Teel Time: Virginia Tech malfunctions in Sun Bowl loss to UCLA

On the third snap of Tuesday’s Sun Bowl, UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley dodged Virginia Tech’s pass rush and scrambled 25 yards down the middle of the field. Two plays later, defensive end Dadi Nicolas completely whiffed on Hundley at the left edge as Hundley waltzed 7 yards for a touchdown.

Shades of C.J. Brown, anyone?

Brown is the Maryland quarterback who ran for 122 and two touchdowns, including the game-winner in overtime, against the Hokies in November. But Hundley is much better than Brown, and UCLA is far superior to Maryland.

In short, this was going to be a long afternoon. Sure enough: Bruins 42, Hokies 12.

But the path to this blowout was oh-so-strange, and not just because concussion symptoms sidelined Tech quarterback Logan Thomas for the final 40-plus minutes.

Indeed, to his credit Hokies coach Frank Beamer had zero interest, none, in pinning the defeat on Thomas’ absence.

“I am disappointed we did not function better as an organization,” he said.

Beamer understands that Virginia Tech football is his organization, and that game day malfunctions fall on him. What irritated him most were miscommunications on defense and lack of basic execution on offense, before and after Thomas’ departure.

For example, Beamer and middle linebacker Jack Tyler said half the defense was in one alignment, half in another, on the 86-yard Hundley run that gave 17th-ranked UCLA a 14-7 lead. Defensive end James Gayle blamed the breakdown on the Bruins’ no-huddle attack and said the Hokies were slow to get calls from the bench to the huddle.

Regardless of the reason, and even with freshmen Kendall Fuller, Brandon Facyson and Chuck Clark playing in the secondary, such brainlocks shouldn’t happen to a team that ranked fourth nationally in total defense, eighth in scoring defense.

Joining a distinguished list of Pacific 12 quarterbacks to abuse Tech – Aaron Rodgers, Matt Leinart and Andrew Luck are the others – Hundley passed for 226 yards and ran for 161 as the Bruins scored more points and gained more yards (447) than any Hokies opponent this season. Hundley also accounted for four touchdowns, the last of which, a 59-yard pass to Shaquell Evans with 5:49 remaining, seemed excessive.

Beamer had no issue with the play call and said it was the Hokies’ responsibility to prevent such embarrassment.

The odd thing is, this was a 14-10 game before the Bruins scored 28 points in an 8:31 stretch of a fourth quarter. And it could have been 14-all.

Leading 14-7, UCLA gift-wrapped field position for Tech when Evans muffed a punt at his own 12 late in the third quarter. Long snapper Eddie D’Antuono recovered for the Hokies, but all they could manage was a 22-yard Michael Branthover field goal.

Scot Loeffler, Tech’s first-year offensive coordinator, devised some nice wrinkles for the bowl, particularly using receiver Carlis Parker on six jet sweeps that gained 40 yards. But in that red-zone situation, his call of a fade route to D.J. Coles on third-and-3 from the 5 was curious at best – safety Anthony Jefferson broke up Mark Leal’s well-thrown pass.

With Leal subbing for Thomas, Loeffler had to know scoring chances would be limited. So why not run 234-pound tailback Jerome Wright (27 yards on the first seven carries of his college career) inside, twice if need be, in an attempt to pick up a first down?

A junior playing extended snaps for the first time, Leal threw two fourth-quarter interceptions that UCLA converted into 14 points. Yet while annoyed by the self-inflicted picks, Beamer all but named Leal the starter entering spring practice.

And what an interesting offseason this will be. Thomas and guard Andrew Miller were the lone essential seniors on offense, but can Loeffler groom a credible quarterback? And how will defensive coordinator Bud Foster replace seniors such as Gayle, J.R. Collins, Jack Tyler, Tariq Edwards and Kyle Fuller?

The Hokies (8-5) finished a game better than last season, their worst in 20 years. But they have lost five or more games and will finish outside the top 25 in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1991 and ’92.

Beamer insisted throughout the year that the program is progressing with new his three new assistants: Loeffler, offensive line coach Jeff Grimes and receivers coach Aaron Moorehead. But a New Year’s Eve pasting that included 13 penalties for 109 yards, both season-highs, and 14 failures on 17 third downs, reminds anew that Tech has slipped.

“We’re going to get into the offseason, and we’re going to remember this, and we’re going to remember them throwing bombs over our head with four minutes left,” receiver Willie Byrn said. “Maybe we’ll see them down the road. If not, we’ll take our anger out on some other people.”

I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP

Here’s a link to my Daily Press print columns.

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