EL PASO, Texas – Virginia Tech saw its quarterback go down with an injury in the second quarter, and the Hokies never recovered, falling 42-12 to 17th-ranked UCLA in the Sun Bowl played at Sun Bowl Stadium in El Paso, Texas on Tuesday.
With the loss, the Hokies finished the season with an 8-5 record. UCLA closed its season with a 10-3 mark.
Tech quarterback Logan Thomas made his 40th consecutive start and has been as durable as any Tech player in his career, but he took a shot from UCLA linebacker Jordan Zumwalt in the second quarter and did not return.
Tech trailed 14-7 at the time of Thomas’ departure, and while the Hokies cut the lead to 14-10 in the third quarter, they got no closer in losing a bowl game for the third time in four seasons.
“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. When we got down, we turned the ball over and things got out of hand. It’s just a disappointing to end the year like this.
“We’re going look at the video 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.”
Thomas’ injury occurred on a third-down play from the Tech 42 with 12:13 left in the first half. He scrambled to his left and completed a 3-yard pass to receiver Josh Stanford, but took a wicked shot from 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.
Once in the third quarter, Thomas put on his helmet as if to go back in the game. But Tech’s staff elected to hold him out and go with backup quarterback Mark Leal.
Thomas’ injury, though, wasn’t the only reason the Hokies struggled in the game. The Hokies’ normally stout defense couldn’t contain UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley in the first half, and for the game, the Hokies allowed 197 yards rushing.
Hundley rushed for 168 yards on just six carries in the first 30 minutes. 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 run.
The 86-yard run by Hundley was the longest run from scrimmage against the Hokies in a bowl game. Hundley’s ability to break the pocket hurt Tech in the first half. He rushed just six times, but those six carries went for 168 yards.
Hundley finished with 161 yards on 10 carries for the game. He also threw for 226 yards and two touchdowns.
“He’s a guy, we just couldn’t corral him,” Beamer said 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.”
“We were 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. 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 it’s disappointing.”
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, tailback J.C. Coleman scored, and Michael Brantover’s extra point tied the game at 7 with 8:14 left in the first quarter.
But UCLA regained the lead on Hundley’s 86-yard touchdown run on the possession right after Thomas’ injury.
Tech cut into the lead in the third quarter, thanks to a muffed punt by UCLA punt returner Ishmael Adams. Long snapper Eddie D’Antuano recovered at the UCLA 12, and the Hokies drove to the UCLA 5 before a third-down pass from Leal to D.J. Coles fell incomplete. Branthover made his first collegiate field goal, a 22-yard field goal with 3:53 left in the quarter that cut the lead to 14-10.
But the Bruins answered with an 85-yard march. The big play came on third-and-10 from the UCLA 25 when Hundley threw a short pass to receiver Devin Lucien, who made Tech’s Kyshoen Jarrett miss. Lucien went 32 yards to the Tech 43, and 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 early in the fourth quarter. In the process of being sack, Leal flipped the ball in the air, and Myles Jack intercepted it. He returned it 24 yards for a touchdown with 13:22 left to ice the game.
Playing in just his third game this season, Leal completed 11 of 24 for 128 yards and two interceptions.
“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. Mark’s okay. Losing Logan and losing our tight end [Kalvin Cline], that’s tough, but I expect those guys behind them to step in there and play well.”
Offensively, Tech finished with 319 yards. Thomas led the Hokies in rushing with 49 yards on three carries. He completed 4 of 12 for 48 yards in the final game of his career.