Michigan (10-2) vs. Virginia Tech (11-2)
|Virginia Tech Schedule:
(W) Appalachian St. 66-13
(W) at East Carolina 17-10
(W) Arkansas St. 26-7
(W) at Marshall 30-10
(L) Clemson 3-23
(W) Miami-FL 38-35
(W)at Wake Forest 38-17
(W) Boston College 30-14
(W) at Duke 14-10
(W) at Georgia Tech 37-26
(W) North Carolina 24-21
(W) at Virginia 38-0
(L) Clemson 10-38
Virginia Tech Players to Watch:
Virginia Tech, at 11-2 becomes the first ACC school to get an at-large bid to a BCS game. Their selection comes with controversy. They got blown out in the 2nd half of the ACC Championship game to Clemson 38-10 and their strength of schedule wasn’t strong. They were 2-2 against ranked teams, with no victories against teams ranked in the Top 20. Head coach Frank Beamer and his Hokies have to defend themselves and their bid more often than BCS commissioners have to justify their system. Regardless, the Sugar Bowl found two teams that can draw a crowd and despite a slow start, more than 14,000 Hokie tickets are sold for the game.
- What’s a Hokie?
It’s creative imagination. In 1896, a contest was held for the Virginia Tech student body to come up with a new cheer. The author of the winning entry admits he made up the word “Hoki” or “Hokie” to grab attention. It certainly worked as the cheer is still used today and the moniker is more famous now than it ever was in their first 100 years. Though hardly anyone can tell you what at “Hokie” is, any college football fan knows who and what a “Hokie” refers to.
- What’s Virginia Tech’s motivation to win?
Anytime the Sugar Bowl is mentioned on TV, the radio, newspapers or in blogs, the first thing that’s discussed is how they don’t deserve to be playing in the game. Yes, even the Hokies are surprised about being there, but to them, the constant criticism is overkill. As soon as Beamer walked off the plane in New Orleans, he had to justify why the team belonged in the Sugar Bowl and not, say, the Chick-fil-A Bowl. The chip on their shoulder is the size of a boulder and they want to prove to everybody they’re a good team and weren’t selected just on the merits of previous teams and how well the fans travel. The fact that Michigan hasn’t gotten nearly the same treatment from the press is a slow and raw burn. The ACC is also 2-11 in BCS games.
- Have Michigan and Virginia Tech ever played before?
No, this is their first meeting. Michigan’s last game against an ACC opponent was a 20-14 win over Boston College in 1996. Virginia Tech’s last game against a Big Ten opponent was a 45-20 Independence Bowl win over Indiana in 1993.
- What is Beamerball?
Beamerball is the term to best describe Virginia Tech’s knack for scoring touchdowns defensively or through special teams as well as blocking kicks. Under Frank Beamer, 81 different players have scored on defense and special teams including a player at each defensive position in the past ten seasons. The Hokies have blocked 128 kicks in Beamer’s 308 games as Head Coach.
- What happened to Frank Beamer?
This question and answer has no intent to be disrespectful or mean-spirited. I bring it up because many have asked over time. As a seven year-old Beamer had an accident while doing farming chores. A gasoline can caught fire and an explosion left Beamer severely burned. Doctors didn’t believe he could ever play competitive sports, but Beamer became a three sport athlete in high school and went on to be a starting cornerback for the Hokies for three seasons.
Virginia Tech’s Offense vs. Michigan’s Defense
Virginia Tech has a reputation for having a dynamic running quarterback and a future NFL running back. They’re not exactly known for their downfield passing. Outrushing the Michigan offense won’t be easy, but Beamer’s teams win 85% of time when they outrush their opponent and only 28% of the time when they don’t.
This year’s team is more balanced, but it’s led by the ACC Player of the Year, David Wilson (Jr. #4). Wilson had 1,627 rushing yards with nine touchdowns and catches balls out of the backfield as well. His first carry of the season was a 20 yard touchdown run. Ever since he allegedly ran a 4.29 40-yard dash, he’s been returning kicks as well. He rushed for over 100 yards in ten of the 13 team games. Wilson needs just 29 yards to set the Virginia Tech single season rushing record, something that should have probably occurred last month. In one of the biggest mysteries of the ACC title game, Wilson only carried the ball 11 times for 32 yards. Six of those carries came in the first half when the score was still tied at 10-10, and Wilson called out the play-calling after the game. Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring said the Hokies will probably force the ball into his hands a couple more times early on, regardless of the situation. Wilson may depart for the NFL after this game.
