In a sloppy showing, Tech football managed to overcome shoddy ball-handling and trounced Pitt 35-17 on Saturday. Opening ACC play, the Jackets were favored going into this matchup against a reeling Pitt team, whose lone victory thus far this season came in an overtime victory against FCS Youngstown State. Giving up four turnovers to one of the worst teams in the ACC was not a good look for the Jackets at all, particularly for a team whose option offense prizes ball-handling. That is just one of a number of takeaways after the game.
Defense, Defense, Defense
Tech’s defense finally showed up on Saturday, limiting the Panthers to only 17 points and preventing the Panthers from scoring on any fumbles. Given how important time of possession is to the triple option, it was helpful for the Jackets defense to get stops and keep the ball away from Pitt. Pitt averaged only 1:51 minutes per drive, whereas Tech averaged almost a minute longer, 2:41.
Tech’s strong defensive showing moved the team from one of the worst teams in the nation defensively towards the middle of the pack, a sign that the defense may finally be catching up to the offense. And the cycle is beneficial: longer drives for the offense give the defense more rest and improve its performance down the line, both within games and over the course of the season.
Speaking of the offense, Tech’s scoring unit was hardly operating at peak efficiency Saturday. The Jackets gave up four fumbles to Pittsburgh, with B-back KirVonte Benson responsible for two of them. Despite this, the Jackets still scored 35 points, and the defense prevented Pitt from capitalizing off of any of the fumbles. The Jackets became the first FBS team to beat another FBS opponent while giving up four or more fumbles since University of Texas at El Paso gave up five fumbles en route to a win over North Texas in 2015. That may be enough against a stuggling Panthers team, but their level of carelessness with the football is untenable.
KirVonte the King
Despite the two fumbles, Benson had a career day against Pitt, racking up 196 yards and two touchdowns against the Panthers. The 196 yards were the most by a B-back in Paul Johnson’s tenure, and the 8th most by a Tech rusher since 2000. After losing both Marcus Marshall and Dedrick Mills at the B-Back position prior to the start of the season, Benson has locked down the position and excelled, averaging 5.2 yards per carry and registering 346 rushing yards. Unlike Mills, who lacked breakaway speed, Benson has shown the ability to turn on the jets while remaining exceedingly difficult to take down.
TaQuon for Heisman?
Junior QB TaQuon Marshall has cooled off slightly since his hot opener against Tennessee, but picked himself back up against Pitt, recording 112 rushing yards on 18 attempts, and averaging a season-best 6.2 yards per carry. Marshall’s 386 rushing yards for the season rank third among QB in the nation, behind Ahmad Bradshaw (Army, 439) and Zach Abbey (Navy, 471). Marshall’s passer rating of 206.2 is also third in the country among QBs with at least 20 pass attempts.
While Marshall, who received only a single Heisman vote in the first week of the season and none since, appears very far outside of the Heisman picture, his performance has been nothing short of exemplary for Tech. He lacks the national branding of Lamar Jackson and Saquon Barkley, but the production speaks for itself.
In a Rush
Tech now ranks No. 6 among FBS teams in rushing yards nationally, having registered 1181 yards in three games. Of the teams ahead of them, only Navy (1182 yards) has played in only three games, as the rest — Army, Tulsa, Alabama and Arizona — have played in four games.
Around the Conference
In a stunner Saturday, NC State defeated FSU 27-21, dashing FSU’s hopes of competing with Clemson in the Atlantic division of the ACC. Clemson has a clear path to the championship game, and as the consensus best team in the ACC, it is difficult to see them stumbling en route to the Championship Game. Meanwhile, the Coastal Division looks too close to call. Pitt, UVA and UNC look out of the picture already, but Duke, VT, Miami and GT all have a chance at facing off against Clemson in the postseason.
As in many years, there is no obvious titan blocking the Jackets from success in the Coastal and a berth in the conference championship game. Whether the team can correct its mistakes and capitalize on the advantages it has staked out over the first few games remains to be seen.