Allstate Sugar Bowl Preview
Dec. 31, 2011
Michigan is back in the BCS picture with an Allstate Sugar Bowl matchup against Virginia Tech. The Wolverines first BCS game since appearing in the 2007 Rose Bowl Game will take place in New Orleans on Jan. 3 at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. Michigan is making its 41st postseason appearance and returning to the bowl scene for the second straight year. This will be the Maize and Blue’s second Sugar Bowl appearance. The Big Ten is officially 1-4 in the Sugar Bowl, including the Wolverines’ narrow loss to Auburn after the 1983 campaign.
Michigan finished the regular season 10-2 and 6-2 in Big Ten play. The Wolverines are on a three-game win streak, which includes the 40-34 regular-season finale victory over rival Ohio State. U-M is 18-3 all-time against ACC schools and 1-1 in bowl competition. The most recent matchup with the ACC came in the 1994 Hall of Fame Bowl, a 42-7 victory over North Carolina State on New Year’s Day. Michigan lost a 17-15 affair to North Carolina in the 1979 Gator Bowl.
Virginia Tech completed the regular season 11-2 overall and 7-1 in ACC competition. The Hokies will be making their sixth appearance in a BCS game, which is tied for the fourth-most among teams since the BCS was started in 1998. With its trip to the Allstate Sugar Bowl this year, Tech is now one of only three teams to go to 19 bowls in the past 19 seasons. Virginia Tech is 2-3 all-time in the Superdome, which includes a 28-10 victory over Texas in the 1995 Sugar Bowl, a 46-29 loss to Florida State in the 2000 Sugar Bowl and a 16-13 loss to No. 3 Auburn in the 2005 Sugar Bowl.
Michigan’s offense is second in the conference in scoring (34.2) and rushing (235.7), third in total yards (423.1), and seventh in passing (187.4). The Wolverines’ offensive success has come from the ground game this year, ranking 12th in the nation in yardage thanks in large part to two standouts. Junior quarterback Denard Robinson (1,163) and sophomore tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint (1,011) became Michigan’s first pair of 1,000-yard rushers since 1975. Robinson was clearly the field general this season, scoring a career-best 34 touchdowns (18 passing/16 rushing), while ranking first in the conference in all-purpose yardage (268.2), and fifth in conference rushing (96.9) and passing (171.3). Toussaint put forth a strong effort during the Big Ten schedule, rushing for 818 yards and six scores on 139 attempts in eight league contests. He surpassed the 100-yard mark in five Big Ten games, including the final three outings when he averaged 150.0 yards per game. Overall, Toussaint ranked sixth among conference rushers with 91.9 yards per game. In the air, Junior Hemmingway hauled in 32 passes for 636 yards for an average of 19.9 yards per catch. Jeremy Gallon also reached 30 receptions on the year, bringing in 15.0 yards per catch and totaling 450 yards this season.
Virginia Tech’s defense ranks second in the ACC in scoring (17.2) and total yards allowed (313.9), third in rushing (107.8), and fifth in passing (206.2). The Hokies have recorded an ACC-best 38 sacks, which ranks seventh in the country, and also leads the conference by allowing opponents just a 32.4 conversion percentage on third downs. Tech owns a plus-6 turnover margin, having garnered 15 interceptions and seven fumble recoveries this year. Michigan has managed an 83.6 percent scoring clip in the red zone, but Virginia Tech paces the ACC with an impressive red zone defense percentage of 67.6, allowing only 25 scores on 37 attempts. Sophomore Antone Exum leads the team and ranks 18th in the conference with 6.5 tackles per game, followed by senior Eddie Whitley in 24th at 6.0. Sophomore defensive end James Gayle anchors the line and is tied for fourth in the ACC with 7.0 sacks on the season. Teammate J.R. Collins follows in ninth with 6.0 sacks, while Kyle Fuller rates 17th at 4.5. Fuller has made a habit of making stops behind the line as the sophomore cornerback owns 14.5 tackles for loss, which is fourth-best in the ACC. Junior Jayron Hosley owns three interceptions on the year to pace the team.
The Hokies’ offense is second in the ACC in rushing (188.7), third in total yards (415.8), fourth in scoring (28.5), and ninth in passing (227.1). Virginia Tech is led by running back David Wilson, who was tabbed the ACC’s Offensive and Overall Player of the Year for 2011. This season, Wilson leads the team and is third nationally with 1,595 yards rushing, an average of 132.9 yards per game, which is fifth in the nation. He is on pace to break the school and ACC records for rushing yards in a season. Wilson ran for 100 or more yards in all but two of the Hokies’ 12 regular-season games. His total of 10 games at 100 or more ties an ACC record and during one stretch this season, he rushed for 132, 123, 128, 136 and 134 yards in consecutive starts. Sophomore QB Logan Thomas is eighth in the league with 215.3 passing yards per game, having completed 59.2 percent of his 363 attempts this season. He has totaled 2,799 passing yards with 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions. His primary target is Jarrett Boykin, who has a school-record 57 receptions this year. Boykin is 10th in the conference with 60.9 receiving yards per game and has 18 career touchdowns, which is good for third in program history. The Wolverines will need to keep an eye on tight end Chris Drager as well. On the season, Drager has 14 catches, all of which have gone for a first down or a touchdown.
Michigan’s defense is second in the Big Ten against the rush (129.1), third in scoring (17.2), fifth in total yards allowed (317.6), and sixth against the pass (188.5). The Wolverines’ strength against the run game should help defend Wilson, but a tip of the cap is deserved for the entire defensive unit after several struggles in 2010. After allowing 35.2 points last year, the Wolverines have responded with the nation’s seventh-best scoring defense. U-M has also improved from 108th in total defense in 2010 (447.9) to 18th this year. Creating turnovers have been a major focus to turning the defense around this season. Michigan forced 27 turnovers in the regular season, including multiple turnovers in nine of 12 games. The 27 turnovers rank first in the conference and are tied for 20th nationally. The Wolverines’ plus-6 turnover margin is third in the Big Ten. A key to winning the Allstate Sugar Bowl will be maintaining the success the Wolverines have had in defending the red zone. Michigan is fourth in the nation in red zone defense, allowing just 24 scores on 35 attempts (68.6). The Hokies rank just ninth in the ACC by scoring at a 75.0 percent clip on 64 tries inside the 20.
As for special teams, Virginia Tech has spent bowl week searching for a kicker. Cody Journell and Tyler Weiss are both back on campus due to team violations, so head coach Frank Beamer will likely turn to kickoff specialist Justin Myer, who missed both of his field goal tries -- from 57 and 53 yards -- this season. Another candidate for the job could be punter Michael Branthover. Tech defender Hosley currently ranks sixth all-time in program history with 791 punt return yards and is second in the ACC with 12.0 yards per punt return. Michigan boasts two of the conference’s top return men. Gallon is third in punt returns, averaging 10.1 each try, while Martavious Odoms is ninth with an average of 22.0 yards per kick return. Brendan Gibbons is 10-of-14 in field goals this year.