Hello from Bobby Dodd Stadium. Can anybody explain what’s going on in Pittsburgh?
As I took a seat in the press box to read some game notes — yes, I actually do research, although I try to cap it at seven minutes — Pittsburgh was capitalizing on the third Virginia Tech turnover to take a 21-0 lead over the Hokies. This is the same Virginia Tech team that beat Georgia Tech in overtime in an ACC opener two weeks ago.
If you’re the Yellow Jackets, there’s two ways to look at this. There’s the depressing side: “We lost to a team that’s losing to Pitt … by three touchdowns?” And there’s the bright side: “They might lose! We’re alive!”
That game is far from over — actually, it’s 21-3 as I reach the second paragraph — but the game should be taken as a positive sign for a Tech. The loss in Blacksburg wasn’t a season-defining setback, despite the defensive collapse in the final 44 seconds of regulation and Tevin Washington’s game-deciding interception in overtime. It just makes today’s game against Virginia that much more important.
The Jackets can’t afford to lose this one, especially with Miami and Clemson following as the next two conference opponents. Lose to Virginia and suddenly visions of the Independence Bowl may be dancing in their heads. But win and anything it still possible.
(Halftime scoring update: Pittsburgh 21, Virginia Tech 3.)
Here are a few obvious keys today:
• Tech’s run defense has to be better than in last year’s meeting between the teams, when Virginia rushed for 272 yards in a 24-21 win. It had to be particularly humiliating for defensive coordinator Al Groh, who was making his first return to Charlottesville since being fired as head coach. But the Jackets appear more comfortable in Groh’s 3-4 defense now.
When asked if this game could illustrate that the defense had turned the corner, Groh told our Ken Sugiura: “I don’t think it’ll be the final chapter, but it certainly has the possibilities of being a significant chapter in that direction.”
• Virginia might as well have had three weeks to get ready for the Tech game last season. It had a soft non-conference game against Idaho followed by a bye week before the teams met. But the Cavaliers have no such advantage today, and they’re coming off a narrow 17-16 win over Penn State. In theory, that should given an edge to Paul Johnson’s offense over Virginia’s defense. Opposing defenses tend to perform better when they have extra time to prepare for the triple option.
• There’s a pretty good chance we’ll see redshirt freshman quarterback Vad Lee take some snaps behind starter Tevin Washington. Johnson isn’t disclosing much. He called Lee’s role “situational.” But after Lee threw an 82-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Greene and ran for 79 yards on a quarterback draw against Presbyterian, it’s safe to assume there are more “situations” now than before that favor Lee coming in.
OK, that’s it for now. What are your thoughts on Tech today and moving forward in the ACC?
The cyber venting lines are open.
(Scoring update: Pittsburgh 21, Virginia Tech 10. Oops.)
By Jeff Schultz