Defensive coordinator Bud Foster couldn’t have drawn it up any better even if he tried.
In Virginia Tech’s (8-3, 5-2 ACC) 28-0 shutout of the Pittsburgh Panthers (7-4, 8-3 ACC), the team managed to record its second consecutive shutout on an opposing team; that’s just the first time since 2005 that Virginia Tech has achieved the feat.
“You couldn’t have scripted it any better,” coach Foster said.
On a cold, rainy afternoon in a game with massive implications for the winner of the Coastal Division, coach Foster’s defense came to play, allowing 177 yards of total offense while forcing nine punts and a turnover that resulted in a score.
“Our execution has continued to get a little bit better each and every week,” coach Foster said. “It goes back to our practice habits, but it’s fun to see when we’re playing well and executing the things that we can do. I’m really proud of our guys.”
It was initially a slow start for both offenses, who couldn’t generate much in the air or on the ground. Pittsburgh’s first two drives were three-and-outs thanks to some impressive coverage by Jermaine Waller, Caleb Farley and Reggie Floyd in the secondary.
While Pittsburgh continued to struggle throughout the half, as they generated just three first downs and 77 yards of total offense, Virginia Tech eventually found its footing and put together two particularly impressive offensive drives.
The Hokies were first to get on the board on their next drive thanks to a 1-yard rushing score by tight end James Mitchell. The Hokies got down to the red zone with a 71-yard reception from quarterback Hendon Hooker to freshman wide receiver Tayvion Robinson, who was wide open drifting across the middle and managed to win a foot-race to the 1-yard line.
Virginia Tech’s 7-0 lead would be quickly doubled when, on the first play of Pittsburgh’s next drive, linebacker Rayshard Ashby strip-sacked quarterback Kenny Pickett, which was recovered by freshman lineman Norell Pollard for a 7-yard Virginia Tech touchdown; the score would give Tech a 14-0 lead with 3:07 left in the first quarter.
Tech’s defense continued to dominate in the second quarter, leaving Pittsburgh scoreless in the half despite a chance inside the red zone towards the end of the half. Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi decided to go for it on fourth down inside the 20, but the team couldn’t convert and came away from the drive empty-handed.
Meanwhile, Tech’s offense continued to move the ball with a 12-play, 90-yard drive in 6 minutes capped off by a 3-yard touchdown pass from Hooker to wide receiver Tre Turner.
The drive was kept alive by a massive blunder by Pittsburgh’s defense at its own 40 in the form of an offsides penalty. The penalty gave Tech a first down and, on the following play, got a 31-yard end-around to Robinson that set up the Turner score that sent the Hokies into the locker room with a 21-0 lead.
Hooker had a fantastic opening half, throwing just one incompletion in nine pass attempts while also generating 167 yards of offense. Hooker has continued to play mostly mistake-free football, and has proven to be one of the key reasons for the offense’s success after the team’s 45-10 loss to Duke on Sept. 27.
“Hendon’s been great. I’ve always been a fan of him,” said wide receiver Damon Hazelton. “He continues to come in and work hard every day, and that’s something I’m proud of.”
The Panthers’ offensive woes continued in the second half, and were no more evident than on their second drive of the third quarter. Starting at Tech’s 39-yard line, Pittsburgh had an embarrassing three-and-out that ended in a 13-yard loss from a Chamarri Conner and Ashby sack that forced yet another punt.
It was a golden opportunity for the Panthers to get on the board, but coach Foster was getting the best out of his defensive unit.
The third quarter ended with the Panthers picking up just two first downs and 28 yards of total offense. Tech’s offense was able to kill enough clock and let the defense do its job to preserve the 21-point lead.
In the fourth quarter, coach Narduzzi made a desperate attempt to get his team back into the game by going for a fourth-and-1 at the team’s own 25-yard line. The risky decision did not pay off as defensive tackle Jarrod Hewitt batted down Pickett’s pass attempt, giving the Hokies excellent field position and a chance to add to their already large lead.
The Hokies did end up capitalizing on the drive with a perfectly thrown back-shoulder throw from Hooker to Hazelton on his first reception of the day. That would be Hazelton’s seventh touchdown reception of the season.
From there, the Hokies were able to kill some clock with backup quarterback Quincy Patterson coming in while the defense continued its dominating effort. The victory would be Tech’s third consecutive win which puts them tied for first in the Coastal with Virginia, who holds an identical conference and overall record.
The Hokies will now be set to take on the Wahoos on Nov. 29 at noon in a winner-take-all game that will decide who wins the Coastal Division. The Hokies will have extra motivation in the rivalry game as they look to extend their winning streak over the Wahoos to 16 games.