Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

December 26, 2012

Hokies need victory to avoid losing season

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — he last time Virginia Tech didn’t play in a postseason bowl game or not finish with a winning record, junior quarterback Logan Thomas was 1.

Freshman running back J.C. Coleman would not be born for two more years.

Virginia Tech was able to beat Boston College in overtime — its only win this season away from Lane Stadium — and stop Virginia on a last second field goal to extend its streak of bowl appearances to 20 straight years.

However, a loss to Rutgers (9-3) in the Russell Athletic Bowl on Friday in Orlando, Fla. would result in the Hokies’ first losing season since a 2-8-1 mark 1992, which is also the last time they didn’t play in the postseason.

No wonder the 6-6 record that Virginia Tech is saddled with this season is so hard to take for its avid fan base.

One season after losing in overtime to Michigan in the Sugar Bowl, the Hokies started the season at 2-0 — an overtime win over Georgia Tech and a predictable blowout victory against Austin Peay —  and finished the year with two wins.

In between, Virginia Tech was 2-6, including a 4-4 mark in the Coastal Division. The Hokies, who were considered the favorite to advance to the ACC Championship Game, lost three in a row and four of five at one point in the season.

The non-league defeats came to Big East teams from Pittsburgh (35-17) and Cincinnati (27-24).

Guess which league Rutgers comes from?

Virginia Tech, which used to play the Scarlet Knights in the Big East, is 11-3 against Rutgers, but they last played in 2003, a 48-23 win over the Hokies.

Of course, Rutgers has seen a turnaround and became a competitive program under Greg Schiano, and that success has continued with Kyle Flood, who took over when Schiano left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Expect Friday’s game to be a defensive struggle, much like they always seem to be for the Hokies and Knights. Both clubs have struggled on offense this season, but have thrived on defense.

Virginia Tech was expected to be carried this season by its defense, but even though the Hokies are a respectable 24th in total defense (344.58) and 38th in scoring defense (23.92), they have allowed 27 or more points six times, all of which resulted in defeat.

The Hokies simply haven’t been able to generate enough offense to offset the defensive struggles, and that could be a problem against the Knights.

Virginia Tech is 78th in scoring offense (26.08) and 71st in total offense (391.83), and have rarely looked good doing it.

Rutgers has played a lot like Virginia Tech had been expected to do. The Knights are fifth in the nation in scoring defense, 14th in total defense, and 11th against the run, while allowing 20 or more points just four times this season. They have lost three of those games.

However, on offense, the Knights are 83rd or higher in four major categories, including 94th in scoring offense (22.42), 100th in total offense (341.08) and 100th in rushing offense (125.92).

Much the blame for Virginia Tech’s struggles on offense have been predictably placed — at least from the fans’ perspective — on offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring, along with Thomas, who is in just second season as a college quarterback, having come to Virginia Tech with intentions of being a tight end.

He has thrown for 2,783 yards and 17 touchdowns, but has also thrown 14 interceptions. Thomas has also been the Hokies’ top rushing threat, running for 528 yards and nine more scores.

Coleman has been the Hokies’ leader among the backs with 486 yards, while the leading receiver Marcus Davis has 47 receptions for 891 yards and five touchdowns, but Virginia Tech has struggled to replace all-time leading receivers Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale.

The same issues have been faced in trying to replace the running back production of David Wilson, who is now playing for the New York Giants.

Virginia Tech has also struggled with injuries and inconsistency on the offensive line.

Rutgers started the season at 7-0 under Flood, earning a share of the Big East title for the first time, but dropped a surprising decision to Kent State, resulting in a 2-3 slide that included losses to Pittsburgh and Louisville.

The Scarlet Knights have been led by quarterback Gary Nova, who has had a Thomas-like season, throwing for 2,566 yards and 22 touchdowns, but has also thrown 15 interceptions. Jawan Jamison leads Rutgers with 1,054 yards on the ground, while Brandon Coleman has 39 receptions for 663 yards and 10 scores.

Khaseem Greene leads Rutgers on defense, ranking 14th in the nation with 10.42 tackles per game. Jack Tyler paces Virginia Tech on defense with 9.3 stops a contest.

Both teams have struggled at times on the special teams. Rutgers is 116th in net punting, while Virginia Tech is 83rd.

Giles product Cody Journell has been consistent for the Hokies, making 18-of-22 on field goals, including game winners against Georgia Tech and Virginia. He is also 33-of-35 on extra points attempts.

Virginia Tech is a 2 1/2 point favorite against the Scarlet Knights.

The Russell Athletic Bowl, which has been in existence since 1990, has been played in two cities and had several different sponsors in the last 23 years.

Friday’s game will start at 5:30 p.m., and will be televised by ESPN.

—Contact Brian Woodson