The Virginia Tech freshmen didn't wait long to become fan favorites in Blacksburg.
Three separate diaper dandies (Isaiah Ford, Bucky Hodges and Shai McKenzie) scored touchdowns, new quarterback Michael Brewer was efficient and the Hokie defense picked up right where it left off as Virginia Tech started the season with a decisive 34-9 victory over William & Mary. It's the 11th consecutive victory for the Hokies over the Tribe.
"We saw a lot from the young guys," head coach Frank Beamer said. "I told you guys that I really feel good about where this thing is going. I feel really good about where we are as a program. It's only one game and I understand all that, but I like where this thing is going."
Brewer was 23-30 for 251 yards (2 TD & 1 INT), and spread the ball around to nine different receivers over the course of the game, showing just how many weapons a new-look Virginia Tech offense can employ. The Texas Tech transfer seemed to be clearly comfortable in his first action at Lane Stadium.
"It's amazing to me: The guy came here in June and he's been able to pick up our system," offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said. "You would have thought he's been around here a lot longer than he has."
McKenzie led all rushers with 106 yards on just 9 carries, including a dazzling 39-yard touchdown run. Fellow freshman Marshawn Williams added 42 yards on 12 carries. After a few early struggles, Bud Foster's defense allowed just 193 total yards of offense in a typical dominating performance.
Brewer wasted no time in his first action in a Virginia Tech uniform, as he led a 14-play, 84-yard drive in 5:39 to open up his Hokie career. He went 6-8 on the drive for 40 yards to five different receivers, and it ended with a strike to a wide-open freshman Isaiah Ford (4 catches, 43 yards) in the back of the endzone.
"We were able to put some things together on that first drive, and all it took was a couple of plays and I felt like my old self," Brewer acknowledged. "We got in a good rhythm and were able to move the football, overall I thought it was good. Obviously we had some first game hiccups, but I think we're moving in the right direction."
William & Mary kicker John Carpenter drilled a 42-yard field goal thereafter set up by a long run to cut into the Hokie deficit. Following a Brewer interception on a tipped pass, Carpenter converted another field goal to make it 7-6 early in the second quarter.
The Tribe appeared to have gained the momentum, but it was quickly halted by Chase Williams' crushing hit on Tribe QB Steve Cluley (8-21, 108 yards), forcing a fumble that was returned 45 yards by Derek DiNardo to the Tribe 2. Brewer found freshman Bucky Hodges (game-high 6 catches for 38 yards), who made a nice adjustment to grab the ball away from a Tribe defender, on third down in the corner to give the Hokies a 14-6 lead. That play would eventually turn out to be arguably the biggest one of the game.
"It was huge, I haven't had a clean shot like that in a long time, but I wasn't going to waste the opportunity," Williams, who had two sacks in the game, explained. "We had a great play-call, and that really was a momentum changer."
Brewer led an efficient drive to end the half (9 plays, 75 yards) that ended with a 20-yard Joey Slye field goal to give Virginia Tech a seemingly commanding 17-6 lead entering the locker rooms. Slye added a 27-yarder to give the Hokies a 14-point lead midway through the third, but Carpenter nailed a 44-yarder to make it 20-9.
As had been the mantra all game, another freshman in the form of McKenzie scored his first career touchdown on a beautiful 39-yard scamper up the sideline to all but ice the game for the Hokies late in the third quarter. J.C. Coleman added a 1-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter, but it was McKenzie who separated himself from the pack on Saturday.
"I was a little nervous coming into the stadium and seeing a lot of people," McKenzie, who tore his ACL at the end of his senior high school season, said. "It's just a blessing to be back out there after the injury. I was a little tired after that run, but it felt really good."
Altogether, a much improved offensive group accumulated 488 yards, a number eclipsed in only one game in 2013. The offense also converted 8-of-15 third downs in the game; the Hokies were successful eight or more times on third down in just three games in 2013.
The Hokies will now prepare for the likes of #5 Ohio State next week, when they will travel to the Horseshoe for a Saturday night battle.
"We've got a young team and it's going to be the first time a lot of these guys have ever played on the road and in a hostile environment," defensive coordinator Bud Foster added. "We're going to have a great week of practice, we've really studied these guys in the offseason and we're looking forward to going up there for a great challenge and opportunity for us."