September 02, 2016

Virginia Tech won't be the only team with a new look on offense when it opens the Justin Fuente era against Liberty on Saturday.

The Flames are moving to a no-huddle attack led by dual-threat quarterback Stephon Masha.

Transfer Jerod Evans will start at quarterback for the Hokies, becoming perhaps the immediate face of what Virginia Tech fans hope will be a high powered offense. Evans threw for nearly 400 yards per game with 38 touchdowns and just three interceptions in eight games last season at Trinity Valley Community College in Texas.

Fuente, replacing retired Hall of Famer Frank Beamer, is eager to get started.

''We've got a big challenge this week,'' he said. ''... They've got a talented team. They've got good players on both sides of the ball. We're playing a program that has had very good success in the last couple years, with an athletic quarterback. A sound physical defense. Plus, it's the first game.''

The latter, Fuente said, can be tricky, because teams aren't always as sharp as coaches would like in Week One.

''It's one thing to go play the season opener. It's another thing to go play the season opener with a new coach,'' he said. ''And there's no substitute for being on the sideline with your team and seeing how they respond and react to adversity and the good and the bad that comes through games. So there's a little bit of anxiousness that comes with that. I'm optimistic and I'm excited to go through those emotions with the team to help them kind of tunnel those emotions and focus on trying to win ballgames.''

Liberty, of the Football Championship Subdivision, has played a Bowl Subdivision team to start the season four times in the last five seasons. It's the fifth season for coach Turner Gill, who has guided them to three Big South regular seasons titles and, in 2014, their first FCS playoff berth and a first-round victory at James Madison.

Gill this season will hand the offensive reigns to Masha, a junior who started twice two years ago and led the Flames to a road victory at top-ranked Coastal Carolina, completing 20 of 33 passes for 285 yards and a touchdown.

''He's played in big bag games,'' Gill said. ''It's his turn. He's ready for it and he's excited.''

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Here are other things to watch when Liberty plays Virginia Tech:

PACE OF PLAY: Fuente wants the Hokies to play fast, and he plans to shuttle players in and out constantly to keep them fresh. With Liberty also using a no-huddle scheme, the team in the best shape will have an edge.

STOPPING THE RUN: Virginia Tech was uncharacteristically porous against the run last season, and was burned several times by dual-threat quarterbacks. Shoring up the line play has been a focus for Bud Foster and his defense, while Masha's running ability helped inspire Liberty's move to the faster-paced no-huddle attack.

EVANS' DEBUT: Virginia Tech will get a quick look at how Evans' gaudy numbers from a year ago translate to higher level football, and in wide receivers Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips, tight end Bucky Hodges and tailback Sam Rogers, he'll have plenty of proven pass catchers to try to find in space.

BIG STAGE: The Hokies are excited for Fuente to have his first home game experience, from their traditional entrance to ''Enter Sandman'' to the atmosphere in 61,233-seat Lane Stadium. The largest crowd the Flames have ever played in front of was 57,950 at West Virginia on Sept. 5, 2009.

HONORING BEAMER: The Hokies' special teams player of the week will wear Frank Beamer's retired jersey No. 25 each week going forward this season to honor the former coach. Fuente tabbed Steven People to wear it this week.

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The AP's college football page: http://collegefootball.ap.org

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