One of the nation's worst secondaries kept daring Virginia Tech quarterback Jerod Evans to throw. So he did. Over. And over. And over.
The junior shook off a right ankle injury to throw for a career-high 406 yards and two touchdowns to lead the 25th-ranked Hokies to a 39-36 victory over Pittsburgh on Thursday night.
Joey Slye tied the school and Atlantic Coach Conference records by making six field goals to help the Hokies (6-2, 4-1) beat the Panthers (5-3, 2-2) on the road for the first time in 17 years.
Pitt came in with the nation's 120th-ranked pass defense yet played bump-and-run for most of the game, hoping its defensive backs could win more than they lost.
Didn't happen. Instead, three Tech wide receivers topped 100 yards in the same game for the first time in school history.Isaiah Ford's 10 receptions included his school-record 23rd receiving touchdown. Bucky Hodges caught six passes for 145 yards and a score and Cam Phillips added 109 yards on a night the Hokies piled up 556 total yards.
"It's a great feeling when you can do what you love doing and that's throw the ball up and down the field against a pretty good defense," Evans said. "One-on-one coverage. You can't ask for anything better than one-on-one coverage."
Pitt coach Narduzzi built his reputation as defensive coordinator at Michigan State by requiring his secondary to play physical. He's intent on doing the same at Pitt, even as the weeks pass and improvement only comes in sporadic bursts. Facing the Hokies, it was no different.
"We had guys in position to make plays," Narduzzi said. "We didn't make them. . There's not a whole lot of different ways to do it."
Evans left briefly in the third quarter after getting his right leg rolled up on but returned to lead a fourth-quarter surge that included Slye's sixth field goal. Slye joked it got a little bit boring knocking in chip shot after chip shot, though he's hardly complaining after the Hokies won at Heinz Field for the first time in five tries and assured themselves of a bowl berth for a 24th straight year, the longest active streak in the nation.
It's a notable streak, but bigger goals lie ahead. The Hokies will end the weekend no worse than tied in the loss column with North Carolina atop the Coastal. Virginia Tech owns the tiebreaker, having beaten the Tar Heels decisively this month.
James Conner ran for 141 yards and three touchdowns for the Panthers but offensive coordinator Matt Canada continued to masterfully tinker with the Pitt playbook.
Nate Peterman completed 13 of 22 passes for 267 yards with a touchdown and an interception while also catching the first pass of his. Pitt offensive tackle Brian O'Neill scored his second touchdown of the season, this time on a pitch from Peterman that resulted in the 6-foot-6, 300-pound O'Neill barreling over the goal line from 5 yards out. O'Neill, a tight end in high school, scored on a throwback screen against Georgia Tech earlier this month.
One of the connections between Evans and Ford includes a wild 36-yard gain in which Ford and Pitt cornerback Phillipie Motley batted it back and forth to each other as they went to the ground. Officials ruled it a catch on the field after Ford ripped it away from Motley before it hit the ground. The call stood upon review.
Narduzzi became increasingly animated on the sideline as the game wore on, convinced Virginia Tech's wide receivers were illegally giving themselves and advantage on all those alley-oop passes from Evans.
"They did a great job pushing off all night," Narduzzi said. "Give them credit for that."
Virginia Tech: The Hokies have the weapons to run the table. If Evans can avoid turning it over, the Hokies will be in the ACC title game.
"When you have three elite wide receivers, you can't ask for more," Evans said.
Pitt: Midway through Narduzzi's second season, the defense remains a chaotic work in progress. Even the debut of ballyhooed freshman safety Damar Hamlin's long anticipated debut did little to help. If Pitt's pass defense was even average, the Panthers would be a threat to reach the ACC title game. It's not, and the Panthers almost certainly won't be in Orlando in December.
Virginia Tech: Travel to Duke on Nov. 5. The Hokies fell to the Blue Devils 45-43 in four overtimes last season.
Pitt: Begin a tough two-game stretch at Miami on Nov. 5. Hurricanes have won two of three meetings since Pitt joined the ACC in 2013.