Here are a few links to get your gameday started, plus the usual matchups comparison.
** Frank Beamer talks about the toll this season took on him in today’s game advance.
**Aaron McFarling chimes in with a pre-game column.
** Tech didn’t put out an injury report for the game, although reserve linebacker/rover Jeron Gouveia-Winslow has been slowed by an ankle injury this week in practice. The last we saw of him in practice Tuesday, he was still moving very gingerly while doing conditioning on the sidelines.
** The weather looks like it will be lovely today. Should be in the low-60′s tonight. Not much wind or any chance of rain.
** The line settled around 1.5 to 2 points in Virginia Tech’s favor. It opened at 1, so that’s gone up ever so slightly. The over/under looks like it’s 41, which is among the lowest of the bowl games.
** McFarling’s bowl guide says take Rutgers. Here’s what he wrote a couple weeks ago: “The Hokies have covered the spread only three times this year (vs. Bowling Green, Florida State and Duke), and I don’t know why we should expect them to turn on the jets suddenly. Rutgers stinks offensively but has the nation’s fourth-ranked scoring defense. Also, the Scarlet Knights haven’t lost a bowl game since 2005.”
Now for the matchups …
Virginia Tech vs. Rutgers
- Where: Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium, Orlando, Fla.
- When: Friday, 5:30 p.m.
- TV: ESPN
- Records: Virginia Tech 6-6, 4-4 ACC; Rutgers 9-3, 5-2 Big East
- Series: Virginia Tech leads 11-3
- Last meeting: Hokies won 48-22 in Piscataway, N.J., in 2003
- Line: Virginia Tech by 2
When Virginia Tech passes
It hasn’t been the type of passing year that Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas had hoped, but stepping back a bit, it’s not too different from last season. Yes, Thomas’ completion percentage is down (59% to 52%) and his interceptions are up (10 to 14), but he’s on a similar pace in yards (3,013 last year to 2,783 in two fewer games this year) and touchdowns (19 to 17). There’s still the potential to do good things in the passing game. Receiver Marcus Davis, playing in his last career game, needs 109 yards to be Virginia Tech’s first 1,000-yard receiver. Corey Fuller (769 yards, 5 TD) has had a season that exceeds everyone’s expectations. The line has allowed 21 sacks, a figure that ranks 51st nationally.
Rutgers doesn’t get after the quarterback a ton — its 21 sacks rank 71st nationally — but the Scarlet Knights don’t give up a whole lot through the air. They are 25th nationally in pass efficiency defense (115.35) and are allowing just 216.3 yards per game through the air. Cornerback Logan Ryan, an All-Big East selection, is second on the team with 87 tackles and leads Rutgers with four interceptions. Brandon Jones on the other side has three. The team’s 16 interceptions are in a tie for 18th nationally. That’s not to say teams haven’t thrown the ball on the Scarlet Knights at times, though. Louisville, in the regular season finale, threw for 322 yards and two touchdowns in a 20-17 loss with a BCS berth on the line.
When Virginia Tech runs
A season-long issue doesn’t figure to magically sort itself out in the bowl game. The Hokies’ rushing attack, which ranks 63rd nationally, still doesn’t have a primary ballcarrier and still relies too much on Thomas. The quarterback leads the team with 528 yards and nine touchdowns. Running back J.C. Coleman is tops among the running backs, with 486 yards. That’d be the lowest season total for Virginia Tech’s top tailback since Terry Smoot ran for 356 yards in 1967. The question is how much Tech will lean on Thomas. He ran a career-high 29 times against Virginia, essentially serving as the team’s running back. He had three 20-plus carry games in the second half of the season, finishing with 99 yards against Clemson, 124 against Miami and 89 against Virginia.
It’ll be tough sledding against Rutgers’ front seven. Linebacker Khaseem Greene is a force, an All-American and the Big East Defensive Player of the Year who finished with 125 tackles, 10.5 tackles for a loss and 5.5 sacks. Fellow linebackers Jamal Merrell (80 tackles) and Steve Beauhamais (76 tackles) get to the ball, freed up by the defensive line. The Scarlet Knights have 85 tackles for a loss, tied for 19th nationally. Rutgers is allowing only 105 yards per game on the ground, 11th nationally. Only four teams have reached the 100-yard mark on the Scarlet Knights, and one was Army, which runs an option offense. They’ve allowed only six rushing touchdowns all season. Only Notre Dame, BYU and Michigan State have allowed fewer.
When Rutgers passes
Statistically, the Scarlet Knights aren’t the most fearsome team through the air, averaging a pedestrian 215.2 yards per game that ranks 83rd nationally. Sophomore quarterback Gary Nova threw for 2,566 yards and 22 touchdowns but, like Thomas, was interception prone, with 15 picks. He had a huge game at Arkansas, throwing for 397 yards and five scores. He topped 200 yards only three more times, though. Receivers Mark Harrison (560 yards, 6 TD), Brandon Coleman (663 yards, 10 TD) and Tim Wright (438 yards, 2 TD) are big targets on the outside. They stand 6-3, 6-6 and 6-2, respectively, each weight at least 220 pounds, presenting a physical challenge for Tech’s corners. Rutgers protects its quarterback as well as anyone in the country. The Scarlet Knights allowed only eight sacks this year, tied for fourth nationally.
