Published January 03, 2012
| Sports Network
New Orleans, LA – The Michigan Wolverines and Virginia Tech Hokies will collide on the gridiron for the first time, when the two teams meet in New Orleans and battle it out in the 78th annual Sugar Bowl.
Frank Beamer's Hokies have been the picture of consistency over the last decade. This season the team posted an 11-2 record with both losses coming to ACC champion Clemson, including a 38-10 setback in the ACC Championship Game. Still, Virginia Tech is the only school in the FBS ranks to win 10 or more games in eight straight seasons.
The Hokies are 9-15 in postseason play and are playing in their sixth BCS Bowl game. The team is 1-2 in three previous Sugar Bowl appearances and has lost three of its last four bowl games overall, including a humbling 40-12 rout at the hands of Stanford in last year's Orange Bowl.
Brady Hoke's first season in Ann Arbor was certainly a successful one. The Wolverines won 10 games this season, including eight at home, the first time Michigan has won eight games in Ann Arbor since 1917. The team finished 6-2 in the Big Ten, losing on the road at Michigan State and at Iowa. Despite not participating in the inaugural Big Ten title game, Michigan finished the season strong, posting three straight victories, including a 40-34 decision over rival Ohio State in the regular-season finale.
Hoke is pleased that the Wolverines are back in the big picture.
"We are very excited and feel very welcome coming to New Orleans and having the opportunity to play in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. This is something we have been looking forward to and our players have done a good job preparing to this point. We are going to play a tremendous opponent and we think it is going to be a heck of a football game. This is where Michigan should be. It is an expectation for Michigan to be in BCS bowl games."
Michigan is 19-21 all-time in bowl games. The Wolverines lost their only Sugar Bowl appearance back in 1984 and have dropped four of their last five postseason games, including last year's throttling at the hands of Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl (52-14).
The Michigan offense is fueled by a rushing attack that nets 235.7 yards per game, highlighted by the explosive play of quarterback Denard Robinson. The nation's premier dual-threat, Robinson joined an elite group this season by passing for over 2,000 yards and rushing for over 1,000. He finished the season as Michigan's leader on the ground, amassing 1,163 yards and 16 TDs, while passing for 2,056 yards and 18 TDs.
Junior Hemingway was tops on the team in receptions this year with 32 catches, for 639 yards and two TDs.
Still, the pass was definitely set up by the run and Robinson was joined on the ground by the rushing exploits of tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint, who rumbled for 1,011 yards and nine TDs.
The Wolverines were one of the top defensive units in the Big Ten this season. Michigan gave up just 17.2 ppg on a mere 317.6 yards per game. The team was particularly stingy against the pass, giving up just 188.5 yards per game.
An active bunch, the Wolverines forced 27 turnovers this year, including 19 fumble recoveries. Middle linebacker Kenny Demens paced the team with 86 tackles, this season, including 5.0 TFLs and 3.0 sacks. Safety Jordan Kovacs is another playmaker in the back seven, finishing the regular season with 64 tackles, 8.0 TFLs, four sacks and one INT. Veteran end Ryan Van Bergen (41 tackles) created the most havoc upfield, leading Michigan in both TFLs (12.0) and sacks (5.0).
The Hokies bring a balanced offensive attack into the Sugar Bowl. The team is averaging 415.8 ypg this year. In year's past, Virginia Tech relied heavily on its ground game. The rushing attack is still a big part of the offense at 188.7 yards per game thanks to All-American tailback David Wilson, who rumbled for 1,627 yards this year and nine TDs.
The play of sophomore quarterback Logan Thomas however, has given this offense another dimension. Thomas completed nearly 60 percent of his passes this season, for 2,799 yards and 19 TDs. The Hokies enjoy serious depth in the receiving corps, as Thomas relies on Jarrett Boykin (57 receptions, 731 yards, five TDs), Danny Coale (52 receptions, 787 yards, three TDs), D.J. Coles (34 receptions, 449 yards, three TDs) and Marcus Davis (29 receptions, 499 yards, five TDs).
The Hokies bring their usually stingy defense into this contest. Virginia Tech has given up just 17.2 ppg this year, showing equal disdain for the run (107.8 ypg) and the pass (206.2 ypg).
The Hokies lost their defensive leader Bruce Taylor in the second half of the season, but plenty of players stood up and filled the void. Sophomore safety Antone Exum led the way with a team-high 85 tackles. Joining him in the secondary is fellow safety Kyle Fuller (64 tackles, 14.5 TFLs, 4.5 sacks) and standout cover corner Jayron Hosley 59 tackles, three INTs). Up front, rush ends J.R. Collins (50 tackles, 8.5 TFLs, 6.0 sacks) and James Gayle (34 tackles, 11.5 TFLs, 7.0 sacks) create problems upfield.
Beamer knows getting to a BCS Bowl game is only half the battle.
"We are very excited. We've been in a BCS bowl game in four of the last five years. I found out as I go out on these speaking tours for our Alumni, they like to win these ball games. They don't just like to come they like to win. We are going to have to get this done. The more you study this Michigan team the better they get. They are well coached up front offensively and defensively. Their front is their strength for them and they perform well. It's going to be a challenge for us."