Sun Bowl Thoughts

Well, that was humbling.

I was thinking about how to address this beatdown, and trying to put in perspective what yet another humbling bowl game performance means to the Virginia Tech program. I was lining up all sorts of themes. UCLA was more physical, nastier, and had more talent, more hunger, more attitude. The dressing down of the Virginia Tech program against good teams continues. How close is Frank Beamer to the end of his career? Can he fix this? Should he stay and try to? Blah, blah, blah, all heavy-duty stuff.

Then I thought: wait a minute. This is exactly what I expected to happen. I predicted 30-13 in our game preview, and that was actually being kind. I was really expecting something more along the lines of what Stanford did to the Hokies in the 2010 Orange Bowl, a 40-12 style beating. It was eerie how close UCLA came to replicating that, trashing the Hokies 42-12, almost an identical score.

Given that I thought it was going to unfold that way, a grand, emotional, sweeping tome about the state of Virginia Tech football isn’t required. The Hokies performed to my expectations. So a calm evaluation of what went on, and what it means, is more in line.

Having said that, I do have a new wrinkle in my state-of-the-program thoughts, which I’ll share with you a little later. First, let’s talk about some specifics of the game.

Turning points

Obviously, in the early going, Brett Hundley’s long TD run and Logan Thomas‘ career-ending injury (boy is it weird to type that) were obviously huge plays.

But despite giving up huge gobs of rushing yardage to Hundley, and Logan Thomas being out of synch (3-of-11 passing) when he was in the game, and Mark Leal having to play after that, and the Hokie defense missing tackles and committing penalties all over the place, Virginia Tech was competitive in this game until late in the third quarter.

It was 14-7 two-thirds of the way through the third quarter, but then a series of bad plays and missed opportunities brought it all crashing down:

  • UCLA muffed a punt and gave VT possession deep in Bruins territory. On 3rd and 3 from the Bruin five yard line, with a chance to tie it at 14, Leal lobbed a really nice throw to D.J. Coles in the corner of the end zone. Coles got his hands on it, but failed to make what would have been a difficult catch for TD. The Hokies settled for a field goal to make it 14-10.
  • On UCLA’s next possession, on 3rd and 10 from the UCLA 25, Kyshoen Jarrett had a chance to tackle Devin Lucien short of the first down marker, but whiffed on the tackle. Lucien gained 32 yards, and UCLA scored six plays later to go up 21-10.
  • On Tech’s next possession, on 2nd and 5 from the VT 30, Leal hit Joshua Stanford in the hands at the VT 45 yard line. Stanford dropped it, Leal threw a pick-six on the next play, and it was suddenly 28-10, Bruins. The rout was on.

Our memory will be of a sound whipping, but the truth is that with 20 minutes left, Virginia Tech was knocking on the door with a chance to tie, despite being without some key players and with their three-year starter at QB being knocked out.

Mark Leal‘s stat line in this game reads 12-25 for 130 yards and two interceptions, but at one point, he was 8-11, including the nice throw to DJ Coles in the end zone that wasn’t caught.

I thought Scot Loeffler did a nice job with play calling after Leal came into the game. Leal’s first full possession was 11 plays, 49 yards, and 7:03 off the clock. It ended badly, with a hold, a sack, and a missed field goal by Michael Branthover, but Leal was 3-of-3 for 41 yards, and the play calling was a nice mix of passes by Leal, runs by Jerome Wright and Chris Mangus, and an end-around by Carlis Parker.

Leal’s third full possession was also a nice drive: 10 plays, 39 yards, and 6:01 off the clock, but Loeffler got a bit too cute and derailed it with a pass back to Leal that would have been great … if it had worked.  But it resulted in an eight-yard loss, forcing a 3rd and 20 that killed the drive.

Of course, it all eventually collapsed, after Leal threw his pick-six and things started to snowball. Once Tech got behind 28-10 and didn’t really have many options, Leal started to press, and it got ugly.

It’s also worth noting that