2011 ACC Season Recap: Virginia Tech Hokies

Was Virginia Tech's Defense a Product of Scheduling, or Were They Really That Good in 2011?

Team: Virginia Tech Hokies

W-L: 11-3 (7-2)

Postseason: 23-20 (OT) AllState Sugar Bowl loss to Michigan

Top Offensive Performer: Logan Thomas, QB

Top Defensive Performer: James Gayle, DE

Virginia Tech’s strategy during most seasons is simple — crush four patsies in the non-conference schedule, get themselves into the top 10-15 or so, and then hope the rest of the ACC has a down year. Given the four titles they’ve won since joining the league, I’d say it’s worked pretty well. The 2011 season was an exception, however. Against a young, fiery Clemson team that had its number, Tech was downed twice, each in resounding fashion. VPI would play just three games against ranked teams (teams that appeared in the year’s final top 25) all season, and lost all three. So was their season a farce?

The Hokies gave up just 17.6 points per game (seventh in the nation) — held even more impressive when you remove the team’s ACC title game debacle in which they allowed 38 points. In all, seven of their opponents scored 14 points or less, but just one of those possessed a winning record. Virginia Tech’s biggest flaw, as it ends up, was that teams could spread the field on them with the right set of athletes. Clemson did it twice. Michigan and star QB Denard Robinson pulled it off as well in a postseason loss for the Hokies. Georgia Tech managed it while even throwing the ball (rare, for them), and Miami came up just short as well. What Virginia Tech did best was pressure the quarterback and make stops in the red zone. Beyond that, the secondary was none too active, hence why all the QB pressure failed to create too many turnovers. For mobile passers (all of the teams above definitely had one), avoiding the pressure was all they had to do, with little worry about turnovers once the ball was released. Continue reading

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2011 Season’s Final ACC Power Rankings

Logan Thomas and Virginia Tech's Disappointing Finish Won't Stop Them From Finishing as the ACC's Top Team

In these conference rankings, I list the ACC teams, one through 14, as if Pitt and Syracuse were already in the league. Yes, adding the additional teams may seem pointless now, but wait until they officially join. Then it’ll seem like old news and we can get past that initial awkwardness. No, I won’t reconsider. On to the final rankings of the 2011 season:

1. Virginia Tech Hokies (11-3) (7-2) (LW: 1): The Hokies do end the year on a two-game losing streak, however, their final game was competitive and entertaining to watch. Had it not been for Danny Coale‘s touchdown being called back late in the contest, Virginia Tech could have easily walked away with a Sugar Bowl victory and actually allowed the conference to keep some dignity this postseason.

2. Clemson Tigers (10-4) (7-2) (LW: 3): Speaking of dignity, the ACC champs lost all of theirs in a 70-33 drubbing at the hands of West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. The loss would go down as one of the worst in bowl or BCS history, and add to the frustrating concept that is Clemson football. Coach Dabo Swinney has taken this team to new heights, now he must surpass those, too, and deliver a title contender.

3. Florida State Seminoles (9-4) (5-3) (LW: 2): The ‘Noles were one of the ACC’s two bowl victors after defeating the oft-overrated Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Champs Sports Bowl. While never overly impressive in the matchup, it was a continuation of a theme for Florida State — never appearing all that dominant, but getting the job done when unchallenged by their opponent.

4. NC State Wolfpack (8-5) (4-4) (LW: 6): The conference’s other victor defeated Louisville in their bowl game to complete an improbable and fantastic run to end the year. In defeating the likes of Clemson, Maryland and the Cardinals consecutively, the Wolfpack won with both offense and defense — suddenly showing themselves a team that could play up to any opponent, regardless of how favored they may be. Above all, QB Mike Glennon was most impressive, throwing for 11 touchdowns over those final three games. Continue reading

Allstate Sugar Bowl Recap: Michigan over Virginia Tech, 23-20 (OT)

Michigan's Junior Hemingway Grabbed Two Touchdowns in Their 23-20 Sugar Bowl Win Over Virginia Tech

What happened: “Beamer ball” fell short in a BCS bowl again tonight, as the Virginia Tech Hokies lost the Allstate Sugar Bowl 23-20 in overtime to the Michigan Wolverines. In a game of closely-matched teams, what most folks will end up remembering are the Hokies monumental mistakes on special teams, as well as two questionable calls late in the contest. Even more puzzling, Tech held the high-powered Michigan attack to just 184 total yards, and 23 minutes of possession time — yet still, due to their own inefficiencies in the opposing zone, could not capitalize. Among their biggest gaffes, Virginia Tech’s James Hopper roughed the kicker on a late punt which led to a touchdown, followed immediately by a fumble on the ensuing kickoff (leading to a UM field goal, aided in field position by a misplayed defense of a fake field goal). Biggest of all was the missed field goal in overtime, handing the Wolverines an easy shot at the winning points soon after. Interestingly, overtime could have been averted completely, had WR Danny Coale‘s spectacular touchdown grab stood (this viewer thought it looked like a catch). Later, on the game-winning field goal in OT, Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons also appeared to have a false start — but was not flagged.