Sophomore quarterback Logan Thomas (#3) will be the most interesting player to watch. At 6’6 and 254 lbs, he’s one of the biggest quarterbacks in the NCAA. Named to the All ACC 2nd team, he’s not as dangerous as a runner like Michael Vick or Tyrod Taylor, but Thomas produces. He’s one rushing touchdown short of the school record (11), a record not held by either Vick or Taylor. Thomas and Wilson run the zone read together and his size makes him hard to bring down. He’s also the first ACC player to pass for 19 touchdowns and run for ten more in the same season since Phillip Rivers in 2002. Thomas is becoming an emerging passer and that makes defenses more honest and hinders a team’s ability to crouch the line. If Wilson goes to the NFL, Thomas will be the team’s cover boy.
After losing to Clemson the first time, a 20-3 loss at home, many were settling in for the reality that there was going to be a lot of growing pains for the first year QB, but instead Thomas got significantly better running and executing the offense and led the team to a seven game winning streak including two fourth quarter game winning touchdown drives. Thomas is on the verge of becoming a very good quarterback and yet sometimes shows he’s not ready for primetime. He does have off games and when that happens, the Hokies either lose or scratch out a defensive win. Like many young QB’s, it was evident that Thomas had problems escaping blitzes and adjusting his progressions to find the ‘hot’ receiver. It’s a guarantee that the Hokies coaching staff has focused some one-on-one time on this issue and has gotten as much film as possible on Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison’s blitz packages. At the same time, Mattison has had a month to create some new ones.
Virginia Tech is throwing the ball more. They throw for 60 yards more than Michigan per game. Their top two receivers are one-two in the record books for career receiving yards and catches. Jarrett Boykin (Sr. #81) and Danny Coale (Sr. #19) are both approaching 800 yards this year. With 69 yards, Boykin can get to 800 yards for the third time in his career. Contrast that to Junior Hemmingway (Sr. #21) and Jeremy Gallon (So. #10) who combines for less than 1,100 yards this season. It’s not often you hear that the Hokies are trying to establish a 3rd a receiver, but if that’s their concern, then it was a good year for their passing game. The reserve receivers are D.J. Coles (Jr. #18) and Marcus Davis (Jr. #7). Coles was used in short situations while Davis is more apt to go downfield with a 4.37 40. Both are approaching 500 yards this season.
A good brunt of the blame for the ACC title game fiasco went to the offensive line who couldn’t open rushing lanes or pass protect. For those that saw it, they got manhandled. Surprisingly, this group has four starting senior linemen and amazingly, their O-Line never missed a start in 2011. Furthermore, it appears if you take substitution patterns out of the equation with say fullbacks vs. a third receiver or 2nd tight end, nobody missed a start on the offensive side of the ball. The line spent most of the season preparing for speed rushers and not the bull rushers like the Wolverines. If being physical enough is an issue up front, this is certainly an advantage for Michigan. Brady Hoke has been preaching physicality since day one.
Against Ohio State, Michigan added an extra defender down low to stop their running game. Dan Herron was hardly heard from, but Braxton Miller was still able to run and uncharacteristically hit some long throws on single coverage. It will be curious to see if Mattison deploys some of the same strategies after working out some of the defensive mistakes that were made against the Buckeyes and force Thomas to play like he did against the Hurricanes. Thomas won’t miss open targets like Miller did. Tech insiders like the possibilities of Wilson on the perimeter of the Michigan defense.
Michigan must get pressure from the front four, whose depth has taken a hit in bowl preparations. Reserve Nathan Brink (So. #67) is out with a broken leg and starter Will Heininger (Sr. #39) is wearing a protective boot. His status and effectiveness isn’t known. Wolverine cornerbacks will also have to do a better job recognizing when they have or won’t have safety help and who to cover with men in motion as Michigan focuses on stopping the running game. The battles on 3rd and short could be epic. It’s an obvious run with Wilson or Thomas, but the Wolverine defenders have been stout in those situations all season.
Virginia Tech’s Defense vs. Michigan’s Offense
If you follow college football enough that you know the names of some of top defensive coordinators across the country, Bud Foster has one of the best reputations. He’s a winner of the Frank Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach in 2006 and has been named a finalist on three other occasions. Foster has coached the Hokies for the past 25 years and is a big reason why Tech has their tremendous defensive reputation.
