Logan Thomas' record-setting career at Virginia Tech career ended before halftime of the Sun Bowl, and a close game took a harsh turn in the final quarter when UCLA's 28 points made it a 42-12 blowout.
In a season when the Hokies made some strides in reclaiming their place among the top teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the finish was a bitter pill that highlighted that they still have a way to go.
And they will do it without Thomas, who has started the Hokies' last 40 games and will leave Blacksburg as the owner of nearly every significant career passing record in school history. Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler got to see backup Mark Leal against the Bruins, and there's work to do.
Leal, a third-year backup with limited experience, did some things to be excited about after replacing Thomas in the second quarter, but also threw two fourth-quarter interceptions as the Bruins dominated.
Coach Frank Beamer said Leal will head into spring practice at the top of the depth chart, but he also expressed disappointment that when the Hokies had to turn to him, Leal seemed less-than prepared.
"I'm disappointed that Mark didn't play better," Beamer, who finished his 27th season, said. "I've got a lot of confidence in him. I think it's a lesson that you need to be ready to play each and every week."
Before losing Thomas, the Hokies were already without cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum, two of their best defensive players, and leading rusher Trey Edmunds. All were sidelined by injury.
Of those, only Edmunds will be back, and the Hokies also will lose linebackers Jack Tyler, their leading tackler, and Tariq Edwards, defensive linemen James Gayle, Derrick Hopkins and J.R. Collins and several other seniors off their two-deep depth chart, creating a new challenge for the upcoming season.
The Hokies' defense under coordinator Bud Foster gave up a season-high 197 yards rushing, most of it to Bruins' quarterback Brett Hundley, which highlighted one of their weaknesses this year, but defense has rarely been an issue and Foster has rarely remained stumped for long. Loeffler, while he seemed focused on helping Thomas be the best he can be this year, has almost everyone else back to work with on offense.