I watched this game on delay late night and completely avoided any and all commentary ahead of time. As such, forgive me if you've already heard these points beaten to death but here are my thoughts on Tech's 45-29 loss to the Pitt Panthers.
Special Teams Disaster
Virginia Tech struggled with protections and snaps on both the punt and field goal teams. It cost them a blocked kick in both phases with Peter Moore having a nightmare day. Tech's standout punter had multiple uncharacteristic misfires and he wasn't the only one. Kicker William Ross finally had his first missed field goal at the worst possible time in the fourth quarter.
Jaden Blue struggled to field punts without immediately downing himself on one knee. It would be great to get him the ball there but it just doesn't seem to be a natural fit for him.
Kicking has been a bright spot, but overall execution on special teams has been a problem all season long. This comes on a day when the Hokies finally blocked a punt and hopped on the ball in the end zone. It was exactly the kind of big special teams play Tech fans expect, but it kind of gets lost in the array of other errors by these units. It remains a work in progress.
This has been a season-long issue for the Hokies but it was glaring Saturday. Tech had multiple successful drives that yielded nothing in the first half, including the final drive of the first half when Brent Pry did a nice job of managing the clock in the final minutes. The real back-breaker came midway through the fourth when the Hokied drove to Pitt's 20 and came away with a missed field goal for their efforts.
Tech's execution —or lack thereof— in the red zone is a glaring issue. Some of that is on Grant Wells and his somewhat unpredictable accuracy, some can be pinned on other players failing to execute. Whether that's missed block or penalties varies, but the results remain the same.
Finally, A Running Back Tandem
The return of Malachi Thomas is an incredible boost to the offense. I think everyone knew he was a massive missing piece to the offense, but the difference was massive. Thomas scored a touchdown on his first carry of the season and kept that success rolling to 84 yards on 15 carries. His ability to thrive in traffic is huge for an offense that has struggled to open big holes for the backs.
Thomas should be able to take some pressure off of Keshawn King who brings a different dynamic to things. King needs to get more than five carries as he did Saturday, but that's largely because Tech threw the ball 47 times.
A Mixed Bag on Defense
The Tech defense was incredibly active behind the line of scrimmage against Pitt. Looking down the list of defenders it's remarkable how many players had at least a partial tackle for loss, plus there were six quarterback hurries and a sack. The defensive line tracked down stud running back Israel Abanikanda many times for loss. The only problem was all of the other plays where the Hokies were gashed were long gains.
It's a little baffling to be excited about the defense on a day when they gave up 496 yards and 45 points, but it really felt like a better effort almost entirely across the board.
Ultimately, it really feels like there's a lot to be encouraged about this performance. The offense which has looked miserable finally found plenty of the explosive plays Brent Pry has been looking for. Kaleb Smith has become old reliable, despite a tough fumble on a good, clean hit in the fourth quarter. Those things happen. The defense could stand to limit the big plays, but again, that happens when you're an aggressive attacking unit.
Pittsburgh is a good team and like many others, I predicted a complete rout in this match up. That Tech got the ball back trailing 31-29 with 12 minutes remaining is tremendous progress. What followed shows there's still a long way to go.
But we saw major signs of getting better. If the Hokies can keep pushing forward like that there are still lots of winnable games on the schedule. It's an interesting spot to be in and while there will be more pain, there's some sunlight on the horizon too.
My Dad graduated from Tech in 1981 and I’ve been attending Virginia Tech sporting events since I first moved to Blacksburg in 1988. I myself graduated in 2008 with a Communication degree. During my time as a student I was the Sports Director for WUVT and helped establish and run Planet Blacksburg, an independent student-run news website. I’ve since written for numerous publications including SBNation, Inside The ACC, and Sports Illustrated's AllHokies. Currently, I host The Justin Cates Show in addition to other contributions here at Sons of Saturday and various other sites as the need arises. I now live in a fortified compound in upstate New York with my wife and numerous animals. The smell of popcorn makes me think of Cassell.