BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente downplayed any personal satisfaction derived from his team’s season-opening performance, but needless to say, he enjoyed most of what he witnessed in his debut as the Hokies’ head coach.
Virginia Tech quarterback Jerod Evans threw for 221 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Hokies to a 36-13 season-opening victory over Liberty on Saturday, handing Fuente his first victory.
Fuente, who spent the previous four seasons at Memphis, took over in January for Frank Beamer, who retired after 29 years as Virginia Tech’s head coach.
“The atmosphere here is fantastic,” Fuente said. “It’s what college football is all about. People at Virginia Tech take a lot of pride in the game-day atmosphere, and they should. It was incredible
“My thought process coming into the game was how would our kids handle this? How do they respond when things don’t go well. There were some times when things were kind of ugly looking, but I liked the way our kids dug in there and plowed away. The atmosphere was fantastic and I’m pleased with the way the kids responded to adversity.”
Fuente’s decision last week to name Evans the starting quarterback certainly looked like a good move after Evans completed 20 of 32 passes. He threw touchdown passes on the Hokies’ last two possessions of the first half to help Virginia Tech rally from a 13-10 deficit.
“It was a great feeling,” Evans said. “It’s been nine months of hard work. We finally got to showcase what we’ve been working on for nine long months. We had some mistakes, for sure. I know on my part I had a lot of mistakes that I am going to clean up, but it was exciting.”
Evans, who won a three-man battle for the job, played less than three quarters. Fuente pulled him after he fumbled on an option pitch — his second fumble of the game.
“Some good and some bad would be my first impression,” Fuente said of his quarterback. “We need to take care of the football. He made some good plays in the passing game. My gut reaction is some good and some bad.”
Liberty amassed just 160 yards of offense, scoring all of its points off of Virginia Tech turnovers. The Hokies lost four fumbles.
“They made more plays than we did, but we’ll bounce back,” Liberty coach Turner Gill said. “We will be a better football team from this ball game.”
LIBERTY: Liberty quarterback Stephon Masha got off to a rough start in his attempt to replace Josh Woodrum, a four-year starter. Masha completed 9 of 25 for 70 yards and two interceptions. It was a sloppy debut overall for Liberty, which committed 13 penalties, including eight false-start penalties.
VIRGINIA TECH: The Hokies’ defense struggled with consistency a year ago, but looked good Saturday. Virginia Tech, which intercepted just 10 passes last season, had three, marking the 41st time under defensive coordinator Bud Foster that the Hokies have intercepted at least three passes in a game. They’re 38-3 in those games.
“It was a good starting point for us today,” Foster said. “I was pleased with how we played. We didn’t give up any explosive plays. All in all, I thought we did a nice job in some sudden-change situations and on third down. I think they had 11 turnovers last year, so that (forcing the turnovers) was big.”
LIBERTY: The Flames will serve as hosts to Jacksonville next Saturday in Liberty’s home opener. The game will be Liberty’s first against an opponent from the Pioneer Football League.
VIRGINIA TECH: The Hokies now get ready to take on Tennessee at Bristol Motor Speedway next Saturday night in a game that could set college football’s single-game attendance mark. The two teams haven’t met in the regular season since 1937.