No. 25 Hokies tame Panthers with 28-0 shutout
Hendon Hooker threw two touchdown passes, and Virginia Tech's defense played another great game, as the Hokies cruised past Pittsburgh 28-0 in an ACC game played Saturday afternoon at Lane Stadium.
Hooker threw touchdown passes to Tré Turner and Damon Hazelton, and Virginia Tech's defense scored on a fumble return, as the Hokies won for the sixth time in their past seven games and moved to 8-3 overall, 5-2 in the ACC. Pittsburgh fell to 7-4, 4-3 in the ACC.
The Virginia Tech win sets up an in-state showdown Saturday with rival Virginia, with the victor claiming the ACC's Coastal Division and the right to play in the ACC Championship Game on Dec. 7.
The Hokies came up with the big play early in the game when Hooker found Tayvion Robinson for a 71-yard gain to the Pittsburgh 1. On the next play, tight end James Mitchell carried it in, and the extra point gave the Hokies a 7-0 lead with 3:16 left in the first quarter.
Moments later, Virginia Tech linebacker Rayshard Ashby forced Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett to fumble, and defensive tackle Norell Pollard scooped up the loose ball, running it 7 yards into the end zone for the Hokies' second touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
The Hokies all but put the game away right before halftime. Virginia Tech went 90 yards in 12 plays, drawing Pittsburgh offsides on a fourth-and-2 from the Pittsburgh 40 and scoring three plays later on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Hooker to Turner that gave them a 21-0 lead.
Tech closed the scoring with a 2-yard touchdown pass from Hooker to Hazelton in the fourth quarter.
Tech's defense held Pittsburgh to a season-low 177 yards. The Hokies sacked Pickett twice and forced a fumble.
Rayshard Ashby, whom defensive coordinator Bud Foster pushed for first-team All-ACC honors after the game, made arguably the biggest play in the game. Late in the first quarter, he blitzed and put pressure on Pickett, and he reached his hand toward Pickett's, knocking the ball free. Pollard picked up the loose ball and scored the touchdown that gave the Hokies a 14-0 with 3:07 left in the first quarter. The forced fumble marked the fourth of Ashby's career. He leads the team in tackles (99) and tackles for a loss (14.5).
QUOTES TO NOTE
Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente
(On the Hokies' recent streak)
"I can't say enough good things about our guys. I felt that way about them early in the year, too, though. I really did. I'm enjoying every moment with them. I think they're a special group of young men. They've been through special circumstances and stuck together. My feelings toward them haven't changed because they're winning games now. I'm more happy for them because they are getting some affirmation for their hard work."
(On Hendon Hooker's evolving as a quarterback)
"I think he looks comfortable out there. He continues to evolve. He's got good leadership skills. Throwing the football, he continues to come to work every week and focus on his improvement. Hopefully we can get that to continue."
Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster
(On going out with a shutout)
"You couldn't have scripted it any better, I don't think, when it's all said and done. As far as down the stretch, the Wake game [a 36-17 win], and then to go to Georgia Tech and play the way we did [a 45-0 victory] … and then it was a playoff game today, basically. To play the way we did, we didn't play tight, we played with confidence, we executed, we made plays, and to see that from a coaching perspective is very gratifying."
• Tech's defense now has recorded back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 2005. The Hokies have shut out conference opponents in back-to-back games for the first time since 1935.
• Hooker now has opened his career by throwing 110 passes without an interception – the best streak since Grant Noel went 108 passes without an interception (1999-2001).
• The Hokies have held their past three opponents to 301 total yards or less. None of those opponents rushed for more than 63 yards.
• Hazelton's touchdown reception was his seventh of the season and the 19th of his career (15 at Tech, four at Ball State).
• Turner's touchdown reception marked his third of the season and the seventh of his career.
• Robinson's 71-yard reception in the first quarter was his longest of the season, surpassing his 32-yard reception against ODU.
• The 71-yard pass to Robinson is the longest of Hooker's career. He completed a 67-yarder in the Hokies' win at Miami.
• Mitchell's touchdown marked his fourth rushing touchdown of the season and his sixth overall.
• Pollard's touchdown marked the third by Tech's defense this season (Divine Deablo fumble return vs. Notre Dame; Caleb Farley interception return vs. Georgia Tech).
The Hokies now gear up for the Commonwealth Clash against rival Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia. The game kicks off at noon and can be seen on ABC. Tech has won the past 15 meetings in the series.