Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
The Hokies trip to Pittsburgh was disastrous, as they fell to the Panthers 40-14 – a performance eerily reminiscent of Tech’s trip to the Steel City in 2018 where they lost 52-22.
It started poorly, but the Hokies kept the game within reach early after coming up with consecutive stops in the red zone and Hookier connected with Tre Turner for a 55-yard touchdown early in the second quarter. However, it quickly fell apart after that with Pittsburgh scoring on six of their next seven drives tallying 556 yards of offense. Quarterback Kenny Pickett had his way finding open receivers all over the field against the Hokies’ soft zone defense. Receivers rarely had to face press man coverage and it objectively did not work. DJ Turner had eleven first half receptions working underneath the zone, and ended with fifteen receptions for 184 yards and a touchdown.
The most notable defensive issue was the tackling. Usually a defense is fine with the quarterback taking short completions, but that is predicated on getting ball carriers to the ground. The Hokies did not successfully execute that, as Pittsburgh’s receivers met little resistance in gaining yards after the catch, bouncing off weak tackle attempts and running by defenders. Pittsburgh came into today averaging 27.6 points per game and they easily put up 47 as Kenny Pickett threw for 404 yards against an overmatched secondary.
Meanwhile, the Hokies struggled running a mostly predictable offense against the speedy Pittsburgh defense and it was not successful, mustering only 14 points. The inability to run the ball for chunk plays put the coaching staff’s inability to scheme yards in the downfield passing game consistently in the spotlight. Three failed conversions on designed quarterback runs was symbolic of this team’s tendency to run into – in tonight’s case, literal - brick walls in terms of play call predictability and design.
Despite gaining less than one yard per carry in the first half, they Hokies did not dial up a schemed deep shot until the second quarter and it was wildly successful. The staff is capable and shows flashes of play design brilliance, such as the screen to Khalil Herbert in the second half but flashes and consistency happen to be the difference between wins and losses. It has certainly been the case for this team over the last three seasons.
Hooker finished the game with 260 yards on 22 attempts, but was under pressure for the majority of the game and struggled when dealing with a muddy pocket. Running back Khalil Herbert had an empty 74 yards on 9 carries, but he looked good when given the opportunity to get in space. Tre Turner led the team with 74 receiving yards and caught the team’s only two touchdowns.
Simply put, the Hokies were outmanned, even though Pittsburgh was missing sixteen players to Covid-19. They were outcoached, despite this being the fifth year in the same, stale, ineffective offense with a full complement of weapons aside from Christian Darrisaw. The effort, discipline, and juice that was the brand of Virginia Tech has regressed into the absolute antithesis of that. It is a total indictment on the leaders of the team and it remains to be seen what will be done to change that.