Pitt had their best defensive effort of the season. Their offense, unfortunately, came out with its worst performance of the year, as the Panthers suffered a 19-9 loss to No. 24 Virginia Tech.
"I thought we didn't make enough plays today," head coach Paul Chryst said afterward. "I give Virginia Tech credit. There are times in a game where you have to make plays. We've got to get better. We've got to come back from it."
Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas completed 19-of-34 passes for 239 yards and a touchdown.
Not helping in the cause, the offensive line allowed eight sacks. Pitt's running game didn't help much--26 carries on 23 yards. Penalties at key points of the game also contributed.
Virginia Tech got on the board first, after forcing the Panthers to go three-and-out on its opening series. Thomas hit tight end Kalvin Cline for a 27-yard touchdown pass. Linebacker Anthony Gonzalez reacted late in coverage.
It capped an eight-play, 71-yard drive. Missed tackles plagued the Panthers on this opening drive, as did coverage assignments on the touchdown pass.
Virginia Tech jumped out to a 10-0 lead after a 48-yard field goal from Cody Journell. Pitt stepped up with a couple of big defensive plays on this series, including Todd Thomas making a great break on Logan Thomas, stopping on for a short loss on a second down at the Pitt 29. Thomas then combined with Gonzalez on third down, to stop Trey Edmunds for a loss.
The play that helped Virginia Tech out the most on that series was a personal foul penalty called against Lafayette Pitts. Pitts tackled receiver Willie Byrn, after a gain of four on a third down and seven. Pitts held on to force him out of bounds, and a late flag was thrown. Instead of bringing on the punt team at their own 44, Virginia Tech was given a first-and-ten at the Pitt 37. A difference of 19 yards in the Hokies' favor, and a first down.
Virginia Tech led 10-0 after one quarter, outgaining the Panthers 104-19.
"Virginia Tech made some big plays behind the line," Chryst said. "On the flip side, there are things we need to look at and correct, but you also have to give them credit."
On its third series of the game, Pitt did get some momentum. After a 10-yard punt return from Kevin Weatherspoon, Savage connected with Manasseh Garner for a 10-yard play. A little over 16 minutes in to the game, Pitt had its first, first down of the game.
Savage later found Weatherspoon over the middle for a gain of 20, and Pitt eventually crossed midfield for the first time of the game. Unfortunately, they got as far as the Virginia Tech 45. The Panthers were forced to punt, giving the ball back to the Hokies with 10:48 left in the second quarter.
Virginia Tech had a good drive going. Especially after Pitt declined a holding penalty. Instead of taking a 3rd-and-7, maybe getting off the field sooner, Pitt declined the penalty, giving the Hokies a 2nd-and-17 at their own 26. Thomas completed passes of 15 and 17, to Joshua Stanford and Cline, respectively. Virginia Tech now had a 1st-and-10 at the Pitt 44.
The Pitt defensive line stepped up. Donald came through with two hurries on Thomas, including a knockdown. His presence rushed Thomas into throwing an incompletion, then forcing him outside the pocket for a short run. On third down, Bryan Murphy sacked Thomas, forcing the Hokies to punt.
"Upperclassmen stepping up and making plays," Donald said. "That's what we have to do."
Pitt had one last shot at it in the first half, taking over at their own 27 with 1:22 left in the half. Isaac Bennett rain for a gain of 12 on a draw. Facing a 3rd-and-10, Savage hit Devin Street for a gain of 48 yards. That took Pitt to the Virginia Tech 22. Unfortunately, Pitt's offensive line didn't have answers for Virginia Tech's defensive line. Two consecutive sacks pushed Pitt back to the 30. The Panthers settled for a 47-yard field goal. Not he touchdown they wanted, but combined with a good defensive effort, Pitt was in it down 10-3 at halftime.
Virginia Tech took a 13-3 lead on a 37-yard field goal from Cody Journell. The Hokies took the opening drive 69 yards on 11 plays. Pitt's defense looked good on nine of those plays--which included a sack by Aaron Donald, and a hurry by Jason Hendricks on a 3rd-and-10 at the Pitt 19 that forced the field goal attempt.
While they came up with a stop on that last third down attempt, they did not stop Virginia Tech on the previous two third down attempts. Thomas connected with Demitri Knowles for completions of 40 and 18 yards, converting third downs--58 yards on two third down plays out of a total 69 yards gained on the drive.
Journell added a 42-yarder, with 3:36 left in the third. Despite allowing Virginia Tech to convert 4-6 third downs in the third quarter, while the Hokies gained 80 of its 139 third quarter yards on those four attempts, Pitt only trailed 16-3.
Even more telling, the fact that Pitt managed 6 yards in the third quarter, running onl six plays, Pitt going three-and-out on both of its third quarter drives. Virginia Tech ran 25 plays for a total of 139 yards, eating up 12:14 of clock. Pitt ran its six plays for a total of six yards, and just 2:36 of possession. At this point of the game, and even starting its third series of the half in its own territory, the Pitt defense had every reason to be worn down.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Journell missed a 33-yard field goal attempt. Pitt still trailed 16-3, with 14:30 left.
"He's been back and very steady," Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer said. "That miss was a pretty bad one, but he bounced back to make another one, so he played very well."
Pitt looked like it was on track for a nice drive, following the missed field goal. Bennett ran for 10 on a draw, and Savage connected with Manasseh Garner for a gain of ten. Once again, the drive imploded. Savage was sacked twice, and Pitt was penalized for an illegal block below the waist. Pitt gained 38 yards. However, thanks to a penalty, two sacks and another busted play on a short pass, the Panthers lost 29 on the drive.
Pitt punted the ball back to Virginia Tech, after gaining nine yards on eight plays.
Virginia Tech tacked on one more Journell field goal with 3:27 left, giving them the 19-3 lead.
Todd Thomas led the defense with 12 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for losses. Aaron Donald added two more sacks to his total along with five other solo stops. Donald moved into fourth place on Pitt's all-time sack list, with 26.5, tied with former Panthers Keith Hamilton and Zeke Gadson.
But despite individual marks, both Donald and Thomas agree--there is improvement on the defense, but it's still not a win.
"Both sides of the ball, we did good things, we just need to learn from it," Donald added. "We just have to make more plays to win games."
"At the end of the day, as a team, we lost," Thomas said. "We just have to come back and execute, do what we do until we come out with the win."
With roughly three and half minutes left, seven-play drive that went 75 yards. Savage took it in on a nine-yard touchdown run, but Pitt did non convert the two-point attempt.
Savage, forced to scramble much of the day anyway, was asked if the play was by design.
"Yeah," Savage said. "There are not much (designed running plays for him in there play book)."