Virginia Tech found the endzone once against Pittsburgh during their 19-9 victory, highlighting the importance of a steadfast defense and efficient special teams.
After being sacked a combined 15 times against the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech this season, the Commonwealth is arguably Pittsburgh quarterback Tom Savage’s least favorite state in the country.
Redshirt sophomore Dadi Nicolas was responsible for three such sacks and seven overall tackles for the Hokies against Pitt.
Nicolas’ talent is still raw, but when defensive coordinator Bud Foster moved him to outside linebacker with the sole objective of rushing the passer, Nicolas thrived.
After the tactic worked well for Virginia against Pitt, Foster aligned Nicolas as a stand-up rushing outside linebacker.
“He’s kind of found his niche,” said linebacker Jack Tyler. “You can see he’s a heck of a player, and he’s only going to get better when the whole mental side catches up to his physical ability.”
Despite playing just one year of high school football, Nicolas was ranked by ESPN as the nation’s 140th best defensive end, in large part because of his freakish athletic abilities. But with a limited knowledge of the game, Nicolas requires assistance from his teammates to make sure he’s in proper pre-snap position.
“If you watch the film I’m kind of just pushing him to one side, calling out ‘Dadi left’ or ‘Dadi right,’ but we knew we were going to have to do that,” Tyler said.
Nicolas was a large part of a defensive unit that sacked Savage eight times and wreaked havoc on him all afternoon.
“He’s a talented guy,” said head coach Frank Beamer. “We’re moving him around, getting him to pass rush from different positions. And he showed up there. He’s a force back there and has a real talent for rushing the quarterback.”
Because of Nicolas’ limited football knowledge, the Hokies don’t feel comfortable giving him the full responsibilities of a true outside linebacker.
Accordingly, Tyler believes this strategy may be a one-time thing because offenses will start taking advantage of him.
“I think it was just a matchup today,” Tyler said. “Because now everybody knows that he’s just going to rush the passer. You can’t drop him into coverage or anything like that. If we can get him to drop into coverage, then maybe, but we’ll just take the baby steps right now.”
Kalvin Cline Hitting His Stride
Four weeks after becoming a familiar name to Hokies’ fans with a breakout game against Western Carolina, true freshman tight end Kalvin Cline found the end zone for the first time.
On Tech’s first drive, Cline, who is the only tight end to catch a pass this season, caught two passes for 45 yards and a touchdown.
“I’m definitely getting a feel for it. Coming out of high school I didn’t have that much experience, but these past couple games Logan’s been putting it on the money, making me look good out there,” Cline said. “So when I got that first touchdown it was definitely a good ego boost.”
On a third-and-9 from Pittsburgh’s 27-yard line, Thomas put the ball over Cline’s right shoulder, hitting him in stride. Cline took over from there, fighting his way into the endzone for Tech’s only touchdown of the game.
“(Pittsburgh) went inside leverage on him, he’s our first read, and I put it out there and let him make a play,” Thomas said. “I knew he had the matchup. He did a great job.”
After coming off the bench for the first three games, Cline has since earned a starting role. The Floridian has 15 catches for 164 yards on the year as he's learned more and more of the offense.
Against Pittsburgh he caught for four passes for 65 yards, a career high, and the one touchdown.