WVU ran only seven plays in its first three possessions. By the time it got it back for a fourth, it trailed 10-0.
The Mountaineer offense turned the ball over deep in its own end and handed Tech a short field and a resulting 7-0 lead. That, combined with Brandon Pace's field goal a dive later, put WVU in a proverbial hole. Every time West Virginia pulled within a possession, it made a key mistake that allowed VPI to answer and maintain a cushion.
"Well, you certainly can't do that," WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "They controlled the ball. It's hard to get into a rhythm when you have a couple of three and outs and you turn the ball over."
West Virginia did both, and with the Hokies playing from ahead, VPI could settle into an effective rushing offense and a timely passing attack that could not be stopped.
"We got in a rhythm," Tech tight end Jeff King said. "We pounded on them a bit. We talked all week about how we needed to run the ball, move it and keep the clock going because they have a heck of a running game themselves. We got the defense off the field and get rest and regroup. We did that."
The Hokies led 24-14 at the half and sealed the game when they scored on the first possession of the second half. VPI completed key passes on three consecutive third downs as West Virginia never got a handle on Tech receivers. The Hokies could throw at will, and showcased that skill exactly when needed.
Marcus Vick completed 15 of 17 passes for 177 yards and two scores. Eddie Royal caught six of those for 71 yards and a touchdown.
"I was throwing a lot of my stuff before guys were coming out of their cuts," said Vick, who also ran for a career-high 74 yards on 12 carries. "I stuck it in there, especially down inside the 20, where the defense is hard to get separation from. So I hit it in there pretty good."
He especially did it on third down, when Tech converted a whopping 10 of 15. That was in stark contrast to past games where West Virginia effectively got off the field and forced a punt.
The third down conversions usually came on passes following decent gains on first and second downs. And that led to VPI's 15-minute edge in time of possession. It rushed 53 times in the game to WVU's 34.
"The most amazing thing looking at the stats is that we only ran 48 plays," Rodriguez said. "You can't win a game doing that."
WVU did force a third and six on Virginia Tech's opening drive of the second half. The Mountaineers stopped Tech when Vick gained only four on a scramble. That set up Pace's 41-yard field goal that gave VPI a 27-14 lead.
West Virginia answered with an 11-play, 76-yard drive that culminated in Pat McAfee's 21-yard field goal to pull the Mountaineers back within 27-17 with 3:33 in the third quarter. Steve Slaton, who finished with 90 yards on 11 carries, had a 44-yard burst on the drive, when the true freshman broke four tackles and dragged Tech defenders for 15 yards.
The highlight-reel run is the longest by any WVU tailback this season.
The Hokies answered by going 80 yards in 5:31 for a 34-17 lead with 13:02 left. Cedric Humes punched in from four yards out, ending any threat WVU could have made. Vick had a 23-yard scramble on the drive.
Slaton proved especially effective all game, countering Tech's toughness and crashing defensive ends with speed to the outside. The lone other WVU player to showcase himself was punter Phil Brady who averaged 42.6 yards on five punts. VPI never came close to blocking a kick.
West Virginia managed two scoring drives in the first half. After Pace's 35-yard field goal put Virginia Tech ahead 10-0 (nine-play, 50-yard drive), WVU answered with a 12-play, 59-yard march capped by Pat White's two-yard toss to tight end Mike Villagrana.
White entered when starter Adam Bednarik was hit along the WVU sideline. The sophomore injured his left shoulder and did not play the rest of the game.
Slaton had gains of nine and 19 yards on the drive, and Bednarik found Darius Reynaud for a 13-yard catch.
Jason Gwaltney picked up a key third and one from the 17-yard-line to keep the drive alive, then again plowed ahead for one on a fourth down conversion that set up the score. The touchdown grab was rejuvenated Villigrana, who was called for holding on the drive.
His touchdown catch – the first grab of his career – was the first WVU touchdown pass to a tight end since Nov. 22, 2003 in a win over Syracuse (Tory Johnson).
The Hokies immediately answered the charge with an eight-play, 68-yard drive highlighted by Vick's passing ability and WVU's poor coverage. The Mountaineers were again consistently beaten on slant routes and short curls when defensive backs allowed too much initial cushion.
David Clowney was wide open for a 29-yard catch and Tech tight end Jeff King was left alone in the end zone on a six-yard strike from Vick for a 17-7 VPI lead. The 29-yard grab, one of three catches for Clowney, was Vick's longest pass of the day.
The touchdown catch was King's 10th, a school record for Tech tight ends.
"It was a great throw by Marcus," King said. "I am first read on that play, and he always makes it so easy. It's great to have him as a quarterback in there. That was big, real big. We had not scored on them in two years, so to get a couple quick was big."
Virginia Tech scored 14 points off two first-half turnovers.
Pernell Williams fumbled on the Mountaineers' second possession. Vick scrambled into the end zone five plays later off a third-and-nine keeper for a 7-0 Tech lead. The Hokies scored their second touchdown off Antonio Lewis' fumbled punt return.
The kick carried to the 25-yard-line, where a charging Lewis allowed the ball to hit off his hands and front of the helmet directly the hands of D.J. Parker, Tech's coverage man. Vick found Eddie Royal for a 15-yard score off a slant that put VPI up 24-14 at the half.
"Our offense made a statement today," VPI head coach Frank beamer said. "They ran when they needed to and threw when they needed to. That speaks well for our football team."
Virginia Tech outgained West Virginia 391 yards to 253. It ran 70 plays to WVU's 48 in scoring on five of six red zone chances. The lone non-score came when Tech knelt the ball at the end of the game.
"Obviously it is a good football team that is going to win a lot of games," Rodriguez said. "But we can play better than that."
Indeed, West Virginia had numerous other mistakes, including a delay of game on its first play and another on a kickoff. The Mountaineers had seven penalties for 55 yards, while the Hokies, one of the least penalized teams in the nation, tallied two for 10 yards. WVU also fumbled three times, losing two. Tech did not turn the ball over.
It was the second straight game West Virginia did not score a second half touchdown. But the play of Salton and White were bright spots.
White finished nine of 11 for 85 yards and two touchdowns, on a 46-yard catch and run to Dorell Jalloh that pulled WVU within 17-14. Bednarik ended up two of three for 18 yards.
Tech has now turned 12 forced turnovers into 56 points this season. Those points were the difference in the game today.
Tech came in allowing just two total touchdowns – one running and one passing – in four games. WVU scored two touchdowns, both via the pass, in the first half.
WVU offensive guard Ryan Stanchek and corner Larry Williams made first-time starts.
Jalloh's 46-yard touchdown catch was the first reception of his career.