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BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) — Normally, 18-point victories over nonconference opponents elicit platitudes from a head coach, but Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer was a little more reserved following his team's win over Western Michigan on Saturday.
"I still think we're a work in progress," he said.
Michael Brewer threw two touchdown passes to lead the Hokies to a 35-17 victory over the Broncos, snapping a two-game slide in the process.
The win marked the first for the Hokies (3-2) since their upset victory over then-No. 8 Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio. Virginia Tech wrapped up the nonconference portion of its schedule and now gears up for seven straight ACC games.
How good are the Hokies? No one really knows. Are they the team that got down 21-0 in the first quarter against ECU in a loss? Or are they the team that practically gave away a win in the loss to Georgia Tech? Or the team that stunned the Buckeyes in front of the largest crowd in Ohio Stadium history?
"I think we're dangerous," Virginia Tech receiver Willie Byrn said. "I truly believe that we can beat anyone if we come out and play as sharp as we did the first two weeks (wins over William & Mary and Ohio State). Today, we played sharper, but if anyone is satisfied, then it's not going to be a good season. I don't think anyone is satisfied."
The Hokies scored 8 seconds into the game when backup linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka returned a fumble by Western Michigan's Donald Celiscar on the opening kickoff 11 yards for a touchdown. Virginia Tech never trailed after that.
Brewer threw touchdown passes of 29 yards to Bucky Hodges and 7 yards to Isaiah Ford, and tailback Marshawn Williams rushed for 119 yards — his first career 100-yard game. The Hokies finished with a season-high 308 yards rushing.
Western Michigan (2-2) was held to 231 yards of offense and only 19 yards rushing. Zach Terrell completed 18 of 32 passes for 212 yards, with an interception.
Virginia Tech took control of the game with two third-quarter touchdowns. Leading 18-10, the Hokies went 80 yards in 11 plays, and took a 25-10 lead on Brewer's 7-yard touchdown pass to Ford with 5:52 left in the quarter.
On their next possession, the Hokies went 68 yards in nine plays and scored on a 4-yard run by tailback Shai McKenzie with 9 seconds left in the quarter, for a 32-10 lead.
Virginia Tech, which entered averaging just 141.2 yards rushing per game, rushed for 227 yards in the second half alone. The Hokies finished with their most yards rushing since gaining 317 against NC State in 2010. In addition to Williams' 119 yards, McKenzie added 87 yards and the touchdown.
"We ran the ball more," Williams said of the second-half rushing performance. "Things started to open more, and we started to get into a groove. That was big. We just made more plays."
"I hope when we look at it, it was us wearing them down a little bit," Beamer said. "We'll go back and look at it, but I'm glad to see it. I'm glad to see some cracks there and guys running down the field."
The rushing attack was more than enough to make up for Brewer's struggles. He completed 14 of 32 passes for 178 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Western Michigan's two big special teams' mistakes came less than 2 minutes into the game and put the Broncos in a hole from the start. In addition to Celiscar's fumble on the opening kickoff, Western Michigan snapper Wyatt Pfeifer sent the ball over the head of punter J. Schroeder on the Broncos' ensuing drive. The ball went out of the end zone for a Virginia Tech safety, giving the Hokies an 8-0 lead with 13:26 left in the first quarter.
"It doesn't matter who you play," Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck said. "If you spot a team eight points like that at the beginning of the game — the first play of the game — talk about your worst nightmare. You can't have things like that happen."
A Virginia Tech field goal by Joey Slye gave the Hokies an 11-0 lead, but Brewer — who led the ACC with eight interceptions coming into the game — threw an interception that Ronald Zamort returned to the Tech 3. That led to a 1-yard run by tailback Jarvion Franklin and the Broncos cut the lead to 11-7 with 4:15 left in the first quarter.
The score was the Broncos' first against the Hokies in four meetings. Tech had outscored the Broncos 124-0 in the three previous games.
Brewer, though, answered on the Hokies' next drive, throwing the 29-yard touchdown pass to Hodges, who easily scored after a Western Michigan defender fell down. That score gave the Hokies an 18-7 lead with 49 seconds left in the first quarter.
Brewer's second interception led to a 36-yard field goal by Western Michigan's Andrew Haldeman with 5 seconds left before halftime that cut the Hokies lead to 18-10.
The second half was all Virginia Tech. The Broncos' lone score in the half came on a 1-yard run by Franklin with 9:06 left in the game. The Hokies amassed 310 yards of their 486 yards of offense in the second half and held the ball for nearly 20 of the game's final 30 minutes.
"We've had ups and downs," Brewer said. "It's pretty clear we can score on anybody in the country, but then we can get beat up by anybody in the country. We've got to find that balance, which we will. This is a young team, with a lot of new faces. We're going to get better as this thing moves along."