Who’s to Blame: While ESPN’s main crew tried to avoid the apparent controversy that could result from the issues laid out above, ESPNU’s Jason Sehorn seemed awfully skeptical of the outcome, though he avoided the obligatory conversation on “fairness” one would expect. Putting these issues aside, the finger points to Virginia Tech’s atrocious special teams play, specifically by the aforementioned Hopper and placekicker Justin Myer, whose first miss on five attempts couldn’t have come at a worse moment.

It Was Over When: Gibbons’ 37-yard field goal sailed directly through the uprights in the first overtime. Once Myer missed his shot for the Hokies, it was just a simple three plays by Michigan to advance the ball a few yards for the winning try.

Game Ball Goes To: Michigan receiver Junior Hemingway, for his two touchdown grabs, and for being the only UM offensive player that appeared to have a pulse tonight. If not for the late touchdown that was called back, this honor would be going to Coale, who still managed eight catches for 117 yards. Given the Michigan triumph, however, credit’s also due to first-year head coach Brady Hoke, who got this team believing in his system quickly, resulting in a Sugar Bowl victory and an 11-win season.

Predictions Update: Though I’m 4-3 in the seven ACC bowl games thus far, the conference is not doing nearly as well. As the shame train continues, the league drops to 2-5 in postseason play, with two games remaining. This will not quiet the critics, no matter how close most of these contests were.

Allstate Sugar Bowl Preview: Virginia Tech vs. Michigan

The 2012 Allstate Sugar Bowl Matches Virginia Tech Against Michigan

After suffering an embarrassing loss at the hands of Clemson in the ACC title game, few outside of Blacksburg gave Virginia Tech much of a chance to get to a BCS bowl. Yet, the Allstate Sugar Bowl organizers found the Hokies more appealing than the rest of the at-large field, despite owning zero wins against top-25 competition. They’ll face a resurgent Michigan team in what is arguably their toughest test to date.

Bowl Game: (Allstate) Sugar Bowl

Location: New Orleans, La.

First Year: 1935

2012 Participants: Virginia Tech Hokies (11-2) vs. Michigan Wolverines (10-2)

Last Meeting: None

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Virginia Tech (previous bowl game: 40-12 loss to Stanford in 2011 Orange Bowl)

Virginia Tech ran roughshod over its competition for much of the regular season, with its only loss coming to Clemson back in October. Though the Tigers would get the better of them once again in the ACC Championship Game, the Hokies defense remains one of the premiere units in the country — finishing eighth overall (FBS) in points allowed per game. While always a strong point, this year’s edition of the Tech D was first in the conference in sacks, second in interceptions, first in opponents third down conversion rate and second in turnover margin. On the other hand (as mentioned earlier), Virginia Tech lost their only two games to teams ranked in the final top 25 (both to Clemson) and was tested very little in the non-conference schedule. Also of note, they’ve been shown to struggle against mobile quarterbacks (Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, and for three quarters, Georgia Tech‘s Tevin Washington, in particular).

Michigan (previous bowl game: 52-14 loss to Mississippi State in 2011 Gator Bowl)

First-year coach Brady Hoke has brought the Wolverines back to the national spotlight, with a new, exciting brand of Michigan football that was regularly a must-watch game of the week. Quarterback Denard Robinson, their mobile and exciting captain, has delivered clutch play and an increased sense of maturity in 2011 — with come-from-behind victories and over 3,200 total yards. As frightening as Robinson is, however, he’s not the only piece of the puzzle. Michigan sports their own impressive defensive attack, ranking one spot ahead of Virginia Tech at seventh overall in points allowed. With so many ways to beat you, the Wolverines have scored at least 30 points in nine of their 12 games, and held opponents to 14 points or less in six games. Given time to gameplan for Robinson however, defenses have been prone to containing him (Iowa and Michigan State both did the job this season).

