Game day has finally arrived.
Virginia Tech, which is looking to avoid its first losing season since 1992, takes on Rutgers at 5:30 as part of the Russell Athletic Bowl here in Orlando. And perhaps the most interesting part of this game is the striking similarities between the two teams.
As Coach Frank Beamer put it Thursday, “this is a much different Rutgers program” than the one the Hokies went 11-1 against during their days in the Big East together. Like many previous Virginia Tech teams under Beamer, the Scarlet Knights will feature a stout defense, an emphasis on running the ball and dynamic special teams. A win Friday would give them their third 10-win season in program history and extend their national-best five-game bowl winning streak.
“I think it’s going to be two football teams trying to do the same things to each other, and really whoever executes the best … is the team that’s going to have the opportunity to be 1-0,” Rutgers Coach Kyle Flood said.
Here are some other factors to watch as the Hokies try to end a disappointing season on a high note.
1) Redemption for Logan Thomas
In what could be his last game as a Hokies quarterback. redshirt junior Logan Thomas gets a chance to show off his diverse skill set against a top defense. The Lynchburg native can also prove to his critics that the NFL draft hype he garnered before the season wasn’t necessarily a mistake. Thomas was Virginia Tech’s leading rusher and passer this year, but struggled with accuracy issues at times with a new supporting cast. He’ll need to be at his best against a stingy Rutgers defense that has made him the focus of its game plan. He’s also just 171 yards shy of breaking his own school record for total offense.
2) An unlikely record for WR Marcus Davis
3) How many fans will show up?
The Florida Citrus Bowl, where Friday’s game will be played, has a capacity of 70,000. But many of those seats will likely be empty. The Hokies sold just more than 3,000 tickets as part of their bowl allotment, with many fans deciding to save their money because of an expensive destination (Orlando) and Virginia Tech’s lackluster performance this year. At a Thursday pep rally, Rutgers fans reportedly outnumbered Hokies fans three to one.
4) Defensive struggle
Both Virginia Tech and Rutgers will look to establish the run Friday, but each will encounter defenses that haven’t given up much ground this year. Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster has made stopping Scarlet Knights tailback Jawan Jamison (1,054 rushing yards a priority. Sophomore quarterback Gary Nova has thrown 15 interceptions this year, including 12 in the final five games of the regular season when Rutgers suffered all three of its losses this year. But the Scarlet Knights allowed the fifth-fewest points in the country this year and linebacker Khaseem Greene will likely go down as the best defensive player in program history. In what should be a low-scoring game, the defense that wins the turnover battle will likely prevail.
5) Special teams a difference maker?
Rutgers led the nation with eight blocked kicks this year, and in a game featuring two evenly matched teams, it could factor. Though the Hokies are known for “Beamerball,” they’ve had a penchant for special teams gaffes in recent big games. If Beamer is to improve on his mediocre 8-11 record in bowl games, Virginia Tech must avoid mistakes in this department.
My prediction: Virginia Tech 20, Rutgers 16
But what do you think. Will the Hokies finally put together a complete performance and finish with a winning record this year? Or will Virginia Tech fall to 0-3 against the Big East, which some might consider a fitting conclusion to a year that didn’t go as planned? Vote below and let me know in the comments section how you think this game plays out.