Three-Point Stance: Epic comeback gives Virginia Tech momentum for '17
Arkansas collapsed. Again. The Razorbacks entered Thursday ranked 110th in second-half scoring margin, and that they squandered a 24-0 halftime lead over Virginia Tech will have that be the biggest storyline from the Belk Bowl.
But that would be to undermine what Justin Fuente and the Hokies pulled off in their 35-24 win, giving the program its first 10-win season since 2011 and marked the third-largest bowl comeback in a decade (and the biggest for any Hokies team).
It's a springboard kind of a win for a program that could bring back all of its key pieces on offense (more on that later).
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1. Fuente does something no first-year Hokies coach has done
The ACC's consensus Coach of the Year -- as voted by his peers -- Fuente already led Virginia Tech to a comeback win after trailing Notre Dame 17-0 on Nov. 19. Behind by two touchdowns vs. Clemson in the national title game, the Hokies nearly pulled that one off two in a seven-point loss.
But this? This comeback was something very different. Virginia Tech managed just 180 first-half yards, was on the wrong end of an incredibly confusing call on a muffed punt and headed to the locker room in danger of having its 282-game streak without a shutout snapped.
Instead, the Hokies -- as Fuente simply put it, "Regrouped. They came out and fought and scratched and clawed and found a way to get the job done."
The result made Fuente the first Virginia Tech coach to reach double-digit wins in his first season. Franker Beamer (2-9 in his debut of 1987), set the standard in Blacksburg, but Fuente, who inherited an almost impossible task in following him, his showing he's more than up to it.
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2. Nation take notice: Jerod Evans is ready to star
He wasn't the game's MVP. That would be receiver Cam Phillips, who had six catches for 115 yards, but Hokies quarterback Jerod Evans showed why he's positioned to rival the reigning Heisman Trophy winner -- Louisville's Lamar Jackson -- as the ACC's top star in 2017.
Evans passed for 243 yards, two touchdowns and an interception and rushed for 87 yards and two more scores. He also set another Hokies record, hitting fullback Sam Rogers for one of those scores to give him his 28th TD pass of the season.
That set a program record, one he would extend when Evans hit Chris Cunningham for a 5-yard scoring strike 18 seconds later. Among the Virginia Tech marks Evans now holds are completions, TD passes in a game, passing yards in a season and highest completion percentage.
The scary part? This was his first season under Fuente after transferring from Trinity Valley Community College.
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3. Who's returning? The answer could make Hokies playoff contenders
The aforementioned Evans will be back in Blacksburg in '17, but who exactly will he be throwing to? The answer could turn Virginia Tech into College Football Playoff contenders.
Receivers Phillips, Isaiah Ford -- who broke his own single-season Virginia Tech receptions mark in this win -- and tight end Bucky Hodges are all draft eligible. It's a trio that Evans has used expertly, spreading the ball around to all three vs. Arkansas, with Phillips and Ford hauling in six passes each and and Hodges with five.
Rogers is the next-closest receiver, with 22 catches, but he's exhausted his eligibility. That leaves C.J. Carroll (18 catches) next in line.
The Hokies have the potential to return nine starters on offense -- though they'll lose the entire right side of the line -- and seven on defense. But those receivers could be the difference for a team that will certainly be ACC Coastal Division favorites, and potentially more.