Verdict

In a game that could potentially be about two great defenses, this matchup may actually come down to who executes best on offense. With weapons like Robinson and the Hokies’ Logan Thomas on either side, points may actually hit the 30s for both teams, nullifying both defenses. Ultimately, the teams’ similar rushing attacks also equal off, leaving it up to their respective passing capabilities. In spite of Thomas’s superior numbers, Robinson is truly the better creator when passing the ball. And, since he’s been involved in more lopsided victories, his opportunities for late throws have been fewer. It may seem to be an inexact science, but the nod goes to Michigan and their high-powered attack. Prediction: Michigan 33, Virginia Tech 28

Clemson, Virginia Tech Both Receive BCS Bids

In Spite of Their Loss to Clemson, Virginia Tech's Headed to the Sugar Bowl

Defying all logic, and in spite of their embarrassing loss to Clemson Saturday night, the Virginia Tech Hokies have been invited to the Sugar Bowl this January. As you were probably already aware, Clemson locked up a bid to the Orange Bowl automatically by winning the ACC championship.

While ACC fans can feel free to celebrate the conference’s first two-bid BCS session, there are still some items that can’t be forgotten: First, Tech, as well as their opponent Michigan, only arrived in New Orleans by virtue of a popularity contest. While this could bode well for the league’s future prospects, it surely leaves a bad taste in my mouth as a fan for the time being. There were several better options out there (Boise State and Kansas State, specifically), but dollars won out.

Second, the circumstances that allowed this to happen were mostly based on there being too many SEC teams in the top 10 (only two were eligible for berths, yet four were ranked high enough to normally be considered), Boise’s one loss, Houston‘s ineptitude and voters’ disrespect for the Big 12. Without any one of these factors, it’s likely the Hokies are left out of the big-money bowls.

Third: Can anyone (even those in Blacksburg) say that Tech is truly deserving of the bid based on their resume? Virginia Tech went 11-2 this year in what many consider the country’s fifth-best conference (debatable). Both losses were to the same team — Clemson — however, the combined score of those two games was 61-13, and neither were played at a truly hostile location (home, and neutral site Charlotte, for the championship game). The Hokies got three chances against ranked teams all season, and recorded just one win (Georgia Tech). Not all that impressed anymore, are we?

Moving to historical data, Virginia Tech is just 1-4 all-time in BCS games, with their lone win coming against Cincinnati in the 2009 Orange Bowl (a thoroughly boring game). As you’ll also recall, they don’t play all that well against superior competition. Not to blast a member of the conference too badly, but I don’t agree with this pick. Of course, it would make more sense to call out the system than the teams that benefit from it. As you’ll notice from the All-SEC title game we’ve got ourselves roped into, there’s a lot to be fixed there, too.

 

Atlantic Coast Convos BCS Projections (Week 14)

The SEC Could Celebrate Another Title Before the Game Is Even Played

Rather than an in-depth rundown of all of this weekend’s championship games, we’re just going to look at the end-game — what happens after league titles are decided, and it’s time to hand out bids to the big money bowls. Along with each game below, we’ll include a brief explanation of the matchup, and how we got there. For our longer ACC Championship Game preview, however, please head over here.

Orange Bowl: Virginia Tech Hokies vs. West Virginia Mountaineers — Orange Bowl organizers, forced to take the eventual Big East champion, actually end up with a pretty favorable scenario here. A regional matchup between these two former conference-mates also allows them to put the Black Diamond Trophy up for grabs in a battle of one staunch defense against another high-powered offense.

Rose Bowl: Oregon Ducks vs. Wisconsin Badgers — The Rose Bowl gets its wish this season, getting back to tradition by pitting the Pac-12 champ against the Big Ten champ. Oregon shouldn’t have much of a problem getting here, but the Badgers will face a tough contest this weekend against Michigan State. Both sporting high-scoring offenses, it’ll be an interesting test of wills between UO’s LaMichael James and UW’s Montee Ball to see who can run the ball more effectively.

Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. Stanford Cardinal — On paper, this one’s an exciting matchup between two of the top five schools in the country. However, the returns may not end up that way. OSU’s offensive tempo is similar to Oregon’s, and while the Cowboys’ defensive quickness may not compare to the Ducks’, the speedy passing attack will keep the Cardinal off-balance all day.

Sugar Bowl: Houston Cougars vs. Michigan Wolverines — If the SEC and Big Ten title games shake out the way they’re supposed to, organizers will likely have to choose between Kansas State and Michigan in this one to see who faces Houston. With the guiding logic that UM will draw more TV viewers, it’s too obvious the Wolverines (by that point in the BCS top 14) will be headed to New Orleans.

BCS National Championship: LSU Tigers vs. Alabama Crimson Tide: Rumor has it that even if the Tigers are somehow upset in their conference title game, there’s little standing in the way of a big SEC West rematch in the national championship game. We’re hoping for a higher-scoring affair than last time obviously, but with two quality programs and a nearly-undisputed 1 v. 2 matchup, it would promise to be a great game (unlike many title games before it).