Two teams with impressive bowl streaks and were once members of the same conference will play each other in the postseason for the first time as Rutgers and Virginia Tech face off in Orlando. The Hokies are playing in their 20th straight bowl game, a streak matched only by five other programs, but only because they won their last two games. Despite reaching the postseason once again, this season can be labeled nothing short of a disappointment for head coach Frank Beamer and his team. The Hokies, who entered the season as the favorite to win the Atlantic Coast Conference’s (ACC) Coastal Division, finished fourth and also watched their streak of consecutive 10-win seasons end at eight.
Rutgers, on the other hand, enters this game looking to extend the nation’s current longest bowl winning streak, although the Scarlet Knights had a golden opportunity to play somewhere and someone else. After starting the season 9-1 with first-year head coach Kyle Flood at the helm, Rutgers held its destiny in its own hands, needing just two more victories to clinch the Big East Conference title outright and secure a BCS bowl berth. It was not meant to be however, as the Knights dropped consecutive contests to Pittsburgh and Louisville to finish the regular season, resulting in the Cardinals winning the Big East and earning a trip to the Sugar Bowl to face Florida. Instead, Rutgers now has to settle for a shot at the program’s first 10-win season since 2006 and a sixth straight bowl victory overall.
Virginia Tech and Rutgers have faced each other 14 times, as both were members of the Big East from 1991-2003. All but two of their meetings came in Big East play, and after dropping the first one; the Hokies went on to dominate the series, winning the next 11 conference matchups. In the past five games alone, the Hokies’ margin of victory over the Scarlet Knights has been 40.4 points, including a combined score of 99-0 in 2000-01.
Russell Athletic Bowl – Rutgers (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech (6-6)
Date and Time: Dec. 28 at 5:30 p.m. ET
Location: Orlando, Fla.
When the Rutgers Scarlet Knights have the ball:
The Scarlet Knights have not been the most productive team on offense, as they are averaging 341.1 yards per game, which places them 102nd in the nation. The running game has been inconsistent, generating less than 126 yards per game (102nd), while the passing game has only been marginally better at 215 yards per contest (84th). Scoring has been a bit of an issue as well, as they are averaging less than 23 points a game (98th) and have scored more than 28 only twice this season.
Rutgers does have a 1,000-yard rusher in sophomore Jawan Jamison, but he’s averaging only 4.4 yards per carry and has just four rushing touchdowns on the season. Fellow sophomore Savon Huggins (362 yds., 3.6 ypc) is the Knights’ other primary ball-carrier and has the team’s other two rushing scores.
Sophomore quarterback Gary Nova has been effective as the team’s starting quarterback with 22 touchdown passes and completing nearly 60 percent of his throws. However, he’s only thrown for 2,566 yards and has tossed 15 interceptions, including six in a late October home loss to Kent State.
Sophomore wide receiver Brandon Coleman is averaging 17 yards per reception and has 10 touchdown catches. He also is second on the team with 39 catches, as senior wideout Mark Harrison holds that distinction, albeit with only 42.
Virginia Tech’s defense has been the strength of this season’s team, although the unit has had its own struggles at times. The Hokies rank 24th in the nation in total defense (344.6 ypg) and 39th in scoring defense at 23.9 points per game. Statistically, this unit has performed better against the pass (204.9 ypg, 30th) than the run (139.7 ypg, 34th), and it also has done a good job getting pressure on the quarterback and making stops behind the line of scrimmage. The Hokies are tied for 20th among FBS teams in sacks (2.7 per game) and 14th in tackles for loss with 7.3 per game.
When the Virginia Tech Hokies have the ball:
The Hokies’ offense struggled to find a rhythm all season long, particularly with the running game. For the season, they are averaging nearly 392 yards per game, which ranks them 71st in the nation, and scoring less than 27 points (78th) per contest.
Junior quarterback Logan Thomas has not enjoyed the same production he did as a sophomore when he threw for 3,013 yards with 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. This season he’s passed for 2,566 yards with 17 scores and 14 interceptions. He has multiple interceptions in five games and Virginia Tech has lost all of them.
Senior wide receivers Marcus Davis and Corey Fuller are the top two receivers in receptions and yards, respectively, and are tied for the team lead with five touchdown catches apiece.
Thomas also is the Hokies’ leading rusher, but that’s not saying much considering he has 528 yards on the ground with nine touchdowns. No running back has been able to step up and fill the void left by David Wilson, the ACC’s Player of the Year last season who is now with the New York Giants. As a team, Virginia Tech is averaging less than four yards per carry and for the first time since 2005 no one player has run for at least 850 yards.
Rutgers’ defense is the primary reason why the Scarlet Knights were even in position to win the Big East title outright. They are 14th nationally in yards allowed (321.3 ypg) and fourth in points allowed (14.3). They have held seven opponents to 13 or fewer points, which was important given the offense’s struggles. They are giving up 105 yards rushing (11th) per game compared to 216.3 through the air. They are led on defense by senior star linebacker Khaseem Greene, the Big East’s Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season. Greene is not only one of the nation’s top tacklers, he also has 5.5 sacks and has forced six fumbles on the season. Turnovers have been an important part to the defense’s success as well, as it has generated a total of 29 takeaways, including 16 interceptions.
Virginia Tech under Frank Beamer has established itself as one of most consistent winning programs in college football, as evidenced by the program’s 20 straight bowl appearances. However, this Hokies team has failed to live up to preseason expectations and needs a win over Rutgers just to avoid the program’s first losing season since 1992. Rutgers hasn’t enjoyed the same measure of extended success as Virginia Tech, but there’s no debate over which has been the better team this season. This Scarlet Knights team has gotten it done with defense and not beating itself on offense, which one could argue have been hallmarks of Beamer’s Hokies over the past two decades. Even though Virginia Tech has won the last 11 in a row over Rutgers, look for the Scarlet Knights to give the Hokies a taste of their own medicine in this one. A win also would give Rutgers its sixth straight bowl victory. The Knights are currently tied with Mississippi State, who plays Northwestern in the Gator Bowl on New Year’s Day, for the nation’s longest active bowl winning streak.
Prediction: Rutgers 20, Virginia Tech 17
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