That wasn’t exactly fun. The OL got their asses handed to them and Tom Savage held the ball too long. The result was a putrid offensive performance. But, the defense turned in another respectable effort. They weren’t lights out like VT’s defense was, but after the dreadful performance against Duke, the defense made sure the offense was in position to win the game again. VT has certainly struggled on offense this season, but they’re not a team severely lacking talent like Virginia or New Mexico.
The first thing that jumped out to me was how they looked after VT’s touchdown drive. After the first drive, Logan Thomas was 16/30 (53%) for 184 yards along with 14 rushes for 16 yards. VT scored 12 points, although 3 of those were a gift from the officials after a BS personal foul penalty on Pitts put them into FG range. I don’t need any stats to tell you their RBs were useless. Granted, they haven’t been able to get it going against anyone else, but after the Duke game we need to be thankful when the defense stops a team they should stop.
I have one big gripe and one huge compliment for the defense. The big gripe is 3rd down defense. VT had 3rd down conversions of 9, 11, 11, 10, and 10. When faced with 3rd and 9 or longer, VT was 5/8. They were 8/19 overall. Do the math and they were 3/11 when the distance was 8 yards or fewer. You cannot give up that many 3rd and long conversions. I place those conversions squarely on defensive play calls. At least three of them were against a very passive defense. Two were soft zones and one was only a three man rush. When you’re calling that conservatively against a ranked opponent, you’re begging them to convert. I understand that you’re afraid of Logan Thomas’ running ability, but a three man rush with eight DBs just staring at him makes it way too easy for a WR to find a hole in the zone, which is exactly what they did.
On the other hand, when the defense did screw up, they clamped down. VT made it inside the Pitt 30 on six separate occasions. They ended up with only one touchdown and five FG attempts (made four). Six trips inside the Pitt 30 and they only came away with 19 points. Hell, should’ve been five attempts and 16 points, but I’ll stop complaining about the Pitts personal foul now. If you’re going to let an offense move the ball, force a FG. If there were any semblance of an offense yesterday, Pitt’s defense did more than enough to win the game. I would’ve liked a turnover and they were certainly close on two or three occasions. The only stat that truly matters is points and the defense held VT under 20. I’ll take under 20 points allowed any day of the week.
Here’s the perspective I want to bring: Pitt has beaten inferior opponents and lost to superior ones. VT is ranked #19 right now and should finish the season 10-2 or 11-1 (only team they could be an underdog against is Miami). FSU could easily play for the NC, depending on whether or not they beat Clemson next weekend. Outside of the Duke game, the defense has done everything you could reasonably expect out of them. With the benefit of hindsight, the FSU loss isn’t all that bad because of how good they are. FSU is currently the #3 scoring offense in the country and they’re only trailing Baylor and Oregon. Pitt is simply not on the same level as FSU and it would’ve taken a perfect game to pull off the upset.
If the Duke game is the only game the defense plays below their skill level, we’re in good shape. Aaron Donald leads the country in sacks per game and tackles for a loss per game. That’s insane. If he keeps up a similar pace he’ll be a first team All-American on virtually every list. Todd Thomas has had back to back great games and is flying all over the field. Pitts, Hendricks, and Williams haven’t been their best this season, but they are still quite talented. Ezell is quietly having a good year. Take a look at the upcoming opponents. For all of the offensive struggles, Navy, Notre Dame, and North Carolina are scoring fewer points per game than Pitt. Old Dominion is still transitioning to FBS football. The schedule makers gave the defense a huge gift when they put Navy and Georgia Tech back to back, giving the defense plenty of preparation for the unique triple option attack.
House’s defense can take the rest of the season and prove the Duke game was an aberration. I fully anticipate they will be good enough to put the offense in position to win in every game but Miami. I know I’m being optimistic here, but even I can’t anticipate keeping up with Miami, who’s 9th in the nation in points per game, ahead of Clemson, Louisville, and Texas Tech. Unless there are sanctions upcoming, it looks like Al Golden may finally have Miami where they belong again. Great timing, right after Pitt joins the ACC. Ugh.
The only goal Pitt can’t achieve is winning the Coastal Division, and while I liked to day dream about it, it wasn’t going to happen. Every game but Miami is against a team a notch below VT. I don’t expect Pitt to finish 6-1 or anything, but four or five wins is not impossible. The offense is a hot mess right now, but the defense is starting to step up. Let’s hope it continues.