The Hokie’s defense gave up 17.2 pts per game and was technically 6/100ths of a point behind the Wolverines. Tech was #13 in the NCAA in total defense (313.9 ypg) while Michigan was #17 (317.6 ypg). VT was statistically better in rush defense while U-M was better in passing defense. Despite the solid NCAA rankings, very few members of the defense on each team earned post-season accolades. No Virginia Tech players made the All-ACC Team but four made it on defense.
Whip linebacker Kyle Fuller (So. #17) is probably the team’s best and most versatile defender. His natural position is at corner, but moved to Whip (described by Foster as mostly linebacker but the player must have the skills to play safety as well) midway through the season after two starting linebackers went down with season ending injuries. He more than just filled a need; he became the team’s best defender wherever he was in the back seven. He leads the team with 14.5 tackles-for-loss and has 4.5 sacks and is good at making tackles in the open field. Don’t be surprised if it’s Fuller who makes a shoestring tackle on Denard Robinson (Jr. #16) that prevents him from going the distance.
Cornerback Jayron Hosley (Jr. #20) was an All-American in 2010 leading the nation with nine interceptions, but didn’t perform as well numbers wise in 2011. A lingering hamstring injury may be the reason, and when he suffered a concussion during the ACC Championship game along with Fuller being moved to Whip, the Clemson receivers had a field day in the 2nd half against the Hokie back-up corners. Though his NFL stock is probably taking a major hit, Hosley has indicated that this is probably his final game in college. Hosley, who grew up in Delray Beach Florida, just 15 minutes away from Robinson’s hometown of Deerfield Beach, never played against one another in high school, but told reporters this past week that he had heard of him “all the way back to the Pop Warner days.” If Hosley is fully healthy after four weeks off, it would be a big boost to the defense. There’s a big difference between being an All-American lock-down corner and one who was name 2nd Team All-ACC based on reputation.
Up front, the Hokies start four underclassmen. The eldest of the front four are redshirt sophomores and it includes a freshman at defensive tackle. Remember, Dave Molk (Sr. #50) is the Rimington Trophy winner as the nation’s best center. This should be a definite match-up advantage for Michigan. When you include the two-deep, there is just one red-shirt junior. Defensive end James Gayle (So. #99) was 2nd Team All-ACC even with an ankle injury. An ACL tear to DT Antoine Hopkins before the 6th game makes him the third starter to be lost for the season.
Foster’s defenses really attack, and it’s probably no surprise that they will take a similar approach to what Michigan State did against the Wolverines. If Robinson and the rest of the offense can adjust to the pressure better, then each side will have a number of wins, but Michigan’s wins might result with touchdowns because of the speed of Robinson and Fitz Toussaint (So. #28). Offensive coordinator Al Borges has already faced Virginia Tech as the O.C. at Auburn, a game which Auburn won, but whose offensive production was held well below their scoring and yardage averages. Just like the Michigan defense, the Hokies have been very good at stopping opponents on third down. They’re 11th in the NCAA at 32.4%.
Special Teams News
The Virginia Tech vintage bottle of special teams hasn’t been uncorked this season. During Beamer’s 25 years at VT, there have been 128 blocked kicks. That’s nearly one for every other game. However, there’s only been one this season (a blocked punt vs. Appalachian State) and just five in the last three years. It would be a mistake not to take some extra time preparing for it, but it isn’t the concern it once was.
A major concern for the Hokies is their field goal unit. Cody Journell was arrested before Christmas for home invasion. Back-up Tyler Weiss was sent on a slow bus to Blacksburg after missing curfew last week. Kickoff specialist Justin Meyer, who is also their long field goal specialist, remains. He’s 0-2 missing from 53 and 57 yards.
To punt, the Hokies have turned to Coale to be their punter during the past couple of games. Coale, in limited action, has punted a couple over 60 yards, but also had a shank in the ACC Championship game.
From a Michigan perspective, the match-ups seem to favor the Wolverines when you consider that Tech’s offense is predicated on a strong running game, a defense that has a problem with spread quarterbacks and a kicking team with personnel problems. From a Virginia Tech prospective, they like the match-ups because they see Michigan as a one-dimensional running team, a defense with no All-Americans and special teams that don’t appear dangerous. The fan base of one of these two teams is going to be very surprised and disappointed.
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