The first play went for 70 yards and a touchdown. The third play went for 77 yards and a touchdown. The fourth play went for 60 yards. No touchdown. (Virginia’s defense celebrates this small victory, then two minutes later gives up a touchdown.)
Remember 2008, when Paul Johnson brought this scattering-fire-ants-looking offense to Georgia Tech, and the Jackets won games scoring 41, 38, 31, 41 and 45 points, the last coming in Athens?
Remember 2009, when the numbers just got more stupid (49, 49, 39 … 56?), and Tech fans tore down the goal posts after an upset of No. 4 Virginia Tech, and Johnson was viewed as some borderline deity on The Flats for winning the ACC title in only his second season?
That’s sort of what it looked like Saturday. Maybe the ramifications weren’t as great. Virginia, the afternoon sacrifice, wasn’t ranked. There was no title clinched. Tech isn’t even in first place today.
But the Jackets’ 56-20 body-slam of Virginia was significant in other ways. Most notably, it momentarily stuffed all whines and questions about whether the program is headed in the wrong direction. It also suggested something about this team’s high ceiling.
“I believe everything happens for a reason,” quarterback Tevin Washington said after rushing for three touchdowns and throwing for another. “When something goes wrong, just learn. We learned something when we lost at Virginia Tech. It just showed us how even when you have a team down late, you can’t let up. You have to keep playing like it’s 0-0. That’s what we did today. I have a really good feeling about this team. I feel like if we can play with that kind of attitude every week, we can be really good.”
Tech led 14-0 4:29 into the game and 35-7 at halftime. It was 49-7 in the fourth before the foot came off the pedal. It’s not likely going to be that easy against Miami next week, or certainly in a few weeks at Clemson. But if this was the Jackets’ upside, they’re going to be a player in the ACC this season.
Note: Pittsburgh 35, Virginia Tech 17. It’s an open race in the Coastal Division.
Players were motivated watching clips of last season’s 24-21 loss to Virginia in Charlottesville, when the Cavaliers rushed for 274 yards. Washington referenced the contrasting scenes of the two sidelines in the final seconds, and Johnson later: “I heard a long time ago: Revenge is a great motivator for those who care. We were embarrassed the way we played up there.”
The defense, looking more comfortable now in the 3-4, was physical. Virginia was stuffed on a fourth-and-1 in the second quarter (when the blowout was only 28-7). Players were inspired in part by watching a tape of the 1985 Marvin Hagler-Thomas Hearns middleweight title fight the night before.
“That got me real excited,” cornerback Louis Young said. “We knocked them down and had them on the ropes a lot today. … We were going to stalk them the whole game. Last year, if you look the film, they threw a lot of punches at us early and we didn’t come back at them.”
There was no letup Saturday. It was an important response in the conference to the overtime loss at Virginia Tech two weeks ago. The Jackets scored touchdowns on their first four possessions. Three of their first four offensive plays from scrimmage covered 207 yards, approaching their entire output in Blacksburg (288).
Their first offensive play was a 70-yard touchdown pass fromWashington to Zack Laskey. Their third play was a 77-yard touchdown run by Orwin Smith. Their fourth play was a 60-yard run by Washington, setting up another score. By halftime, Tech had 386 yards in offense, give or take a furlong.
It was a difficult to tell exactly what Virginia’s defensive strategy was, but it appeared to center on their ability to tear the helmet off Washington’s head. They did it twice, forcing him to the sideline to sit out plays because of the NCAA’s inane new rule. (Didn’t matter. The Jackets scored touchdowns on both drives.)
Asked if he felt the helmet grabs were intentional, Washington: “Yeah, and I told the officials. I don’t like that rule.”
Johnson’s pointed observation: “Funny how that happened near the goal line.”
Not that it made a difference.
By Jeff Schultz