User ID: Password:

January 10, 2014

Sun Bowl not bright for Hokies

By: Jimmy Robertson

A second-quarter injury sent Logan Thomas to the sidelines, and the Hokies’ defense couldn’t contain a strong UCLA offense, as Tech ended the season with a 42-12 defeat

Playing in his last collegiate game, Jack Tyler was credited with 7 tackles, including a half of a sack.

The Virginia Tech football program traveled to the West Texas city of El Paso to play a bowl game and hoped for its day in the sun.

But a hit on Logan Thomas certainly darkened Tech’s chances of winning.

A wicked hit in the second quarter forced Tech’s quarterback and team leader to the sideline with concussion-like symptoms for the rest of the game, and the Hokies struggled from then on, falling 42-12 to the 17th-ranked UCLA Bruins in the Sun Bowl played at Sun Bowl Stadium in El Paso, Texas on New Year’s Eve.

The loss marked a disappointing end to a season that began with such promise. Tech played then-No. 1 and defending national champion Alabama respectably in the season opener and then won six straight games to move to 6-1 and to a No. 16 ranking in The Associated Press poll. But the Hokies lost four of their final six games and finished the season with an 8-5 record.

Tech also lost its bowl game for the third time in four seasons. UCLA closed its season with a 10-3 mark.

“I’m disappointed we didn’t function better as an organization,” said Tech coach Frank Beamer, who fell to 9-12 in bowl games. “Give UCLA credit. They made more plays by far than we did, and that’s the name of the game. When we got down, we turned the ball over, and things got out of hand. It’s just disappointing to end the year this way.

“We’re going to look at the video, though, and learn from this. This isn’t one of those where we’re going to say, ‘Hey, we’re not going to look at it.’ I’m going to look at it and talk about communication on defense and execution on offense and what needs to happen to play better in a big ball game to finish the year.”

Though Tech was struggling on defense, it only trailed UCLA 14-7 early in the second quarter before the Bruins landed the big blow.

On a third-down play from the Tech 42 with 12:13 left in the first half, Thomas – who made his 40th consecutive start – scrambled to his left and completed a 3-yard pass to receiver Josh Stanford. But as he threw, he took a vicious hit to the head from UCLA linebacker Jordan Zumwalt, who received a personal foul penalty on the play.

Thomas stayed on the turf for several minutes before being escorted off the field by Tech’s sports medicine staff. He did not return, though after the first series of the third quarter, he put on his helmet as if he was going to re-enter the game.

“I came in at halftime and they [the sports medicine staff] gave me the [concussion] tests to see, and everything seemed fine,” Thomas said. “But I guess they made the decision after that first series in the second half.

“That [sitting out] was the worst thing I’ve ever gone through. I’d rather hear you guys [media members] talk bad about me all day long than to have to watch a game from the sideline.”

Thomas’ injury forced the staff to go with backup quarterback Mark Leal, who was playing in just his third game of the season. The lack of experience showed, too, as Leal threw two second-half interceptions – both of which led to UCLA touchdowns.

Tech trailed 14-7 at the time of Thomas’ departure, but managed to cut into the lead in the third quarter, thanks to a muffed punt by UCLA punt returner Shaquell Adams. Long snapper Eddie D’Antuono recovered at the UCLA 12 for Tech, and the Hokies drove to the UCLA 5 before a third-down pass from Leal to D.J. Coles fell incomplete. Michael Branthover made his first collegiate field goal, a 22-yarder with 3:53 left in the third that cut the lead to 14-10.

“That was huge,” Tech tailback J.C. Coleman said of not scoring a touchdown there. “That would have swung the momentum a little bit. Our defense would have gained momentum as well. Maybe they would have gotten a stop and we could have gone up 21-14. But it didn’t happen that way, and that was very unfortunate.”

“I wanted to go for it [on fourth down] and get it tied up, but it was just a little bit long [3 yards],” Beamer said. “Let’s take the points, and we got the points, but they went right back down the field on us.”

The Bruins responded following the Hokies’ score with an 85-yard march. The big play came on third-and-10 from the UCLA 25 when quarterback Brett Hundley threw a short pass to receiver Devin Lucien. Tech’s Kyshoen Jarrett missed the tackle, and Lucien went 32 yards to the Tech 43. Seven plays later, Paul Perkins scored on a 5-yard run that gave UCLA a 21-10 lead with 14:20 left in the game.

The Bruins then put the game away less than a minute later. In the process of being sacked, Leal flipped the ball in the air while attempting to get rid of it and avoid the sack. But UCLA linebacker Myles Jack intercepted it and returned it 24 yards for a touchdown with 13:22 left that essentially iced the game.

The Bruins tacked on two more touchdowns in what turned out to be a 28-point fourth quarter for them. Another Leal interception – this one by Zumwalt – led to an 8-yard touchdown pass from Hundley to Thomas Duarte with 7:31 left. The icing on the cake came less than two minutes later when Hundley threw a 59-yard touchdown strike to Shaquell Evans.

Hundley played masterfully throughout on his way to sharing co-MVP honors with Zumwalt, who had 10 tackles and the interception. UCLA’s signal caller ran for 161 yards on 10 carries and scored two touchdowns, and he also threw for 226 yards and two scores.

Hundley had 168 yards rushing on six carries in the first half against a Tech defense that went into the game ranked eighth nationally against the run. He scored on a 7-yard run less than two minutes into the game, and in the second quarter, he gave UCLA the lead for good on an 86-yard touchdown burst.

The 86-yard run by Hundley was the longest run from scrimmage against the Hokies in a bowl game.

“We just couldn’t corral him,” Beamer said of Hundley. “He broke out of there a couple of times. He’s a good runner. We did a good job against him in the second half, but he hurt us with the long touchdown. Communication hurt us. Part of us was in one defense and part of us was in another. That usually doesn’t happen to us. It’s disappointing.”

“We were just playing sloppy,” Tech linebacker Jack Tyler said. “We did things we hadn’t done all year. Like Coach said, it was a lack of communication. It was breakdowns that we didn’t do all year. We were just sloppy.

“It’s very frustrating to go out like this, especially being the leader of the defense. I would have liked for us to play a little better and communicate better and not be so sloppy. I put a lot of that on my shoulders. So I’m disappointed.”

The Hokies allowed a season-high 197 yards rushing. The Bruins finished with 447 yards of offense.

Tech’s best drive of the game came in the first quarter. The Hokies drove into UCLA territory and then came up with a big play when Thomas found tight end Kalvin Cline for a 37-yard gain to the UCLA 1. On the next play, Coleman scored, and Branthover’s extra point tied the game at 7 with 8:14 left in the first quarter.

The Hokies ended up scoring just one touchdown in each of their final two games this season. Leal completed 12 of 25 for 130 yards and two interceptions to pace a Tech offense that had 319 yards.

“I’m disappointed that Mark didn’t play better,” Beamer said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in him. I think it’s a lesson that you need to be ready to play each and every week. He did a couple of things really nice and really good, and then he had a couple of throws that weren’t so good.

“Mark’s going to be okay. Losing Logan and losing our tight end [Cline injured a knee in the second half], that’s tough, but I expect those guys behind them to step in there behind them and perform, and that’s disappointing.”

In his final collegiate game, Thomas led the Hokies in rushing with 49 yards on three carries. He completed 3 of 11 for 46 yards.