Wednesday, December 31, 2008
A Look At The Orange Bowl
It wasn't the tangy bite of citrus fruit left in the collective mouth of the Virginia Tech football team last January in Miami, it was the bitter taste of defeat.
When the Hokies lost to Kansas 24-21 in last year's Orange Bowl, a game they were expected to win, many were left questioning the coaching staff and the way Tech approaches bowl games.
Sure the Hokies have made it to 16 consecutive bowl games, but they've lost 4 of their last 5 postseason clashes leading to a rethinking of bowl preparation.
“Our bowl-prep was more like August camp,” offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring said. “It was colder than August, but the approach was the same.”
New wrinkles included practices during exam week and a full speed scrimmage the weekend before Christmas.
Even ACC commissioner John Swofford told the Hokies what they needed to do following their victory in the ACC Championship, "Go to win."
So how do the Hokies do that?
There's no question that the strength of this team is the defense. Macho Harris will look to have a big day in his final game donning the Chicago maroon and burnt orange. Harris and fellow corner Stephan Virgil should expect a busy evening given Cincinnati's open passing attack. Harris will also see action returning punts and as a receiver on offense. There's no doubt he'll leave everything he has on the field in his final game for the Techmen.
The defense will have a new face among the starters. Barquell Rivers will make his first career start for the Hokies in place of injured linebacker Brett Warren.
“He hasn’t gotten a lot of reps but he knows how to play middle linebacker, make no mistake,” defensive coordinator Bud Foster said of Rivers. “He’s a guy who has waited his turn and this is his time.”
The defense needs to score and keep quarterback Tony Pike and the 'Nati offense in check. On the other side, the Bearcats will look to their best defensive back Mike Mickens who is returning from an injury to lead the way in defending a Hokie offense that still isn't very good, but has improved in the final weeks of the season.
Tech will also be without a starter on the much-maligned offensive line. Nick Marshman was ruled academically ineligible, so redshirt freshman Jaymes Brooks will start at right guard. Keep an eye on big number 68 early in this one.
Cincinnati has several big-play receivers. Mardy Gilyard leads all Bearcat receivers with over 1,100 yards and Dominick Goodman returns from a shoulder injury to line up on the other side just 23 yards shy of 1,000. If the 'Nati expects to win, they must move the ball effectively through the air as the Tech defense has been dominant against the run.
This game is important for Virginia Tech and it's perhaps even more important to the ACC. The Atlantic Coast Conference is just 1-9 in BCS bowls, the lone victory coming when Florida State defeated then Big East member Virginia Tech in the 2000 National Championship game.
Tech looks to change that against the Big East Champion Bearcats. If the Hokie offense can manage to move the football and put some points on the board to supplant the defense's efforts.
An interesting note, the last time Virginia Tech was shutout by an opponent was in 1995 when Cincinnati shut the Hokies out 16-0 in a rain-soaked match up in Lane Stadium. Tech went on to win their next ten games that season including an upset win over the Texas Longhorns in the Sugar Bowl. Tech has also scored in 175 consecutive games since then.
This one will be close, I have little doubt of that. Look for a repeat of last season's Orange Bowl, but with a twist.
Virginia Tech 24
Virginia Tech and Cincinnati square off New Year's Day at 8 p.m. on Fox.