I hope you watched Virginia Tech’s Thursday night road game at Pittsburgh. It was intense and that rivalry, which was fostered in the Big East, has now carried over to the ACC. It was so intense, that I was originally going to write a blog post solely about Pat Narduzzi complaining about the officiating in the game (but I decided for the better that I would not do that because I have a lot of respect for Pittsburgh).
If you recall, a couple weeks ago, I mentioned here that in order for Virginia Tech to show progress as a football program, the Hokies had to win at Pittsburgh. The Hokies had not won in Pittsburgh since 1999, but got it done (h/t @DavidTeelatDP):
Maybe Virginia Tech stumbles. Maybe the Hokies allow too many big plays, commit too many turnovers and lose one, or even more, of their remaining ACC games.
But I don’t think so. Not after Thursday’s 39-36 victory over Pittsburgh.
This wasn’t Tech’s most complete, impressive or dominant performance. But it was, by far, the most revealing.
Gashed for eight plays of more than 20 yards and snookered by misdirection, the defense made clutch stops. Unproductive in the red zone early, the offense gained a season-high 556 yards and found its mojo late. Playing in a stadium notorious for swirling wind, Joey Slye, a lifelong Pittsburgh Steelers fan, made 6 of 6 field-goal attempts.
The No. 25 Hokies claimed an early lead, fell behind and rallied. Quarterback Jerod Evans returned from a third-quarter sprained ankle and didn’t miss a beat. Defensive ends Ken Ekanem and Vinny Mihota played all night with upper-extremity injuries, or, as defensive coordinator Bud Foster said, “with one arm.”
And Teel knew the Pitt game would be a hard one for Virginia Tech (even though the Hokies were getting better):
With the Panthers in man-to-man, press coverage throughout, Ford, Hodges and Phillips became the first trio in program history with 100-plus receiving yards, combining for 22 catches and 397 yards. Often Evans’ best play was throwing a rainbow and trusting a receiver to make a play.
“It was a fade fest,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said of Tech’s attack.
How good is this offense? Well, the back-to-back 500-yard days against Miami and Pitt are the first by a Hokies team since the 1999 bunch quarterbacked by Michael Vick closed the season with three straight versus Temple, Boston College and Florida State.
“We knew it was going to be a 60-minute fistfight,” Foster said, “and it was.”
But a fistfight with style. The Hokies and Panthers didn’t throw just haymaker hooks in hopes of a knockout. They threw jabs. They countered and probed.
Even the coaches put on a show, the ever-stoic Fuente rarely unfolding his arms, while Narduzzi went volcanic on every flag, or lack thereof.
The moment the ACC released the 2016 schedule, this was the game I was most convinced Tech would lose. Not Tennessee, North Carolina or Notre Dame.
And not just because of the demons that seemingly invaded the Hokies’ locker room in each of their four previous visits here. Though after witnessing all of those defeats, I did wonder if those demons were, in fact, real.
But the primary reason was Pitt.
The Panthers went 6-2 in the ACC last season, second in the Coastal to North Carolina and two games clear of Virginia Tech. Moreover, Pitt returned 16 starters from that crew, plus Conner, the 2014 ACC Player of the Year, who missed last year battling cancer.
In short, the Panthers looked every bit the Coastal Division contender.
But as Pitt (5-3, 2-2 ACC) exits Thursday with scant chance of reaching the ACC championship game – the Panthers play at Miami and Clemson the next two weeks – the Hokies touched down at Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport early Friday morning as the clear Coastal front-runners.
Mission accomplished, although, I’m apprehensive about the victory lap here that my buddy, @TalkinACCSports, refers to here (maybe it’s me and my disappointment that I’ve seen over many years lol) and not thinking about the ACC title game yet – I’m only looking at the next game vs. Duke.
This Virginia Tech – Pittsburgh game is a big rivalry now – I think I’d put it in the top five rivalries that the Hokies have now (Virginia, North Carolina, Miami, Georgia Tech).
I like that there is low-key a lot of salt between teams you wouldn’t expect in the Coastal
— Lauren Brownlow (@lebrownlow) October 28, 2016
Get it, salt, Coastal
— Lauren Brownlow (@lebrownlow) October 28, 2016
Last night, both the Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh fanbases were complaining about the officials:
Virginia Tech and Pitt fans equally complaining about the first half officiating.
— Jeff or Jeffrey Fann (@TalkinACCSports) October 28, 2016
Even Pittsburgh Head Football Coach, Pat Narduzzi, had to get a few digs in:
Pat Narduzzi on VT WRs: “They did a great job pushing off all night. Give them credit for that.”
— Chris Peak (@PantherLair) October 28, 2016
Some people, however, did think that Narduzzi went too far:
Narduzzi needs to settle down a little. He used to go off lnow and again when he was DC. But it’s not a great look for an HC.
— Ralph D. Russo (@ralphDrussoAP) October 28, 2016
However, Virginia Tech fans certainly respect Pittsburgh:
— Gary Reinhardt (@garyreinhardt) October 28, 2016
This series is now a rivalry – and a game that both teams will circle on that calendar. The passion is back for ACC football – I love it.