Friday, December 28, 2012
Hokies hope to end year on positive note
No high stakes for Virginia Tech this postseason as it tries to finish above .500.
Daniel Lin | The Roanoke Times
Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas (left) interacts with fans at a pep rally on Thursday in Orlando, Fla., as the Hokies prepare to take on Rutgers in the Russell Athletic Bowl today at 5:30 p.m.
Virginia Tech stories
- Hokies start fresh at offense
- Hokies' athletic director requested 'night off'
- Virginia Tech fans need new tailgate tradition
Blog: Andy Bitter
- Sun Bowl primer: Taking a look at UCLA’s offense
- Hokies will play in the Sun Bowl against UCLA
- Decision day: Which bowl are the Hokies going to?
- Join the Hokie football conversation on Andy's blog
Twitter: Andy Bitter
Andy's Virginia Tech vs. Rutgers game breakdown
RECORDS: Hokies 6-6 (4-4 ACC), Scarlet Knights 9-3 (5-2 Big East)
SERIES: Hokies lead 11-3. Hokies won last meeting 48-22 in 2003.
LINE: Hokies by 2 1/2.
OFFENSE: EDGE HOKIES
Despite his struggles, quarterback Logan Thomas is still the Hokies’ leading passer and rusher, needing only 172 yards to break his own school record for total yards in a season of 3,482. Receiver Marcus Davis needs 109 yards to become the school’s first 1,000-yard receiver in a single season. Rutgers leans on running back Jawan Jamison, who ran for 1,054 yards and is healthy now after suffering an ankle injury late in the year. The Scarlet Knights still rank 100th in the nation in total offense (341.8 ypg) and 94th in scoring (22.4), numbers that are worse than the Tech.
DEFENSE: EDGE SCARLET KNIGHTS
All-American linebacker Khaseem Greene is among the national leaders with 125 tackles, part of a tough Rutgers front seven that’s giving up only 105 rushing yards per game (11th in the nation). The Scarlet Knights are allowing only 14.3 points per game, fifth in the nation, having held eight opponents to 15 points or less. After a rough start, Virginia Tech’s defense came around, allowing only 299.3 yards per game in its final six contests, a schedule that included Clemson and Florida State. Cornerback Antone Exum, at 224 pounds, will be a good physical match for Rutgers’ big receivers.
SPECIAL TEAMS: EDGE HOKIES
The Scarlet Knights have more flash, having blocked eight kicks this year, tops in the nation. But the Hokies have better numbers overall. Kick returner Demitri Knowles (28.3 avg., TD) and punt returner Kyshoen Jarrett (13.9 avg., TD) give Tech an edge in the return game. Neither team has punted well. Hokies kicker Cody Journell (18-22 FG) has a bigger resume than Rutgers’ Nick Borgese (4-5 FG), who got the nod over opening day starter Kyle Federico, who is coming back from a hip injury.
INTANGIBLES: EDGE SCARLET KNIGHTS
Virginia Tech has played in more high-profile bowl games in its history, but Rutgers has had more postseason success in terms of wins. The Scarlet Knights have won five straight bowl games, the longest active streak in the country. The Hokies are 8-11 in bowl games under coach Frank Beamer, having lost two straight.
PREDICTION: Virginia Tech 16, Rutgers 13
Do you agree with Andy Bitter’s prediction for tonight's game? Share your thoughts with him on Twitter at @AndyBitterVT or on Virginia Tech football blog.
Hokies' keys to the game
GET GOING ON THE GROUND
It would be far-fetched to believe the Hokies will magically solve their ground game problems against a Rutgers rush defense that’s among the best in the country. But Tech has to do something. It can’t become one-dimensional through the air.
DON’T GIVE UP THE BIG PLAY
Rutgers doesn’t have an explosive offense, so making the Scarlet Knights earn everything they get will be paramount. Tech can’t afford to let Rutgers’ big receivers beat them for passes down the field.
