Virginia Tech got off to another slow start in the Belk Bowl, something that plagued throughout the 2016 season. But the Hokies fought back for the largest comeback in school history, beating Arkansas 35-24. Five defining plays…
FIVE DEFINING PLAYS...
Turnovers on both sides
Fumbles and bad snaps have hurt Virginia Tech throughout the season – something that didn’t wait to strike the Hokies against Arkansas. Junior quarterback Jérod Evans and senior fullback Sam Rogers mishandled the handoff on the first play of the game, giving the Razorbacks outstanding field position from the get-go – but the Virginia Tech defense forced an important field goal.
Evans followed by that fumble by throwing an interception at the five-yard line. Evans short-armed a throw to a wide-open Cameron Phillips. The pick was returned 50 yards and was compounded by a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty.
But the turnovers changed in the second half. Virginia Tech forced four turnovers in the second half – three interceptions and one fumble – to get back into the game. The Hokies capitalized on the Arkansas turnovers by scoring 28 points off of the Razorback turnovers.
Slow starts continue – but it’s how you finish
The Hokies have been plagued by slow starts this season, falling behind 20-0 against Georgia Tech and 17-0 at Notre Dame. That trend continued against the Razorbacks, as the Hokies fell behind 17-0 as the clock expired in the first quarter.
The Hokies finished strong by scoring 35 unanswered points. The defense got turnovers and the offense capitalized by scoring four touchdowns on the four turnovers.
Virginia Tech game into the game looking to run the ball against one of the worst rush defenses in the country – but the Hokies couldn’t run the ball. In the first quarter, Virginia Tech had eight yards on nine carries.
The running game found its feet in the second half when sophomore Travon McMillian rumbled for 30 yards and broke multiple tackles. The Virginia Tech running game finished with 159 yards in the game.
Defense steps up
The defense stepped up in the second half, forcing a fumble on Arkansas’ opening possession. The turnover resulted in the first points of the game for the Hokies. Defense did a 180-degree turn and held the Razorbacks to 56 yards in the second half. The three turnovers sparked the Virginia Tech comeback, who scored 28 unanswered points in the second half.
The Hokies’ defense had zero sacks in the first half, but was able to get constant pressure on the Razorbacks in the second half, to the tune of six sacks and three interceptions.
Virginia Tech arrived in Charlotte at halftime and the entire team clicked on all cylinders. The defensive sparked the comeback, but the offense took advantage of all the opportunities given to them by the defense. The offense was limited to 180 yards in the first half, but managed to finish the game with 402 yards.
By the numbers:
0 points scored in the first half by the Hokies and the second half by the Razorbacks
2 times in Virginia Tech has been shut out in the opening half of a bowl game – both were victories
3 turnovers forced in the third quarter
4 teams have come back from 24 down at halftime over the last 10 seasons
6 sacks by the Hokies in the second half
10 tackles by cornerback Brandon Facyson
28 points off turnovers
35 unanswered points in the second half
48 yards given up by the defense in the first 20 minutes of the second half
56 yards given up in the second half by the Virginia Tech defense
115 receiving yards by Phillips, who was named bowl MVP
46,902 people attended the Belk Bowl
They said it:
“It’s not like we called everybody up and addressed everybody. A lot of our guys talked within their groups and to everybody. I came in and we made adjustments…I talked with them for a couple of minutes. I didn’t say anything revolutionary…I do believe our guys were upset with how they played.”
-- Head coach Justin Fuente on the halftime speech
“I was like ‘sheesh,’ that’s kind of tough, especially when we weren’t playing well in the first half and the turnovers. We would make a first down and then have a negative play, so it was a little tough. But thanks to the seniors and the leadership we have on this team, we just tried to stay confident and trust in each other and things turned around for us.”
-- Wide receiver and bowl MVP Cam Phillips
“I think one of the big plays – a big series – of the game was the first one, when we held them to a field goal [off a short field and a turnover]. It seemed like we played upset and mad at the end of the first half. I old our kids we did the best job we could to spot Arkansas – in all phases – 24 points. That’s not against them – they’re an outstanding football team. But we needed to get back and settle down. There was still a lot of football left [to be played]. We created a couple of turnovers and offensively we responded. The next thing you know, the momentum is going our way."
-- Defensive coordinator Bud Foster
“That’s not in our spirit, that’s not in our makeup, that’s not in our character. We’ve got great leadership on this team. We decided it was time.”
-- Junior quarterback Jérod Evans on the Hokies not giving up