Sunday, January 1, 2012
2012 Sugar Bowl Preview: No. 11 Virginia Tech vs. No. 13 Michigan
I hate placing a great deal of importance on one game because it always feels like hyperbole. Just think back to the "game of the century", that scintillating 9-6 affair earlier this season between Alabama and LSU.
With that resounding dud of a game in mind, I have to say this is a monumental game for the Hokies.
The amount of vitriol and anger directed at the Tech program in recent weeks has been staggering, especially since most of it came from ESPN's talking goons. I don't watch the mother ship much anymore because it's become a horrifying parody of itself, but I still hear about it.
A supposedly unbiased media organization turning like that on a program that often bends over backwards to accommodate their TV schedule is at best unprofessional and infuriating, but I digress.
The Hokies have one way to silence the critics regarding their selection to this game, win.
So how do they do that? People keep asking me how Tech can stop Michigan's dynamic quarterback Denard Robinson. That's easy, just make him throw the ball.
There's no question that Robinson is dangerous, throwing for 2,056 yards and rushing for 1,163.
He is prone to mistakes however, throwing 18 touchdowns but 14 interceptions.
Tech's QB Logan Thomas has completed almost as many passes (215) as Robinson has attempted (237) this season. Thomas also threw 19 touchdowns to just 9 interceptions.
Robinson is going to make some plays rushing, but if Tech can force throws into coverage they have a chance to make some big plays with guys like probable early NFL entry Jayron Hosely.
Bud Foster's defense also has to stop the Wolverines' other 1,000-yard rusher, sophomore tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint.
Perhaps a bigger concern are the big, physical Michigan offensive and defensive lines. In last year's Orange Bowl, Stanford's similar lines dominated Tech en route to a 40-12 shellacking.
Wolverine center David Molk won this year's Rimington Award given to the nation's top center, and the injury-riddled Hokie defense starts two redshirt sophomores, a true sophomore and a true freshman along the line.
Michigan's defense is the reason they're so much better than last year. New defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has brought a traditional 4-3 set back to Ann Arbor. Michigan is ranked 17th in total defense this season, but the Hokies are 15th. Points may well be at a premium come Tuesday night.
Low-scoring usually favors the Hokies, but they're down two kickers at this point. Starter Cody Journell is suspended and likely done at Tech for his alleged role in a home invasion last week in Blacksburg, and senior Tyler Weiss got the Frank Beamer bowl punishment for breaking curfew, an 833-mile bus ride back to Blacksburg.
That leaves place-kicking on the foot of kickoff specialist Justin Myer who has missed his only two field goal attempts this season, both longer than 50 yards.
The good news? Michigan is terrible on special teams too. Michigan is ranked 107th in net punting, Tech is 108. Kickoff returns see the Hokies ranked 99th, big blue 100th. Kickoff return defense is a mild bright spot with Michigan at number 54 and Tech 67.
Ultimately, I still think this game comes down to the battle in the trenches. The team that dominates the line of scrimmage will win. Expect a really good game, and potential for heartbreak on either side. Frankly though, I'm pretty disenchanted with the Hokies in big games at this point.
Virginia Tech 21