Hokie fans, have you come down from the high of the greatest comeback in school history? Virginia Tech was down 24-0 at the half of the Belk Bowl on Thursday, and spirits were waning all across Hokie nation. Could this really be the end to the magical 2016 season? Was this the way seniors such as Sam Rodgers, Ken Ekanem, and Woody Baron really deserved? I know the answer I hoped for was a resounding no.
It seems the Hokies felt the same way I did, as they came storming back in the second half. Virginia Tech rattled off 35 straight points to dispatch an overmatched Arkansas team who had a history of blowing big leads late in games. This game was a real feather in the cap for the Hokies’ hats as not only did they win 10 games, but they also won their third-straight bowl game.
The Hokies have been a team which has shown an uncanny knack for never giving up no matter the circumstance. They have been down big in two other games prior to the bowl game, (Notre Dame, and Clemson) and they came back to win one and were one play away from pulling the upset of the year in the ACC Championship. This tenacity is becoming the calling card for the Justin Fuente era, and once again was on full display in the bowl game.
As I said before, the Hokies were down 24-0 going into halftime. Did they come out flat in the second half and coast towards the offseason? No they did not. Instead, the Hokies mounted the biggest comeback in program history rattling off 35 straight points to completely blitz the unsuspecting Razorbacks out of the stadium. This win was noticed by the entire nation and served to show the Hokies have the character and fortitude needed to become players on the national scene once again.
The game was really a tale of two halves, the first I will touch on later, and the second was what fans are hoping to see week in and week out from this team next season. The second half brought the return of stellar defensive play and lights out offense. Bud Foster’s defense forced 4 turnovers in the second half, all which would lead to scores.
The first half the defense couldn’t seem to get any traction against their SEC opponent. Most will acknowledge that this defense has been good all season long, but at the same time is young and some mistakes showed. Hopefully, this second half performance will be a revelation and something the Hokies can build off of for the future.
The offense took a que from the defense in the second half, and put together a great performance in route to scoring 5 touchdowns. All season long, the offense had been much better than fans have had to root for in years past. Jerod Evans was his normal dominate self, running the ball. Cam Phillips continued his breakout season on his way to picking up MVP honors.
Really all the man characters got into the scoring act as the offense really started kicking on all cylinders. Sam Rogers scored a touchdown in his last game as a Hokie thrilling his many fans. Overall it was a superb second half performance and showed just how dominate the Hokies can be.
In a game where you have to come from down 24 to get the win of course there is some bad and of course ugly. The bad stuff first though, Terrell Edmunds. What you might say is that Edmunds had a pick and was in on many stops during the game. However, Edmunds was once again a victim of one of the worst rules in college football.
In the second half, Edmunds came up to make a big tackle on an Arkansas receiver. Unfortunately, the receiver was struck in the helmet as he ducked down to avoid the hit. Edmunds was flagged for targeting, his second penalty of this nature this season. However, once again, I believe this penalty was in error as Edmunds did not launch himself or lead with his head, but was simply trying to wrap up and make a solid tackle and when the receiver ducked his form tackle, it became one of the illegal variety.
The good news for Hokie Nation was upon review, it was deemed Edmunds did not intentionally target the receiver, so he was not ejected from the game. His ejection would have carried a suspension for the first half of the first game next season. Edmunds will have to be more careful as his Virginia Tech career continues, because more penalties of this nature and the officials might not be so kind in his ejections.
The ugliest part of the game has to be the first half of the Belk Bowl. The Hokies dug themselves a huge 24-0 hole. This hole was created by poor play on both sides of the ball.
Poor reaction on the defensive side of the ball created wide open opportunities for the Razorback receivers to run free for big chunks of yards. Chunk plays was the biggest problem facing the Hokies defense all season long and in the first half, it seemed it was about to sink any chance the Hokies had to get into this game.
A big part of the problems the defense had in the first half was the inability to mount any pass rush whatsoever. It did not matter if the Hokies rushed the basic four or brought pressure, the Arkansas offensive line was more than up to the task.
The offense did not help the situation very much at all either. Not only did they seem incapable of getting a drive started, managing to barely cross into Arkansas territory, but the Hokies also were losing the turnover battle as well, coughing the ball up on the first offensive play of the game and then again later in the half.
In a nutshell, the Hokies could do nothing right as all they tried to do backfired in their face. For a less mentally tough team, a 24-0 score would have been the knockout blow and it would have been all she wrote.
The other ugly part was once again the officiating. I am speaking not just of the missed calls, but the general execution of the duties by the referees. In my entire 32 years of watching college football or pro football for that matter, I have never seen a coach be able to sway the entire officiating crew in their decision much less be allowed to sit and argue, and quote rules to an officiating crew for more than 10 minutes.
I don’t care if it was the right call or not (I am still confused about the whole situation, how do you recover the ball if it is three feet from you and an opposing player has it), the fact it took that long and the officials looked as though they were looking for help from Brett Bielema was absurd.
How Justin Fuente was able to keep his cool while in a sense Bielema held court on the opposite side of the field I will never know. It was a black eye for the officials who came from the Big 12. While in the end the call did nothing, I’d like to think it enraged the Hokies to propel them to victory, it only showed that even with replay, the officials can still make horrible calls.
This season has come to a close and I for one was very impressed with the squad from Blacksburg. The Belk Bowl comeback is hopefully just a sign of things to come from this team. However, in light of the NFL declarations by three top tier offensive performers, the road is going to be not an easy one.
I am confident in the coaching staff and this team’s work ethic. The future is bright for the Hokies and the Good is surely going to outweigh the Bad and Ugly next season. On a personal note fans, I was blessed with a new son about a week before the Belk Bowl and he so far is 1-0 as a Hokie football fan, coincidence I think not. For the last time this season Hokie fans LETS GO HOKIES!!!!