AVOID SPECIAL TEAMS GAFFS
The Scarlet Knights are known for blocking kicks, and the Hokies have been susceptible to big errors on special teams this year. In a game expected to be close and low-scoring, any kind of special teams mistake would be costly.
Follow Andy Bitter on Twitter @AndyBitterVT during tonight’s Russell Athletic Bowl.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- In the throes of a 6-6 season, Virginia Tech's worst in 20 years, head coach Frank Beamer had many sleepless nights and fewer and fewer meals, watching as the off-season weight loss he was so proud of continued past his target.
"I was losing weight when I really didn't want to lose any more weight. I wasn't eating," said Beamer, although he's since gotten back to a healthier diet.
"But I take great pride in not getting too high and not getting too low. And that's the way I try to handle situations. That's the way I think the coaches and players would describe how I was during the season. I think. Because I think that's how you get through things like this."
One way or another, Virginia Tech's less-than-memorable season will come to an end tonight against Rutgers (9-3) in the Russell Athletic Bowl at the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium at 5:30 p.m. Hokies coaches and players have maintained throughout bowl preparation that they are treating the game as they would any other, although past stakes for Virginia Tech, which has appeared in five Bowl Championship Series games since joining the ACC in 2004, have been much higher than simply trying to finish above .500.
"I think our kids are disappointed in how this season turned out," defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. "I think they want to finish this thing up on a strong note. ...
"I think the kids, their approach to this and our approach is they're all big games when you get this opportunity at this level."
A fan base clamoring for changes to the offensive coaches, something that at this point seems inevitable, might disagree.
Asked several times if he has plans to make changes to his offensive coaching staff this off-season, Beamer has said repeatedly that his and the team's focus is on Rutgers, statements that have merely shifted intrigue from the actual game to what will happen afterward.
Nevertheless, there is the game to be played, one in which the Hokies will try to reverse their recent bowl fortunes against a team adept at winning in the postseason.
Beamer has a mediocre 8-11 bowl record as a coach, although the last two games have been particularly disappointing. The Hokies were blown out 40-12 in the 2011 Orange Bowl by an Andrew Luck-led Stanford. They lost a 23-20 heartbreaker in overtime to Michigan in last season's Sugar Bowl, a game in which most agreed Tech outplayed the Wolverines.
In 20 straight postseason trips, Beamer has never lost three bowl games in a row.
"I think that we understand how important it is to not only go to a bowl game but to win that bowl game," Beamer said, adding that it can be a stepping stone for next year. "Rutgers certainly does."
No longer the punching bag they were when the Hokies dominated the series in the Big East, the Scarlet Knights have gone to bowls seven of the last eight years. They've won their last five appearances, the longest active streak in the country, although this is the highest-profile bowl game in which they've played.
First-year coach Kyle Flood, who succeeded program resurrector Greg Schiano, has a chance to lead Rutgers to a 10-win season for only the third time in school history, an odd juxtaposition against a Virginia Tech program that saw its streak of eight straight 10-win seasons end this year.
"I think 10-win seasons in college football are the standard for the elite programs," Flood said. "You better take those things seriously. These opportunities have not come around as often for us as maybe Virginia Tech, but this is an opportunity for us to do that."
Rutgers, as a program, wants to emulate Virginia Tech in more than just that way. The Scarlet Knights have built their team in the Hokies' preferred mold, with a stout defense (All-American linebacker Khaseem Greene leads a unit that ranked 14th in the nation), strong running game (running back Jawan Jamison ran for 1,054 yards) and dynamic special teams (Rutgers led the nation with eight blocked kicks).
The Hokies have struggled at times this year to do all three of those things, although the defense came around by the end of the year.
"They value very similar things to what we value," Flood said. "I think it's going to be two football teams trying to do the same things to each other, and really whoever executes the best â? is the team that's going to have the opportunity to be 1-0."