Earned, not given: Virginia Tech feasts on woeful UVA, 52-10, streak at 13
The 52-10 final doesn’t reflect how much the Hokies (9-3, 6-2 ACC) controlled the game. Virginia (2-10, 1-7 ACC) picked up two first downs on its first drive of the game, then didn’t get another until 2:06 to go in the second quarter, by which point Tech was up 28-0.
Virginia Tech had 366 yards of total offense in the first half, while Virginia had 95, with an 18-4 advantage in first downs for the Hokies, whose game plan from first-year Hokies coach Justin Fuente was pretty basic: runs off-tackle by fullback Sam Rogers and quarterback Jerod Evans, and a lot of bubble screens, basically long handoffs, from Evans to his wideouts.
The game plan on the other sideline, devised by first-year UVA coach Bronco Mendenhall, featured the sheer genius of shuttling quarterbacks Matt Johns and Kurt Benkert in almost play-for-play, which doesn’t even work in theory, and certainly didn’t work in practice, with neither getting into a rhythm.
The Cavs offense suffered through five consecutive three-and-outs after the opening drive, and the next drive ended with a Johns interception at the Tech 33, one play after Benkert had extended the drive with a third-down pass to Joe Reed that gained 28 yards.
That was one of two Johns’ INTs on the day. Third-string quarterback Connor Brewer also got in on the action, fumbling on his first snap of the game, on an odd third-down-and-long sprint option in plus territory, after a Tech turnover, with the fumble recovered by Andrew Motuapuaka and returned 70 yards for a third-quarter Hokie touchdown.
That play was the fifth originated by a UVA quarterback that ended with an opponent getting a touchdown. Benkert and Johns had combined for four picksixes on the season coming into Saturday.
The second half, understandably, was a foregone conclusion, with Virginia Tech getting ample playing time for backups, with a date in the ACC Championship Game with Atlantic Division champ Clemson next week in mind.
The Hokies are seeking, with a win next week, their first appearance in what we now call a New Year’s Six bowl game since 2011.
Evans threw for 253 yards before leaving midway through the third quarter, completing 16 of his 27 pass attempts, two of them for touchdowns.
Rogers, in his last game at Lane Stadium, ran for 105 yards on 15 carries with two TDs on the ground.
UVA senior tailback Taquan Mizzell ran for 113 yards on 22 carries in his final college game.
The Cavs got on the board in the second half with a 29-yard field goal by Sam Hayward, his fourth and the team’s fifth successful field goal of the season, in the third quarter, and a 39-yard TD pass from Benkert to Olamide Zaccheaus in the fourth.
The blowout loss – the seventh straight for Virginia to finish out 2016 with the program’s second 10-loss season in the past four years – marks another low point in the Virginia football program’s history.
UVA has now posted nine losing seasons in its past 11, after a stretch of 18 winning seasons in 19 years dating from 1987-2005.
That run started under George Welsh, who inherited a 10-loss Virginia team in 1982 and had the Cavs winning by year two, the first of three straight winning seasons.
After a one-season step back in 1986, when UVA finished 3-8, Virginia didn’t suffer another losing season until 2001, the first year of the Al Groh era.
Groh’s tenure ended with three losing seasons in his final four years, leading to his dismissal in 2009 in favor of Mike London, who had just one winning season, an 8-5 campaign in 2011, before he was let go at the end of the 2015 season with a 26-45 overall record, and a ledger that featured five losing seasons in six years.
Mendenhall came to Virginia after an 11-year run at BYU in which his teams won 99 games, and never had a losing season, but the UVA program never got untracked in his first season on the East Coast, getting blown out at home in the season opener by FCS opponent Richmond, posting a modest two-game midseason winning streak with wins over Central Michigan and Duke, then not winning again.
And thus ends a painful season for a program that heads into spring losing two of its top three quarterbacks, its top two running backs, two of its top four receivers, three starting offensive linemen and at least three starters on defense, assuming that linebacker Micah Kiser and safety Quin Blanding, both juniors, return for their senior seasons.
With all that talent leaving, the focus is on recruiting, which isn’t looking all that great, with Rivals listing the UVA Class of 2017 40th overall nationally, but without a single four- or five-star recruit among the 20 commits.
Which is to say, as bleak as the present is, the future isn’t all that bright, either, for the folks on the Virginia sideline.
And Virginia Tech, on its sideline, is back where its fans and alums seem to think their football program belongs, among the nation’s elite.
The Hokies had backslid a bit under legendary coach Frank Beamer, whose teams had gone just 29-23 over Beamer’s final four seasons before Beamer stepped down at the end of the 2015 season.
The trip to the ACC Championship Game next week will be the sixth for the Tech program, and the first since 2011.
The more things change, head coaches, anyway, the more they stay the same.
Story by Chris Graham