Before you read on, click here to read my updated game story with quotes about Virginia Tech’s 19-9 win against Pittsburgh on Saturday. It’s almost all about the Hokies’ unstoppable pass rush.
And here’s Aaron McFarling‘s column on the Hokies getting back to their winning ways.
Virginia Tech improved to 6-1 overall and 3-0 in the ACC, having won six straight.
Here are more notes and quotes from the post-game …
Who’s your Dadi?
With James Gayle and J.R. Collins locking down Virginia Tech’s defensive end positions, sophomore Dadi Nicolas doesn’t get as many reps as the Hokies would prefer.
They found a way for him to make a big impact Saturday.
Nicolas played as a specialized whip linebacker, starting in a stand-up position off the edge and crashing hard toward the line, either after the quarterback or the running back on every play.
The defensive wrinkle, which the Hokies saw Virginia do two weeks ago against Pitt, worked well. Nicolas had career highs with seven tackles and three sacks.
“He’s a real talented guy and we wanted to use him to get a pass rush from different positions,” head coach Frank Beamer said. “He’s a real force back there.”
Nicolas was the first Hokie to register three sacks in a game since Cam Martin against North Carolina in 2007. He doubled his career sack total in the process.
A rangy, 6-foot-3, 224-pound end, Nicolas, who was unavailable to the media afterward, only played one year of high school football for Atlantic High in Delray Beach, Fla. He’s slowly come along at Tech, however, and his playing time has increased accordingly.
“When he started, you couldn’t get him lined up, you couldn’t get him to do anything, because he’s only been playing for so long,” said linebacker Jack Tyler, whose duty it was to get him lined up properly Saturday. “And now he’s kind of found his niche. You can see that he’s a heck of a player.”
It figures to be a one-week deal. Tech saw a matchup to exploit against Pitt, and Nicolas lacks the pass coverage skills to be a full-time whip linebacker. But Tyler sees tons of potential.
“Down the road, I can’t even imagine what he’s going to turn into,” Tyler said. “Because once he gets everything going mentally, physically he’s there.”
“I warned the media about him,” Gayle said. “I was like, ‘He’s going to one of the better players in the ACC.’ He just showed it today. If they keep him at that position, it’s going to be a problem.”
Although the game story was almost all about the pass rush, I thought I’d break out one quote here from Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst.
“It would be pretty arrogant to think that everything was our fault,” he said. “You definitely have to give them credit. I think they’ve got a really good defense. Not just the defensive line, but I give credit to their back end as well.”
Here are the top sack totals for a Bud Foster-coached defense at Virginia Tech. Three of the top seven are against Pitt:
- 9 — at Pitt, Oct. 30, 1999
- 8 — vs. Pitt, Oct. 12, 2013
- 8 — vs. Duke, Sept. 16, 2006
- 8 — vs. Rutgers, Oct. 19, 2002
- 8 — vs. Pitt, Sept. 26, 1998
- 8 — vs. UAB, Nov. 1, 1997
- 8 — at West Virginia, Oct. 28, 1995
Just enough offense
The Hokies didn’t have a great offensive day, finishing with 315 total yards and running for only 76 yards, the fourth time they’ve failed to hit the 100-yard mark on the ground this season.
But Tech had some positives. The Hokies had a 34:11 to 25:49 advantage in time of possession, were 8-for-19 on third downs and didn’t turn the ball over for a third straight game, the first time since 2005 they’ve done that.
“With the way the defense is playing, it kind of changes the way we play on offense a little bit,” quarterback Logan Thomas said.
“We know if we take care of the football, and do what we’ve got to do, the defense is going to do a great job as always. Put a couple points on the board and watch them do their thing.”
“We made progress today,” Beamer said. “I think we left some yards and completions out there as well. As an offense, we just have to keep grinding and keep working out there. I think when we look at the tape, there’s going to be a lot of plays we see and wish we’d done a little better.”
Getting their kicks
Kicker Cody Journell shook off his recent struggles to make four of five field goals Saturday, hitting from a career-long 48 yards in the first quarter.
The senior had missed three of his previous four attempts going to back to the East Carolina game. He was good from 48, 37, 42 and 23 yards Saturday, missing a 33-yarder.
“He only had one bad game,” Beamer said. “In practice, he’s been back and very steady. We have our field goal kicking contest and he’s always the one that’s blasting them through.”
The last Tech kicker to make four field goals in one game was Justin Myer in the Sugar Bowl against Michigan in 2012. Myer was Journell’s replacement, after he was arrested.
Punter A.J. Hughes averaged a career-high 52.8 yards on four punts Saturday. That’s the highest single-game average under Beamer, passing Jimmy Kibble’s 51.3-yard mark against UAB in 1997.
“You guys know how much I love field position,” Beamer said. “The quickest way to get it is through the kicking game. All of that hidden yardage adds up at the end of the day, so that’s big for us.”
A welcome break
After playing the first seven weeks of the season, the only ACC team to do so, the Hokies finally get their bye week. They have two weeks to rest up and prepare for Duke at home Oct. 26.
“It’s definitely helpful,” Tyler said. “I don’t think we have too many big injuries that we need to come back from, but it’s always nice to just kind of get away for a week and mentally get recharged and physically get recharged.”
– Tight end Kalvin Cline had a career-high 65 receiving yards to go with his first career touchdown catch.
– That was Thomas’ only touchdown pass, giving him 46 in his career, third most in school history. The record is 48 by Bryan Randall, with Maurice DeShazo second with 47.
– Demitri Knowles led Tech’s receivers with five catches for 79 yards.
– Pittsburgh’s Devin Street led all receivers with five catches for 104 yards. His 48-yarder over Kyshoen Jarrett before the half set up a Panthers field goal. He had a 33-yard catch late but took a vicious hit from Jarrett that kept him down after the play, holding his shoulder. Replay showed that Jarrett led with his shoulder, not his helmet, and no flag was thrown on the play.
– Pitt ran for only 23 yards, averaging 0.9 yards per carry (much of that was due to sack yardage). Leading rusher James Conner had only two carries for one yards before leaving with an injury.
– Thomas led the Hokies’ sluggish running game with 27 yards. J.C. Coleman had six carries for 25 yards. Trey Edmunds had nine carries for 13. He gained 14 on one play.
– Virginia Tech used seven offensive linemen. Mark Shuman went in at left guard for at least one drive, with Caleb Farris sliding into center for David Wang. Laurence Gibson also rotated in at right tackle for Brent Benedict.
– Tech didn’t intercept a pass, ending a 10-game interception streak.
– Hokies defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins had a career-high with two sacks. His previous best was 1.5 sacks against Marshall earlier this year.
– At 6-1, Virginia Tech is bowl eligible for the 21st straight season. The Hokies didn’t accomplish that until the final week of the regular season last year.
– The announced crowd of 64,954 was just under 700 shy of a sellout.
The Hokies are off this week but will practice on Tuesday and Wednesday. The coaches will spend the latter part of the week recruiting before the team reconvenes Sunday to prepare for Duke at home on Oct. 26.