Cardinals deliver knockout blows in defining victory over Hokies

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Virginia Tech had become accustomed to delivering knockout blows in recent weeks. It can be a time-consuming drive that breaks down the opposing defense. A sack on the opening play that sets the tone. Complementary play that leaves teams battered and bruised.

Louisville dished out a significant blow on the first play by sacking Virginia Tech quarterback Kyron Drones. The body blows continued through the running of Jawhar Jordan and Isaac Guerendo. Then there was the proverbial knockout punch delivered with two touchdowns in a three-minute span in the third quarter.

The Hokies, for really the first time this season, were left in tatters. The anticipated battle for second place in the ACC standings turned into a unanimous decision for the host Cardinals.

Louisville, ranked 13th by the College Football Playoff committee and 15th by the Associated Press, looked every bit the part as a contender for the ACC title. The Cardinals ran the ball at will, dominated on defense and cruised to a 34-3 win over the Hokies on Saturday afternoon before an announced crowd of 49,945 at L&N Federal Credit Union Stadium.

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“I thought for a majority of the day they played with the temperament we need to play with,” Hokies coach Brent Pry said. “They played harder. We played with effort, but they just played harder, more determined and more confident, and I’ve got to fix that. That starts with me.”

The opening-play sack of Drones was the precursor of just how dominating a performance Louisville (8-1, 5-1 ACC) was going to deliver.

Take this into account: The Hokies (4-5, 3-2) were held to seven first downs on their 10 non-scoring drives and were limited to a season-low 140 yards of total offense.

Tech’s offensive output was its worst since posting an anemic 100 yards in a 2015 loss to Pittsburgh. To make matters worse, the Hokies snapped a streak of 23 consecutive games with a touchdown that dated back to a 2021 loss at Boston College.

“We wanted to be aggressive early in the game offensively. We had some plays dialed up, and we didn’t get them blocked well enough. Or they ran a pressure the play couldn’t handle,” Pry said. “We stuck to it. We tried to jump-start things. They were just opportunistic and took advantage. They’ve got a great, they’ve got a really nice front. They’re a big, strong, explosive team. But again, we can certainly play better than that, and we have. There’ll be some execution things we’ve got to clean up. There’ll be some coaching mistakes that we made. It will be a good learning opportunity for us.”

Tech’s run defense, which showed remarkable improvement in league play, was dissected by a powerful Louisville rushing attack.

Guerendo rushed for 146 yards and three touchdowns. Jordan, who was questionable entering the game with a lingering hamstring injury, added 57 yards and a touchdown.

The Cardinals rushed for 231 yards. The four rushing touchdowns matched the number the Hokies allowed in a Week 3 loss at Rutgers.

“They had a two running back punch, both running backs had a good game, and they’re good players, and they had good players up front,” cornerback Derrick Canteen said. “All around, hats off to them, they had a good scheme.”

Tech’s offensive woes can be tied back to the swarming Louisville defense that didn’t give Drones much time to stand in the pocket and go through his progressions.

The Cardinals finished with four sacks — the most Tech has surrendered since allowing five to Marshall in Week 4 — and held Drones to a season-low 6 rushing yards.

Running back Bhayshul Tuten still finished with 57 yards on 11 carries, but most of those yards were earned on outside zone runs when the edge was able to be set.

“We had a pretty good game plan coming in, outside zones,” Tuten said. “They’re really there, but we kept getting behind those sticks so we couldn’t force it as much as we wanted to.”

Tech picked up five first downs and rushed for 45 yards on its lone scoring drive to end the first half. The drive didn’t end with a touchdown, but instead it was John Love’s 44-yard field goal that cut the deficit to 14-3.

Tech followed up that drive with a defensive stop to open the third quarter.

Louisville, however, forced a punt and scored a touchdown on a five-play drive.

Drones’ first interception since Week 3 led to another Cardinals touchdown.

The Hokies’ thoughts of hanging around quickly dissipated against a ferocious Louisville defensive attack.

“Yeah, it hurts. Just any time you go out there and don’t play how you expect to play, it hurts,” boundary safety Nasir Peoples said. “Just got to figure out what we’ve got to get better at and find a way to execute and finish off the game.”

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