Virginia Tech improved at pass defense as the season progressed and players settled into new roles. With Antone Exum playing at an All-ACC level and Kyle Fuller having had a month to recover from shoulder and leg issues that bothered him most of the season, the Hokies should be in a good position to match up with Rutgers. Tech finished the season ranked 23rd nationally in pass efficiency defense. That was helped by the pass rush’s emergence. The Hokies had 24 sacks in the final six games, getting lots of production out linebackers Bruce Taylor, Jack Tyler and Alonzo Tweedy in that department. We’ll see if defensive coordinator Bud Foster continues to bring pressure with his linebackers on blitzes to crack Rutgers’ close-to-impenetrable pass blocking.
Edge: Virginia Tech
When Rutgers runs
Jawan Jamison is back healthy after an ankle injury that limited him to only 28 carries for 101 yards in Rutgers’ final three games. When healthy, he’s effective. He finished with 1,054 yards, becoming just the third Rutgers player since 1976 to rush for 1,000 yards in a season (Terrell Willis and Ray Rice were the other two). As a team, though, the Scarlet Knights still didn’t have the prettiest numbers. They averaged 125.9 rushing yards per game, which ranked 100th nationally. They averaged 3.8 yards per carry (Tech, for all its struggles, is averaging 4.0 yards per carry) and only got into the end zone six times on the ground. Only two teams in the country had fewer rushing touchdowns.
Like the pass defense, the Hokies got progressively better in the second half of the season with their rushing defense. In the final three games of the season, they held Florida State to negative 15 yards rushing and Virginia to 30. (Boston College, in between, managed a 167 yards on 45 carries). So Tech has the capability of shutting an opponent down on the ground. Tyler led the way with 112 tackles, including 11 for a loss, numbers that earned him first-team All-ACC honors by the coaches. Taylor had 65 tackles, but a key might be how the safeties integrate themselves in the run-stopping game. Kyshoen Jarrett is second on the team with 77 tackles. When the Hokies have done well at stopping the run, the secondary has been solid with its tackling. When they’ve struggled is when Tech’s players have missed those one-on-one opportunities.
Edge: Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech has two solid options in the return game, with Demitri Knowles (28.3 avg.) on kicks and Jarrett (13.9 avg.) on punts. Both have scored touchdowns this year. Punter A.J. Hughes (40.3 avg.) hasn’t been spectacular, but for a Hokies punter to be over 40 yards with his average is a major turnaround from last year. Cody Journell has been a solid kicker, making 18 of 22 tries this year. He had clutch kicks against Boston College and Virginia that got the Hokies to a bowl game. What Tech can’t afford is any of the gaffes — giving up big returns, muffing punts, having punts blocked — that seem to have popped up at inopportune times this season.
That’s where Rutgers thrives on special teams. The Scarlet Knights have blocked eight kicks this season, tied with UCLA for tops in the nation. The 31 they’ve blocked since 2009 are also the most nationally, seven more than their closest competitor, Fresno State. They play more of a “Beamer Ball” style that the Hokies do. But Rutgers’ special teams numbers aren’t great. The Scarlet Knights are 116th in net punting (33.3 avg.) and 104th in punt returns (4.3 avg.), slightly making up for it with a solid kick return game (23.4 avg., 35th nationally). Coach Kyle Flood went with kicker Nick Borgese (4-5 FG) over opening day starter Kyle Frederico (6-11), who is coming back from a hip injury. Borgese is only a redshirt freshman.
Edge: Virginia Tech
There’s not much comparison in experience. Beamer has coached 26 years at Virginia Tech. Flood is in his first as a head coach at Rutgers, where he took over for program savior Greg Schiano after serving as the team’s offensive line coach for the six years. But for all their regular season success, Beamer’s teams haven’t exactly performed well in the postseason. Beamer is 8-11 in bowl games, having lost his last two in vastly different ways (a blowout by Stanford in the 2011 Orange Bowl and self-inflicting defeat in an overtime loss to Michigan in last season’s Sugar Bowl). It doesn’t help that the Hokies’ offensive staff will be coaching with cloud over their heads, uncertain about what their future with the program might be.
Rutgers’ recent postseason success is greater than Virginia Tech’s. The Scarlet Knights have won five straight bowls, the longest active streak in the country. But those have hardly been the highest-profile games. Rutgers’ bowl winning streak includes victories in the following bowls: Texas (vs. Kansas State in 2006), International (vs. Ball State in 2007), PapaJohns.com (vs. N.C. State in 2008), St. Petersburg (vs. Central Florida in 2009) and Pinstripe (vs. Iowa State in 2011). That’s hardly a Murderer’s Row. Tech has obviously had its problems in bowl games, although there’s a world of difference between losing in a BCS game and in a second- or third-tier bowl.
By predicting a low-scoring game, I am all but guaranteeing this will be an unexpected high-scoring affair. Nevertheless, I’m going with just what you’d expect — two offenses that won’t be able to do much against the other team’s defense, with a field goal being the difference. I barely give Virginia Tech the edge simply because I think despite its offensive inconsistency, it has a play-making edge with players like Thomas, Davis and Coleman, something that could get it into the end zone without having to go on a 12-play, 80-yard drive that will probably be a difficult task for either of these offenses.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 16, Rutgers 13