Pittsburgh on a white out night inside Lane Stadium.
“The whole team was hungry, that was the sentiment all week. We were anxious to go play well and to play how we are capable. I think we are closer to that tonight.” Pry said.
The message was clear after the first few drives: the Hokies were there to establish a run game on offense. Tech doused Pitt’s defense with a heavy dose of Bhayshul Tuten and Kyron Drones. Tuten received 24 carries and garnered 109 yards on the ground, his 11th career game of over 100 rushing yards.
Drones carried the ball 21 times, rushing for 41 yards and two touchdown runs. Tech ran the ball 59 times vs Pittsburgh, the most by the Hokies since East Carolina in 2017 when Tech totaled 61 rushing attempts.
Tuten was the lead star of this rushing attack though with the NC A&T transfer loving the volume on the ground for him and Drones.
“I like to run between the tackles and I feel like I’m hard to bring down,” Bhayshul Tuten said. “He (Drones) can do the same. It’s extremely hard for teams to game plan for the both of us.”
The Hokies were able to strike a balance between a hard-nosed run game and opening up the offense in the passing game. Tech amassed 427 offensive yards: 228 came from Drones in the air and the other 199 came off the ground. Coming into the game, Tech’s longest pass play was a 44-yard pitch and catch from Grant Wells to Ali Jennings vs Old Dominion.
Saturday night saw the Hokies notch two plays longer than their prior season long. One was Lane’s 53-yard house call that served as the ultimate knockout punch. The other came from the first quarter, when Drones launched a laser down the left sideline for Da’Quan Felton who caught the deep ball for Tech’s first score of the night, going 54 yards on the play.
“We’ve been showing glimpses all season but tonight we put it all together. You give the playmakers the ball and see what they can do.” Kyron Drones said.
Not only was Tech’s offense humming all night, but the defense answered the bell in a big way. The Hokies front put an emphasis on stopping the Pitt run game, a feat they had not been able to accomplish in their previous three bouts with the Panthers. In the last three meetings, Pitt ran the ball down the Hokies' throats, averaging 229 yards on the ground in those contests.
The 2023 meeting between the Panthers and Hokies was a different story, with Tech halting Pitt’s offense to a measly 38 rushing yards. While Pittsburgh looked to set the tone early with a run game, the Hokies stifling front seven forced Pitt QB Phil Jurkovec to throw the ball at an uncomfortably higher rate as the game wore on.
“Coach (J.C.) Price had their rushing totals from last year and the year before written on the D-Line board all week,” DT Mario Kendricks said. “We knew they didn’t respect us so that was our main goal, to stop the run.”
The Hokies' brick wall on defense not only showed up when it came to stopping the run, but rushing the passer as well. Tech racked up four sacks, with five different Hokie defenders getting in on the action.
Highlight moments include Antwaun Powell-Ryland having a strip sack and recovery to put Tech’s offense in the red zone. Pheldarius Payne also got to Jurkovec on back-to-back plays and was rewarded with 1.5 sacks. Dorian Strong showed up strong in pass coverage, registering two pass breakups including one that saved a touchdown.
“Coming in we knew we had to be more physical than these guys,” Antwaun Powell-Ryland said. “There are no drop offs on our line, you can get your rest and catch your breath and having that depth helps a lot.”
Virginia Tech improves to 2-3 overall and starts off ACC play 1-0. The Hokies 38 points was the most scored in the Brent Pry era, giving them a big boost of confidence before the Hokies travel to Tallahassee to take on a top five ranked Florida State team.