PITTSBURGH — Two years ago, Virginia Tech played at Pittsburgh and was beaten by 30 points. Recalling that bludgeoning this week, Hokies linebacker Dax Hollifield said the Panthers “wanted blood” that day.
Saturday, Pitt had that same thirst.
Playing behind an offensive line missing three starters, and facing a defense down two cornerbacks, Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett picked apart the Virginia Tech defense, throwing for 404 yards and two scores in a 47-14 blowout, handing the Hokies their third straight defeat.
Wide receiver D.J. Turner set a Tech opponent record catching 15 passes, picking up 184 yards and a touchdown.
Virginia Tech (4-5, 4-4 ACC) couldn’t do much right all day, as it suffered its most lopsided defeat since a 45-10 home loss to Duke last season.
The Hokies struggled to run the ball and floundered on third down, going 3 for 11. Tech also went 0 for 3 on fourth down, including a pivotal goal line play early in the third quarter when the game was still competitive.
The Tech tackling was shoddy and the pass rush mostly ineffective.
For a cherry on top, kicker Brian Johnson missed a 38-yard field goal attempt.
“That was a tough one,” Tech coach Justin Fuente said. “Disappointed we didn’t get more stops. Disappointed we obviously couldn’t convert on third-and-short, fourth-and-short.”
After scoring just two touchdowns — both in the fourth quarter — Fuente bristled when asked if he’d consider taking over play-calling duties after the team’s open week.
“No, that’s the most ludicrous crap I’ve ever heard,” Fuente said. “Next question.”
There are plenty of questions for Fuente and his staff to answer before facing Clemson on Dec. 5. His team, which went 11-5 in ACC games his first two seasons in Blacksburg, is now just 13-11 in those contests the past three years.
“The guys are incredibly resilient, and they’d like to play better and get better results,” Fuente said. “We’ve had two weeks in a row that we played pretty well and just [had] gut-wrenching losses, and this week, we got our butts kicked.”
It was Pickett’s short, dartlike completions that controlled the game. But his one long bomb blew it open for the Panthers (5-4, 4-4).
After Pitt stuffed the Hokies on a fourth-and-goal bid from the 1-yard line, Pickett led the home team on a 99-yard scoring drive — with 64 of those yards coming on a touchdown pass to Turner that gave the Panthers a 33-14 lead in the third quarter.
“Fourth-and-1 there, we’ve got to get that in,” running back Khalil Herbert said. “There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it.”
That was the end for a mostly punchless Tech team that finishes the year with December games against Clemson and then rival Virginia.
“We still want to win games,” wide receiver Tre Turner said. “We’re still a hungry team. We’re still going to fight regardless. The team that I know, I know we’re still going to fight.”
The first half was marked by timidity on the Tech side. The offense had wave-the-white-flag play calls on third-and-longs, running the ball inside out of the shotgun.
The defense seemed to be in a perpetual state of prevent, afraid to give up big plays, playing back and giving Pickett and the Panthers time and space to get in a rhythm.
Pittsburgh played without 16 players, including the three starting offensive linemen, but the Hokies — down two corners off their two-deep — seemed reluctant to go after Pickett with much more than a four-man rush.
They gave up 298 yards in the first half and went to the locker room down 23-14, a competitive margin thanks only to a pair of Turner touchdown receptions, the first, a 55-yard throw over the top of the Pitt defense by Hendon Hooker, the second a tough-as-nails athletic catch on a quick slant in the end zone for an 11-yard score.
But Turner was injured on the second scoring catch and didn’t play in the second half.
“He’s our number one guy, but we have other guys that can step up and make plays as well,” Hooker said.
“Tayvion Robinson made some great plays today and the running backs stepped up big today, as well, and made some big plays. We just didn’t capitalize on the back end.”
As for the growing discontent in the fan base, Hooker had a message for them.
“If they’re real fans, then they’ll be on our side win, lose or draw,” Hooker said. “So, whoever is saying [that], that’s doubting us, then they’re not true fans and kick rocks.”