Virginia Tech quarterback Josh Jackson believes the Hokies still have plenty of reasons to be motivated to finish strong even though back-to-back losses have taken them out of contention for a second consecutive trip to the ACC championship game.
Jackson said if they win their last two regular season games and their bowl game, the Hokies will not only send their seniors out on a high note in their final home game, but they will secure another 10-win season.
The Hokies (7-3, 3-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) won at least 10 games in eight consecutive seasons from 2004-11, at the time the longest such streak in the nation. They didn’t achieve the milestone again until last season, their first under coach Justin Fuente.
”I wouldn’t say our mindset has changed” because of the losses, Jackson said Tuesday. ”We’re probably a little bit more hungry.”
The Hokies face long-time Big East rival Pittsburgh (4-6, 2-4) on Saturday at Lane Stadium, and while the Panthers have struggled this season, they have beaten Virginia Tech in six of their last eight meetings. Pitt needs to beat the Hokies and then No. 2 Miami to qualify for a bowl for the 10th straight year.
The Panthers have won two of their last three behind a resurgent running game led by junior Darrin Hall, who has three consecutive 100-yard efforts.
”He’s doing a good job setting up blocks,” coach Pat Narduzzi said. ”He’s helping our O-line out. When you watch him, he’s pressing the line of scrimmage, making everybody flow, then he cuts it back, makes the O-line better, and those are all things that I guess take a little bit of time to figure it out.”
It will be a battle of strength-on-strength, though, since Virginia Tech allows just 117.3 rushing yards per game, fifth in the Bowl Subdivision. The Hokies also have the added motivation of wanting to have one more celebration on-field celebration with the 17 seniors who will be honored before their final home game.
”I think the biggest thing with senior day is it’s a pretty elite group of guys,” senior center Eric Gallo said. ”… The amount of people that start off versus the amount of people that finish all the way through and make it to their senior day is a lot different. So being with a group of guys that you’ve made it all the way through with, it’s a big deal and it’s a good time to get together with them and remember some of the fun times and bad times.”
Virginia Tech boasts one of the nation’s stingiest defenses, allowing less than 15 points per game, but the unit has struggled in the consecutive losses to the Hurricanes (28-10) and to Georgia Tech (28-22). Both games were played on the road, but in each one Virginia Tech gave up big plays.
The Hurricanes scored on a 64-yard run by Travis Homer and Malik Rosier’s 43-yard pass to Christopher Herndon. The Yellow Jackets got 60- and 80-yard scoring passes from TaQuon Marshall, who threw one interception and five incompletions on his other six attempts in the game.
Defensive coordinator Bud Foster said the impact plays were made possible by a combination of factors. Most disappointing, he said, are the ones that came about because of technique and fundamental flaws, rather than scheme breakdowns.
No matter how they happen, the Hokies want to limit them going forward.
AP sports writer Will Graves contributed from Pittsburgh
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