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Virginia Tech sends Frank Beamer off right, turns page to Fuente era

December 26, 2015: Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer walks off the field after the Camping World Independence Bowl between the Virginia Tech Hokies and the Tulsa Golden Hurricane played at the Independence Stadium in Shreveport, LA. (Photo by Steve Nurenberg/Icon Sportswire)
Steve Nurenberg/Icon Sportswire

It wasn’t the typical win for Frank Beamer.

When Virginia Tech held on for a 55-52 victory over Tulsa in the Independence Bowl on Saturday, it wasn’t the defense saving the day as it had done so many times in the past. Although Dadi Nicolas’ fourth-down sack with 1:17 remaining sealed the matchup for the Hokies, it came only after the team allowed 21 second-half points — 15 of which were scored in the last eight minutes.

For nearly three decades, Virginia Tech held a reputation for leaning on defense and special teams to win games. The term “Beamerball” was ultimately coined to sum up the concept that the team could score no matter which unit was on the field.

Hokie wide receiver Greg Stroman returned a punt 67 yards to the house midway through the second quarter on Saturday to give his team a 45-21 lead, but that was about the only time the game was impacted by Beamerball.

It was nearly all offense leading the way against the Golden Hurricane in Shreveport, as Virginia Tech posted its highest single-game points total since pummeling Appalachian State to the tune of 66-13 in 2011.

14 November 2015: Memphis Tigers head coach Justin Fuente gets interviewed at the end of the first half during the NCAA football game between the University of Memphis Tigers and Houston Cougars at TDECU Stadium in Houston, TX. (Photograph by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire)

(Photograph by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire)

There was a hint of irony in the outcome, given that Beamer’s 29-year career of building stout defenses in Blacksburg was wrapped up with a dominant offensive performance. Yet it was also fitting, as the 69-year-old’s successor, Justin Fuente, is expected to make the Hokies’ offense an explosive force for years to come.

Fuente takes over at Tech after building a track record for fielding teams that light up the scoreboard. Last season, his Memphis squad averaged 36.2 points per game, and the Tigers boasted the sixth-best scoring offense in the nation this season by scoring 42.7 points per matchup. During his career, Fuente has also developed a couple standout quarterbacks. As co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at TCU, he helped Andy Dalton become a second-round NFL Draft pick in 2011. Most recently, he tutored Memphis signal-caller Paxton Lynch, who could potentially be a first-rounder in the 2016 Draft — if he leaves early — less than four years after struggling to gain interest as a little-known recruit coming out of Deltona, Fla.

Fuente won’t be working with a bare cupboard in his first year in Blacksburg.

Aside from returning four starters on the offensive line, the Hokies will have plenty of talent at the skill positions. Arguably the most dangerous weapon will be receiver Isaiah Ford, who hauled in 12 receptions for 227 yards and a touchdown against Tulsa. As a sophomore this fall, Ford collected first-team All-ACC honors and completed his season with 75 catches for 1,164 yards and 11 scores.

September 19, 2015: Virginia Tech Hokies wide receiver Isaiah Ford (1) runs onto the field with the American flag before a NCAA football game between the Purdue Boilermakers and Virginia Tech Hokies at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, IN.

Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire

Other productive pass-catchers included wideout Cam Phillips (49 REC, 582 YDS, 2 TD) and tight end Bucky Hodges (40 REC, 530 YDS, 6 TD). While Hodges is eligible to declare for the NFL Draft, the redshirt sophomore was told by the league’s advisory board to stay in school, according to The Roanoke Times.

The backfield should be in solid shape with redshirt freshman Travon McMillian in line to return in 2016.

McMillian had yet another impressive performance against the Golden Hurricane with 82 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, adding to a breakout campaign that produced 1,043 yards and seven scores rushing.

The new coaching staff will be tasked with replacing quarterback Michael Brewer, but Fuente will have multiple options for who will be the next man to line up behind center. In addition to junior Brenden Motley, who started six games this year while Brewer recovered from a broken collarbone, the staff could turn to highly touted junior college signee Jerod Evans.

At Trinity Valley Community College this season, Evans passed for 3,164 yards and 38 touchdowns with only three interceptions. The 6-4, 225-pounder will have two years of eligibility remaining starting in 2016.

The amount of offensive talent lined up for next fall should be refreshing for a Virginia Tech program that’s finished No. 83 or worse nationally in total offense each of the last four seasons. The showing against Tulsa on Saturday showed no shortage of promise for the future.

The Hokies didn’t need Beamerball to win the Independence Bowl in their legendary coach’s final game.

That could be a sign that better days are to come under the next man up.

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