NEW ORLEANS — It’s finally Sugar Bowl day. The two teams have been scheming and watching film for a month. There shouldn’t be much surprises on the Superdome turf, just two teams that are set to answer questions of their deservedness.
The teams are similar: an explosive backfield and complex defenses that stress the blitz. The small changes, and possibly a violated curfew earlier in the week may be the difference.
Michigan pass offense vs. Virginia Tech pass defense
Junior quarterback Denard Robinson is coming off a late-season increase in his passing efficiency. But his 14-for-17 performance against Ohio State was 38 days ago. The Michigan coaching staff has said all the right things but it’s the Michigan coaching staff,
The Hokies have talent. So much so that Robinson said the Wolverines would have to go “athlete for athlete” with Virginia Tech. Jayron Hosley is an NFL talent after nine interception s last season. But he’s had a down year, and the Hokies are just slightly above average in the stats, coming in at 40th in the country.
The Wolverines are 89th in pass offense, but if the coaches aren’t completely lying the passing game should do enough to, at the very least, not lose the game. That is, unless Robinson throws a late-game interception of course.
Michigan rush offense vs. Virginia Tech rush defense
The Wolverines have a size-advantage up front and the Hokies coaching staff has been impressed by the group’s physicality.
The Hokies will try to use their speed to get Michigan on the edge, but fifth-year senior center David Molk wasn’t impressed by it earlier in the week. Redshirt sophomore Fitzgerald Toussaint should have some running room up the middle. Virginia Tech also hasn’t seen a true dual-threat quarterback all season. Some of the players claim their faster than Robinson, but they don’t play quarterback.
With the speed in the backfield and what should be some holes up the middle, this is where Michigan will do their damage.
Virginia Tech pass offense vs. Michigan pass defense
This matchup may be where the game is won or lost. Ohio State’s receivers exposed the Michigan secondary in November. Virginia Tech’s group has the opportunity to do the same. All three of the Hokies’ top receivers are over six-feet tall. Two, Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale, have more yards than any Michigan receiver.
The key will be Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas’ accuracy. He has a strong arm but the converted tight end is still relatively new to the mechanics of the position. When the mechanics go, the accuracy goes. Michigan’s defensive line should be able to get to some pressure on Thomas, which could trigger a breakdown, but it likely won’t be enough.
Edge: Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech rush offense vs. Michigan rush defense
Michigan is likely to join Can’t Stop David Wilson Club. It’s populated by every team Virginia Tech has faced this year. The only game where Wilson didn’t rush for more than 80 yards came in the ACC Championship against Clemson, but he carved them up for 123 yards earlier in the season.
The Wolverines may be able to take a page from Clemson’s last performance, where Wilson had no idea what happened.
“It seemed like there was an extra defender everywhere I went,” he said earlier this week.
But it’s not likely to last for long. Michigan has an advantage at the line it’s not vast enough to shut down Wilson the entire game. Wilson will get his yards. Michigan will need to find a way to answer it on offense.
Edge: Virginia Tech
Punting and the return game isn’t the story, the differences aren’t enough to be noticeable. The special teams battle will be won or lost on the foot of the kickers — and four of Virginia Tech’s feet aren’t even in New Orleans.
Starter Cody Journell didn’t make the trip after being arrested for home invasion. His backup, Tyler Weiss, was given a bus ticket home after violating curfew the first night he was down there. That left kicker Justin Myer to take the helm. A senior walk-on, he’s attempted just two field goals this season, both from over 50 yards. He hasn’t made either.
Talk to Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer and you’ll get a sense of the uneasiness. When asked about his kicking situation, he paused
Both have faced questions of whether they deserve it. With a win, Michigan will get to stop answering questions of whether they are back. With a win, Virginia Tech will get to stop some of the questions about whether they can beat elite opponents. No one question is bigger than the other.
Virginia Tech got to practice in the Superdome all week, where Michigan only got two practices in there, so they may be more prepared for the environment early on. But it’s still a football field. Michigan will adjust relatively easily.
The Hokies have more experience in big-time bowl games, going to two out of the past three Orange Bowls. But as far as motivation it should be at an all-time high for both teams.
It’s the Sugar Bowl for God sakes.
Final score: Michigan 32, Virginia Tech 29