Pittsburgh exploited every weakness in the Virginia Tech defense tonight, including some it didn't even know existed, but the third-ranked Hokies held on for a 30-17 win over the Panthers at Pitt Stadium. The win keeps Virginia Tech undefeated and in contention for the national championship.
The Hokies' defense was picked apart by sophomore quarterback David Priestley, who completed 28 of 46 attempts for 407 yards, most of which went to wide receivers Antonio Bryant and Latef Grim. It was the most passing yards Virginia Tech had given up since 1993, when Boston College's Glenn Foley threw for 448. Still, the Hokies' defense held on when it counted, and Virginia Tech (7-0, 3-0 Big East) got another solid performance by redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Vick and its special teams unit to leave Pittsburgh without the blemish that many predicted would come this week.
"I think we came in here playing a football team that was really hot throwing the ball," said Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer, whose team last had a 7-0 record in 1967--when he was a player. "Really hot. When we look at the tape I'm sure we'll see some plays we can learn from tonight. But overall I couldn't be more happy. We feel good about getting out of here [with a win]."
Trailing Virginia Tech 27-7 at halftime in what appeared to be another blowout in the making for the Hokies, the Panthers (4-4, 2-3) had other ideas. Priestley came out firing and watched the nation's top-ranked defense crumble under his long passes across the middle to his two favorite targets.
Priestley pulled the Panthers to 27-14 at the end of the third quarter on a 16-yard touchdown strike to Bryant and place kicker Nick Lotz hit a 23-yard field goal to make it 27-17, but Pitt could get no closer.
Bryant finished the game with 13 catches for 215 yards, Grim with 12 receptions for 188 yards. The Hokies secondary had relinquished 719 yards in their first six games.
"Our two starting cornerbacks went down [Anthony Midget and Ike Charlton got hurt early in the game] and it was hard to adjust with the young corners in there; they don't get too much attention in practice," all-American defensive end Corey Moore said. "But we just didn't quit, didn't give up."
Virginia Tech place kicker Shayne Graham, a three-time all-Big East selection, connected on a 52-yard field goal with just over 11 minutes remaining in the game--his third field goal of the night--for the final margin.
After Graham's score, the defense--including cornerbacks Larry Austin and Ronyell Whitaker, who filled in much of the night for Midget (pulled groin) and Charlton (poked in the eye)--closed in on Priestley. The unit finished with nine sacks, including three in the final quarter. And the offense, led by Vick and reserve tailback Andre Kendrick (career-high 162 yards rushing on 16 carries), converted first downs to keep the clock moving.
"We needed to play a team that was going to give us a tough game and see if we could stand in there and fight," said Vick, who completed 10 of 17 passes for 170 yards and a touchdown and also rushed for 65 yards and a score. "We needed a game like this to show our character."
Virginia Tech's special teams unit, which has been relatively quiet on the kick-blocking front this season, started the night by registering its first blocked punt of the year.
The block by flanker Andre Davis, which followed the Panthers' opening possession, was just the second of the season for Virginia Tech.
The block was the 75th for the Hokies under Beamer, and led to Virginia Tech's first score, a 46-yard run by Vick. Jumping to an early lead has been the norm for the Hokies, who have not trailed an opponent this season.
"Last year's team would have lost this game, but that's the difference this year," Moore said. "With the seniors we have on this team we just refuse to lose. We won't lose."