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September 17, 2012

Final Grades: Pittsburgh

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The Hokies have come back down after their lofty No. 13 ranking prior to Saturday's 35-17 loss at previously winless Pittsburgh. Having seen replays and thought it over, here's publisher Jason Stamm's exam of the Hokies' loss:

Junior quarterback Logan Thomas had one of his worst games at Virginia Tech and that was only in the first half. His career-high three interceptions pushed the Hokies further out of contention, two of which were overthrown balls. Thomas did connect with senior wide receiver Marcus Davis on an 85-yard touchdown in the third quarter, but over 10 yards of that was after the catch. Thomas will bounce back, but he has a lot to work on after that one.


The ground game's lack of production against Georgia Tech was a warning sign. Redshirt freshman Michael Holmes fumbled in the second quarter, but he and freshman J.C. Coleman had abysmal games. It got so bad that third stringer Martin Scales saw time in the second half, mustering just 16 yards on four carries, while Holmes had six yards on nine carries. It's also never good when Thomas is the leading rusher, with 28 yards. Hard to tell if all four of the running backs, Tony Gregory included, can turn this thing around.


Of the four areas of offense, this one was the best, but that's not saying a lot. Davis looked good on his touchdown run and should have had another if Thomas' first half pass to him would have been on target. Senior Corey Fuller had a respectable four grabs for 44 yards and senior Dyrell Roberts had a nice 44-yard grab, but this group didn't do Thomas a ton of favors by coming back for the ball and bailing him out.


The line took a big hit when junior guard David Wang was carted off the field in the third quarter. X-rays on his left foot have come back negative, but it'll be interesting if he'll be available at all this Saturday. The line consistently got pushed back, so the running game already had no chance to get going. There has to be some kind of push from here out to have any hope of helping to get the offense moving.


Junior defensive end James Gayle came up with a sack, but like their offensive counterparts, the linemen got pushed around a bit too much. Allowing the Panthers to run all over them for 254 yards simply can't happen. Freshman running back Rushel Shell certainly came out of his shell Saturday, but he shouldn't be able to get that many holes to get him going.


Because of the holes open through the defensive line, linebackers Bruce Taylor and Jack Tyler hauled in 11 and 10 tackles. But Taylor also had an un-smart personal foul penalty after throwing quarterback Tino Sunseri to the ground in the second half. He also got burned badly when matched up with running back Ray Graham on Graham's 18-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter.


It didn't help when junior cornerback Kyle Fuller arguably the Hokies' best defensive back, went down in the first half with a shoulder contusion and didn't return. Antone Exum had a big third quarter interception, but also got burned pretty bad on a few plays. He didn't get burned as bad as safety Detrick Bonner who despite playing through injury, still gave up a 13-yard touchdown catch to Devin Street and multiple other big pass plays. Fuller's replacement, Michael Cole play admirably but looked bad on a few failed open-field tackles.


The one bright spot for the Hokies as sophomore Kyshoen Jarrett had the second-longest punt return in school history, a 94-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Freshman punter A.J. Hughes also looked good again, with a 40.8-yard average on four punts, two of which were downed inside the 20 yard-line.


It's hard to tell how much of the blame goes to the coaches. They can't control Thomas' miss-throws, the running backs inability to run or even the number of missed tackles and assignments. But there weren't any playcalls that stood out as getting the Hokies in the game, minus the route by Davis that Thomas missed. But Virginia Tech's coaches couldn't find the answer on either side of the ball to try to climb back into the game.


Yes, it was an NFL stadium, but Heinz Field was about two-thirds full. The Hokies turnout wasn't that great either, given the driving distance. Of course, Virginia Tech fans didn't have a ton to cheer about, but the overall crowd could have done a bit better.



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