BLACKSBURG — After living in Pittsburgh's backfield Saturday for much of No. 24 Virginia Tech's 19-9 win, defensive end James Gayle had occasion to get to know battered Panthers quarterback Tom Savage between plays.
Tech (6-1 overall, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) pounded Savage for eight sacks on its way to a sixth consecutive win that got the Hokies bowl-eligible for a 21st consecutive season heading into its off week.
But Savage got off easy. Being a 6-foot-5, 230-pound target may have helped save him from more punishment.
"When he got up, he was like, 'Yeah, they're not built like me,'" said Gayle, a Bethel High graduate, in reference to Savage comparing himself to more diminutive quarterbacks.
"I thought it was kind of funny, but you could tell as the game went on he was starting to wear down and getting up slower. We got to him a little bit more than eight times. He was hit more than he was sacked."
Defense paved the way for Tech to snap a four-game losing streak in games against Pittsburgh (3-2, 2-2), while Tech's offense continued to try to put together a complete game. With just 76 of its 315 yards coming on the ground, Tech isn't there yet, but quarterback Logan Thomas took another step forward in the passing game.
He completed 19 of 34 passes for 239 yards, including a perfect 27-yard touchdown pass over the head of linebacker Anthony Gonzalez to tight end Kalvin Cline for a touchdown with 10:11 left in the first quarter to put Tech up 7-0. Thomas has gone 109 pass attempts without an interception.
Tech, which didn't commit a turnover for a third consecutive game for the first time since 2005, reached Pittsburgh's red zone three times. Yet, Tech had to settle for field goals on two of those trips, and didn't score on one of the ventures inside Pittsburgh's 20-yard line. Cody Journell made 4 of 5 field goals, including successful attempts from 23, 37, 42 and a career-high 47 yards.
"We made progress (Saturday)," said Tech coach Frank Beamer of his offense. "I think we left some yards and completions out there as well. … There's going to be a lot of plays we see and wish we'd done a little better."
As black-and-blue as Savage had to be after the game, Tech's pass rush was so ravenous, he could've been the victim of even more sacks. Tech's eight sacks were its most in a game since it also finished with eight in '06 against Duke and '02 against Rutgers.
"I bet we missed eight (sacks)," Beamer said. "Credit to the quarterback, but I don't think he's that nifty. He's big, strong and evidently he is nifty, but it's going to be interesting to look at the video and see why we missed those things."
Tech got creative on defense while holding Pittsburgh to 210 yards, including 23 yards rushing. It was the fourth time Tech has held an opponent under 100 yards rushing this season.
Dadi Nicolas is a defensive end by trade, but Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster lined him up as a blitzing, stand-up outside linebacker against Pittsburgh's max-protecting blocking scheme on several possessions. All Nicolas did was lead the team with a career-high three sacks to go along with a career-high seven tackles.
"We felt like Dadi Nicolas could get a mismatch on the tight end blocking and get a lot of pressure," Foster said. "I know he will be wanting to get some more reps at that spot. We left about another eight sacks on the field."
Nicolas wasn't made available for comment to media in the postgame. Defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins added two sacks of his own, while Gayle and linebacker Jack Tyler each had one.
"I warned the media about (Nicolas) early," Gayle said. "I let them know he was going to be one of the better players in the ACC. He just showed it (Saturday). If they keep him at that position, he's going to be a problem."
Despite Tech's defensive dominance, Pittsburgh still managed to cut Tech's lead to 19-9 with 2:01 left when Savage scored on a 9-yard touchdown run.
Pittsburgh's lone touchdown drive was aided by a 23-yard completion to wide receiver Kevin Weatherspoon on third-and-10 from its own 35, and a 33-yard completion to receiver Devin Street to get the Panthers to the Hokies' 9. Savage was 13 of 28 passing for 187 yards.
Street and Tyler Boyd came into the game with a combined 44 catches for 870 yards and seven touchdowns. Street finished with five catches for 104 yards, but Boyd had just two catches for 20 yards.
Pittsburgh couldn't convert on the ensuing two-point conversion, and Tech recovered an onside kick. The Hokies ran out the clock to end the game.
"We're very confident," Thomas said. "We're excited about how we've done after the first game of the season. The thing is we're still not happy with where we're at.
"Obviously, we've got a lot of work to do. We had a lot of chances (Saturday) where we could've had big plays, and we missed whatever it may be, so we've got to get healthy and get better on this bye week."
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