CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- With his back against the goal line and with Virginia Tech pass rushers in his face, Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen threw an interception that would go on to seal one of the biggest collapses in bowl history.
Arkansas led 24-0 at halftime after totally dominating the first half, turning a pair of Hokie turnovers into 10 points and running the ball right at a team that could not get out of its own way. The half dragged, included a 12-minute review of a muffed punt that was ultimately ruled dead, and the feeling in Bank of America Stadium that the final two quarters would be a slow march to Hog Heaven for the visitors from the SEC.
Instead, Justin Fuente gathered his team on the field before heading into the locker room, delivered his message and a different team came out for the third quarter, leading to a 35-24 win in Charlotte.
"I didn't say anything revolutionary, I don't think," Fuente said. "But I dobelieve that our guys were upset with how they played. I don't want to take away from how Arkansasplayed. They played really well. The only way to do anything about it is to go out there and take one stepat a time and they did that."
A different Arkansas team showed up in the third quarter, too. The Hogs allowed an easy Virginia Tech score, set up by a fumble on their own 30-yard line on the first possession of the second half and would go on turn the ball over four more times (three of them Austin Allen interceptions) before the end of the game. Two of Virginia Tech's four touchdowns off turnovers came within 18 seconds of each other on the game clock, and by the end of the third quarter Arkansas' lead was trimmed to 24-21.
The tumbling momentum played out on the field in a shocking fashion, with Virginia Tech's defense feeding on Arkansas' frustrations and turning up the pressure on Allen. The pressure contributed to the turnovers, and the turnovers powered one of the biggest comebacks we've seen all season in college football as Virginia Tech ran off 35 unanswered points in the second half to capture a 10-win season in year one with Justin Fuente.
Three things to know:
1. Stats about the comeback: According to ESPN's Zach Mariner, teams trailing by 24 points at halftime went 0-102 this season. In the last 10 years, teams trailing by 24 points at halftime are 1-30 (TCU over Oregon, 2015 Alamo Bowl).
Teams trailing by 24 points at halftime are 0-102 this season. 1-30 in bowl games in last 10 seasons (lone win: TCU over Oregon last year).— Zach Mariner (@ZachMariner) December 30, 2016
It's also the biggest comeback win in Virginia Tech program history.
"It's a fantastic honor, I guess," Fuente quipped. "I would prefer not to do it that way. Again, I think it speaks so much to our guys. With the character and the toughness and how much it means to them to play for Virginia Tech.These kids love Virginia Tech. they love the school. They love each other and they weren't going to giveup, I can say that much.
2. The difference-maker: Virginia Tech quarterback Jerod Evans has emerged as a star in the ACC, taking control of Justin Fuente's offense and reaching a point of mastery by the end of the season. Evans called the shots as the Hokies went up-tempo in the second half, picking on Arkansas' pass defense with shallow passes and quick-in routes to put long touchdown drives together. The junior, who transferred in from junior college and just earned the starting job this year, was the team's leading rusher and finished with four touchdowns (two passing, two rushing).
3. An embarrassing collapse for Arkansas, and the SEC: The Razorbacks had this game in the bag, and simply didn't show up as the same team in the second half. Watching the wheels fall off was a little troubling, but this Arkansas team was erratic enough this season that it shouldn't be much of a surprise. Arkansas' loss comes right on the heels of South Carolina and Texas A&M losing in their bowl games, only giving more weight to the (sometimes frustrating and occasionally misguided) narrative that bowl performance is a reflection of conference strength.