In an interesting battle of strength on strength, Bud Foster’s Virginia Tech defense will try to slow down Mike Gundy and Mike Yurcich’s Oklahoma State offense when the two teams meet up in Orlando, Florida, for the Camping World Bowl.
The Hokies (9-3) allowed just 14 total points in their last two games and have not given up more than 28 in any game this year. The Cowboys (9-3), though, scored 40 or more points in each of their final five games. But Oklahoma State was just 3-2 in those contests because the defense allowed an average of 41 points during that span.
Whether or not Virginia Tech can take advantage will be determined as the Hokies’ offense managed a little more than 15 points per game in the month of November. Virginia Tech and Oklahoma State met up twice in the early 1970s with each team winning on their home field. This will be the first bowl between the two programs.
Camping World Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Oklahoma State
Kickoff: Thursday, Dec. 28 at 5:15 p.m. ET
Where: Camping World Stadium (Orlando, Fla.)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Oklahoma State -4
Three Things to Watch
1. Virginia Tech secondary vs. Oklahoma State receivers
One thing is certain: Oklahoma State will throw the football a lot. They have one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Mason Rudolph and a deep receiving group led by All-American James Washington. And it doesn’t stop there, as the Cowboys have another 1,000-yard pass catcher in Marcell Ateman along with two other receivers with more than 40 catches.
But this talented unit is going up against a top-flight Virginia Tech secondary. Mook Reynolds hopes to be back after missing the Virginia game with a lower body injury and there a number of other skilled pieces on the final line of the Virginia Tech defense. Corner Greg Stroman (above, right) earned All-ACC honors after ranking among the national leaders in passes defended (15) and interceptions (4).
In the battle between the Cowboys’ high-powered offense and the Hokies’ stingy defense, this will be the most interesting aspect to watch.
2. Who will make plays for Virginia Tech?
The Hokies’ offense sputtered down the stretch and now the biggest weapon will miss the Camping World Bowl. All-ACC wide receiver Cam Phillips underwent sports hernia surgery and will not be able to suit up against Oklahoma State.
So what do the Hokies do now? In the passing game, quarterback Josh Jackson will have to look for Sean Savoy, a freshman that emerged as a viable second option this year. Eric Kumah also had his moments and will have to step up in this game.
They also hope to get something out of the running game as Steven Peoples and Deshawn McClease were the focal points in win over Virginia when the Virginia Tech ran for 202 yards. Kansas State and Oklahoma had success on the ground against the Cowboys when the teams played in November, but Oklahoma State enters this game 27th in the nation in rushing defense, allowing just 132 yards per game.
3. Negative plays
Oklahoma State’s defense was much maligned at the end of the year, but one thing the Cowboys do very well is create negative plays. They have collected 28 sacks and are among the top 20 nationally in tackles for a loss with 92. While Virginia Tech’s offense is pretty good at going forward instead of backwards, with limited vertical threats the Hokies need to avoid negative plays at all costs.
Defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s units have always been good at creating negative plays, something that will need to continue to put Oklahoma State in bad down and distance situations. The Cowboys are a handful, ranking second in the nation in total offense (575.7 ypg) thanks to the combination of a dynamic passing game and Justice Hill’s (right) 1,347 rushing yards.
Virginia Tech has to put Oklahoma State in spots where everyone in the stadium and watching on TV knows that a pass is coming. The problem though is even then Washington and company are plenty capable of making plays, no matter the circumstances.
This looks like it could be a very difficult game for Virginia Tech. Quarterback Josh Jackson did not have a great second half of the season throwing the ball and now his main target will be in street clothes. It would be nice to rely on the running game, but the Hokies have had an inconsistent ground attack this season and the strength of the Oklahoma State defense is stopping the run. The Cowboys are terrible at defending the pass, but Tech doesn’t have the weapons to effectively exploit this weakness.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma State is going to score. Mason Rudolph, James Washington and Marcell Ateman are all playing their final collegiate game and will be motivated to go out in a big way. The Virginia Tech defense is very good, but has not faced a passing game as dynamic and explosive as Oklahoma State’s. The closest comparison would be West Virginia in the season opener when Mountaineers quarterback Will Grier threw for 371 yards in the 31-24 loss.
The Cowboys won’t get to 40 points on the Hokies’ defense. But they will get a lot closer to that number than Virginia Tech will.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 34, Virginia Tech 17
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.