Notebook: QB Jerod Evans plays it cool in Virginia Tech victory

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Jerod Evans doesn’t want to use it as an excuse, but he can’t help but be honest.

Virginia Tech’s quarterback, a Texas native, was cold on Saturday in Notre Dame Stadium.

“I’m a Texas boy, so anything that’s below 60 (degrees) is super cold to me,” Evans said. “But I definitely don’t let that affect me. I know my team is depending on me especially when I’ve got the ball in my hand 100 percent of the time.”

The temperature at kickoff in South Bend was in the high 30s, and Evans’ game reflected it. He lost a fumble, had to jump on a mishandled handoff and completed only one of his three passes.

“I couldn’t get a grip on the ball,” Evans said. “The one I fumbled just slipped right out of my hand.”

Everything went wrong for the Hokies to start the game. Seven seconds into the second quarter, Notre Dame led 17-0. But Virginia Tech refused to quit, and Evans had a lot to do with an eventual 34-31 victory.

“When you shoot yourself in the foot the last two, three weeks like we’ve been doing,” Evans said, “and we know we’re more than capable of doing what we’re doing with a high-powered offense with the O-line, the running game, the wide receivers. You don’t lose that confidence that easily when you have that type of talent.”

Evans did his job in sharing the ball with the talent around him. He completed 22 of his 29 passes for 267 yards and two touchdowns. He rushed 18 times for 67 yards, both team highs, and a 23-yard touchdown. His only interception came on a perfect throw to Cam Phillips that was dropped and redirected into the hands of Notre Dame safety Drue Tranquill.

Evans never lost confidence, and his teammates never lost confidence in him.

“He has faith in knowing that if we continue to do what we’re asking him to do on a consistent basis, that will lead to him playing efficiently and us ultimately having the chance to win,” said Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente. “There’s not time for sulking out there in front 80,000 people when things aren’t going your way. You can either go in the tank or you can pick yourself up and go back to work. That’s what he did and what you have to do if you’re going to play quarterback.”

Panic never started to settle in despite the 17-point deficit. He scored the first points for the Hokies on his 23-yard touchdown run and threw his first touchdown pass late in the second quarter to cut the halftime margin to 10.

“I’m never in a rush,” Evans said. “I don’t know – something about this game, I just felt that we were going to win. I have to stay cool, calm and collected just for the guys. Because as the leader, you don’t ever want to let them see you get flustered or get down. I just try to make that be a part of my game but also be authentic and be myself as far as having the passion and the hunger and the charisma and go out there and do my job.”

That patience must come from the journey that’s led him to Virginia Tech. An ACL injury and two seasons at Trinity Valley Community College preceded his latest stop in Blacksburg, Va. He’s come a long way since last year, but he’s not ready to look back. A chance at an ACC Championship remains on the horizon.

“I have not reflected yet,” Evans said. “The season is not yet over. But I knew I was more than capable to do what I’m doing right now. I knew this team was something special when I was getting recruited.”

Road warriors

While Notre Dame celebrated its seniors on Saturday, the Virginia Tech seniors added an accomplishment to the list. Those same players have now won road games at Notre Dame and Ohio State (in 2014).

Offensive lineman Augie Conte made sure defensive coordinator Bud Foster was aware of that after the game.

“He said, ‘Coach, it’s pretty special,’” Foster relayed. “’This class,’ he said, ‘we went up to the Horseshoe and won and went to Notre Dame and won. How many people can say that?’ I think it makes a statement about this group of seniors when it’s all said and done.”

The Hokies have won seven of their last eight road games. They were cheered by a large and vocal contingent of Virginia Tech fans before, during and after the game.

“I’m really proud of how many people we had here,” said Foster, a native of Nokomis, Ill. “It was a tremendous amount of people. I’ve got about 70 from my hometown, which is about five hours away, that I’m going to go hang out with here a little bit.”

Fuente fever

Justin Fuente made his displeasure known. When his offensive lineman was flagged for a false start in the second quarter, Virginia Tech’s head coach lit into the referees. It prompted a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty on Fuente.

“I obviously disagreed with the call vehemently,” Fuente said. “I wasn’t trying to make a point, I can tell you that much. I wasn’t trying to do anything other than I wasn’t very happy. Then I really wasn’t happy I got the penalty. Not with them but with myself.”

A different kind of yelling followed Fuente after the game. Virginia Tech fans were chanting his name. He’s led the Hokies to an 8-3 record with a chance to win the ACC’s Coastal Division next weekend in his first season with the program.

“Virginia Tech is a special place. And I don’t mean just a special place to coach football. It’s a special place to be a part of,” Fuente said. “The pride that people have in Virginia Tech whether they just live in Blacksburg, work at Virginia Tech or went to school there is palpable. You can see it.

“Sometimes you can see it a little bit easier at road football games. It was a great example of it today.”

tjames@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Virginia Tech’s Jerod Evans (4) carries the ball during the first half, Saturday, November 19, 2016 in South Bend. Tribune Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