2012 Sugar Bowl
Virginia Tech Hokies (11-2)
Michigan Wolverines (10-2)
The play of Denard Robinson could very well determine the Sugar Bowl.
Strobl: The Michigan offense rises and falls with the fortunes of Denard Robinson. The shifty QB remains more of a rushing threat than a true passer, but his arm is dangerous enough that opposing defenses must respect it. But perhaps more importantly for a team like Virginia Tech, defensive aggression can backfire with a player like Robinson under center. If the Hokies’ defensive front pushes too hard, D-Rob will simply find a crack and slither through it; if the Hokies sit back and wait, he’ll pick them apart with a combination of designed runs and short, effective passes. Tech coach Frank Beamer needs to strike a balance that will keep Robinson under control.
Fortunately, he has weapons at his disposal. While Robinson’s quarterback counterpart Logan Thomas will be critical to VT’s success, the Hokies’ best chance at victory begins with stellar defensive play, and a group of sophomores will lead the charge. Up front, James Gayle and J.R. Collins will apply direct pressure to the Michigan backfield, but the guy to watch is cornerback Kyle Fuller. Secondary play will be crucial to keeping Michigan as one-dimensional as possible, and Fuller’s cover skills will be put to the test. But like his classmates on the d-line, Fuller’s most impressive numbers this year revolve around QB pressure. Fuller led the Hokies with 15 tackles for loss. He had 4.5 sacks, a pair of hurries, and was a general nuisance off of the corner blitz. That’s the kind of confusion that VT will need to create against a talented Michigan offense.
KEY POSITIONAL BATTLE
Mitchell: I think it’s going to come down to how Virginia Tech’s front seven contains Michigan QB Denard Robinson. Robinson isn’t the most effective passer, but he can make defenses pay with his running ability. Robinson was Michigan’s leading rusher this season with 1,163 yards and 16 touchdowns. If Virginia Tech can keep the dual-threat Wolverines passer from beating them with his legs, they should be able to slow down the Michigan offense. You want to contain Robinson, and force him to try and win the game with his arm. Virginia Tech’s defense will have to play disciplined to make sure they don’t over-pursue him, and leave him open running lanes where he can do his most damage. Robinson can turn a 5-yard gain into 50 really quick, and the Hokies have to avoid letting him get those big chunks of yardage on the ground if they want to have a chance at winning this game.
Bigalke: When you look at the statistics, few teams seem quite as closely comparable as the Wolverines and the Hokies. Both teams base their offenses around the running game. Both teams depend on their defenses to keep their opponents off the scoreboard and score plenty themselves. Neither is strong when it comes to special teams, either the return game or the kicking and punting game. But what separates the two sides is penalties. Michigan, in its first season guided by Brady Hoke, reduced their already-strong national standing to finish as one of the five least penalized teams in the FBS this season/ With half a penalty and nearly ten fewer penalty yards than they did in Rich Rodriguez’s last year in Ann Arbor, Michigan got to 10-2 in large part because they didn’t beat themselves.
Can Michigan's defense contain one of the nation's leading rushers in David Wilson?
Virginia Tech, on the other hand, lost some of its discipline this season. The Hokies, who were 15th nationally in penalties against in 2010, plummeted to mediocrity in the statistic this year. They commit more than a full penalty more per game than they did in last year’s run to the ACC championship, and Tech lost over ten more yards a game because of their lack of discipline. If the Hokies cannot control themselves against Michigan, the disparity (a differential of over 16 yards between them on average) could ultimately prove correct the cries that Virginia Tech was a less-than-legitimate choice for a BCS at-large berth.
Strobl: This is an absolutely appalling matchup. Michigan is the lowest-ranked at-large selection in BCS history, and got in over a Michigan State team that won head-to-head, finished with an identical conference record, and won the division that both teams play in. There is no justification whatsoever for selecting the Wolverines over the Spartans…except for money. As a traditional power, Michigan has a large fanbase that travels well, but that’s still no excuse. Kansas State, which had a better season than Michigan, would have brought just as many supporters. Virginia Tech is only slightly better as a BCS choice. The Hokies did next to nothing this year, losing twice to the best team they faced (Clemson) and earning their “best win” against Georgia Tech. While far more deserving teams were relegated to lesser bowls, these programs will reap the Sugar Bowl windfall. This is exactly what makes the BCS a complete sham, and I’ll admit that I won’t be watching this game. It’s a meaningless personal boycott, but it’s the best I can do. Of the two, Michigan is the more dangerous team and should emerge with the win. But given the context, it’s hard to say that it matters. PICK: MichiganMitchell: I’ll agree that neither of these teams deserve to be here, but this should be an interesting matchup. Both teams have dual-threat QBs with Robinson for Michigan and big Logan Thomas for Virginia Tech. Both teams also have 1000 yard running backs in the backfield with David Wilson of Va Tech, and the Wolverines’ Fitzgerald Toussaint. This game will probably come down to which quarterback is most effective throwing the football. I just don’t have faith in Virginia Tech. They played one team that was really good this year, and Clemson blew them out twice. Michigan has played its best football since losing to Iowa, and are eager to prove to the Nation that Wolverine football is back with a marquee win in New Orleans. PICK: MichiganBigalke: Should either team be in New Orleans for this BCS Championship undercard matchup? Probably not… but the contest is set, it is what it is and we will tune in despite ourselves. The differences between the teams are few and far between, but while the Hokies have better balance between the air and ground games the Wolverines have better depth in their rushing attack. Shoelace will be a difference maker, but the fact that Fitzgerald Touissant is an equally-dangerous backfield threat should keep the Hokies defense more off-balance than Logan Thomas and Virginia Tech can do to the Wolverines. But that’s just guessing. It should be close enough to be interesting, even if it isn’t quite BCS caliber… PICK: Michigan