Pitt notebook: Defense steps up game
While Pitt's offense was rolling up 537 yards against what was presumed to be a typically strong Virginia Tech defense Saturday, the Panthers' defense made its presence felt with four turnovers and a stout performance overall.
Virginia Tech lost a fumble, and quarterback Logan Thomas threw three interceptions — two to safety Jason Hendricks.
The Hokies gained just 324 yards and had no running game in the 35-17 Pitt win.
One yard the Hokies failed to gain proved to be huge. Trailing, 21-10, early in the third quarter but driving, Virginia Tech runners were stuffed on third-and-1 and again on fourth-and-1 on the Pitt 35-yard line.
Linebacker Shane Gordon got credit for the initial stops on both plays.
“The big play in the game,” Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said.
Pitt took over and marched down the field to score on Tino Sunseri's 12-yard touchdown pass to Ray Graham, essentially sealing the win.
“I was so hyped,” said Gordon, who showed his best speed when he joyfully sprinted to the sideline after the change of possession. “It felt good. Get off the field. That's a big momentum swing when you stop 'em like that. It's a big momentum swing for me. Virginia Tech, I don't know how they felt.”
Thomas, a 6-foot-6, 260-pound junior, completed 14 of 31 passes for 265 yards. He also was his team's leading rusher with 28 yards as the Hokies gained just 59 yards on the ground.
Senior receiver Mike Shanahan had a career-high 111 yards on five receptions, including a 6-yard scoring pass from Sunseri that put Pitt comfortably ahead, 35-17, with 5:33 to go after Shanahan earlier in the drive dropped what would have been a touchdown pass.
“That was awesome,” he said. “I give a lot of credit to Tino for coming back to me.”
Referring to the Panthers' sputtering offense in the first two games, Shanahan said he and his teammates came in with “a chip on our shoulder.”
“It really goes back to working hard at practice, executing, and everybody doing their job on every play,” he said.
“Like Coach Chryst always says, the magic is there is no magic. We were just out there making plays today that we weren't making the first two games.”
Freshman tight end J.P. Holtz (Shaler), freshman defensive end Devin Cook and linebacker Manny Williams, a fifth-year senior, all started their first college game.
Holtz replaced Hubie Graham, who was sidelined with a clavicle injury.
Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7810.