Brett Hundley shredded Virginia Tech's fourth-ranked defense in the Sun Bowl. The UCLA quarterback had 86- and 7-yard touchdown runs and finished with 161 yards on 10 carries in the No. 17 Bruins' 42-12 victory over the Hokies on Tuesday. Hundley also completed 16 of 29 passes for 226 yards and two scores.
Hundley and UCLA linebacker Jordan Zumwalt shared MVP honors. Zumwalt had 10 tackles and returned an interception 43 yards to set up a touchdown.
Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech's career passing leader, left after taking a big hit along the UCLA sideline early in the second quarter. The hit resulted in a 15-yard penalty on the Bruins.
"It was tough to miss time on the field, the worst feeling of my career," Thomas said. "I would have rather you guys talk bad about me than miss time on the field. We were doing some good things on offense. I thought we were right on the verge of doing some good things."
The win in the first meeting between the teams allowed UCLA to post its first 10-win season since 2005, and helped the Bruins forget last season's 49-26 loss to Baylor in the Holiday Bowl.
Virginia Tech had its second-worst loss in a bowl game. Its worst was a 42-3 loss to North Carolina in the 1998 Gator Bowl. The 42 points the Hokies allowed were the second-most in a bowl game behind the 52 they gave up in a 52-49 loss to California in the 2003 Insight Bowl.
While the Hokies, making their 21st consecutive bowl appearance, were able to limit UCLA's running backs to 49 yards, they had no answer for Hundley, who repeatedly gouged them for big gainers on designed quarterback counters.
"UCLA made the plays it had to and you have to give them credit," Hokies coach Frank Beamer said. "I was disappointed that we didn't execute better."
After 27 seasons as Virginia Tech’s coach, Frank Beamer has been around long enough to know exactly where interested observers to his program will gravitate when spring practice begins in three months.
With a crushing 42-12 loss to No. 17 UCLA in the Sun Bowl serving as the last image of the 2013 season, Tech has questions to be answer in the backfield, and reliable starters to be discovered at linebacker, defensive end, defensive tackle, offensive guard and kicker.
Those aren’t the positions that will demand attention in the spring. It’s all about who takes over under center in the post-Logan Thomas era.
Beamer knows it, and he tried his best to head off the inevitable glare on his quarterback spot with post-Sun Bowl comments in support of Mark Leal — though Leal’s performance in relief of the injured Thomas in the Sun Bowl left a lot to be desired.
“Mark’s the next guy in line here,” said Beamer, whose team suffered its second-largest margin of defeat ever in a bowl, and surrendered the most points it has given up to a bowl opponent since a 52-49 loss to California in the 2003 Insight Bowl. “He had a couple of tough throws (against UCLA). You learn from that.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in Mark. I’ve seen him too many times. I’ve seen him practice too many times. I’ve got a lot of confidence in the guy.”
Leal, a 6-foot-1, 217-pound native of Greenacres, Fla., who will be a senior next season, completed just 12 of 25 passes for 130 yards and two interceptions against UCLA after Thomas left the game early in the second quarter with concussion-like symptoms. One interception was returned 24 yards for a touchdown by linebacker Myles Jack early in the fourth quarter, putting UCLA ahead 28-10.
Though Leal got the vote of confidence from Beamer, offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler will evaluate Leal along with redshirt freshman Brenden Motley and incoming freshmen Andrew Ford and Chris Durkin.
Despite Thomas’ up-and-down performances, replacing him will be a tall order for Tech (8-5). Thomas threw 39 interceptions in his career, but he also leaves Tech as the school’s career leader in total offense (10,362 yards), touchdown passes (53), completions (693), passes (1,248) and rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (24).
Tech did end up having the most productive trio of wide receivers in a single season in school history with Willie Byrn (51 catches for 660 yards and two touchdowns), Demitri Knowles (45 catches for 641 yards and three touchdowns) and Joshua Stanford (40 catches for 640 yards and a touchdown).
All three players are expected to be back next season, along with tight end Ryan Malleck (who missed the season with a shoulder injury) and Kalvin Cline (26 catches for 321 yards and two touchdowns).
Despite giving up 447 total yards to UCLA, including 197 rushing, Tech’s defense was as solid this season under coordinator Bud Foster as it has ever been. Tech is fifth in the nation in total defense (283.2 yards per game), ninth in passing defense (172.3 ypg), 10th in rushing defense (110.9 ypg) and 11th in scoring defense (19.3 points per game).
With defensive ends James Gayle and J.R. Collins, defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins, linebackers Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards and cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum leaving the program, and defensive tackle Luther Maddy and safety Kyshoen Jarrett contemplating the NFL, Foster will have to lean on new players.
Foster will be hard-pressed to find freshmen as effective as cornerbacks Kendall Fuller (team-high six interceptions) and Brandon Facyson (five interceptions) were this season, but several veterans and promising young players will need to step up.
» Washington Post: Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer contemplates his future
» Bleacher Report: Logan Thomas' Legacy at Virginia Tech