Russell Athletic Bowl: Virginia Tech-Rutgers
It’s been a trying year for Virginia Tech (6-6), which win or lose in Orlando, will post its worst record since going 2-8-1 in 1992. The Hokies can end the season on a positive note, and a three-game winning streak, but it’s going to largely depend on stopping Jawan Jamison and the Scarlet Knights’ running game.
Jamison ran for 1,054 yard and four touchdowns this season, but the junior was hampered by an ankle injury suffered on Nov. 10 against Army. He ended that game with 999 yards but in the next three games averaged 34.3 yards, a stretch during which the Knights went 1-2.
He’s healthy and will run into a Virginia Tech defense that’s improved, allowing 60.6 yards on the ground in its last three outings, including minus-15 against Florida State. The Hokies have done it with an aggressive approach, racking up 14 sacks over that stretch and 22 since Oct. 13 vs. Duke.
If linebackers Jack Tyler (112 tackles and 11 ½ for loss), Bruce Taylor (5 ½ sacks) and Co. can help keep Jamison from controlling the clock, it can help keep pressure off a Virginia Tech offense that’s had its own struggles producing. Which brings us to …
Logan Thomas. Hopes were high this preseason for the big bodied (6-foot-5, 260 pounds) Hokies quarterback, who was expected to showcase his talents before bolting for the NFL. But the junior has struggled, throwing 17 TDs to 14 interceptions, completed just 52.6 percent of his passes and ranks 85th in FBS with a 119.7 efficiency rating.
His uneven play was only amplified due to the lack of a proven commodity at running back – it was Thomas that led the Hokies with 528 rushing yards in what was their first season since 2005 without a running back who had at least 850 yards – or any help up front as a line that lost four seniors from a year ago and dealt with injuries.
But Thomas has been Virginia Tech’s offense this season and is going to have to look like the Logan Thomas everyone expected if the Hokies are going to solve a Knights defense, led by the Big East Defensive Player of the Year Khaseem Greene, which allowed just 14.2 points per game (fourth nationally).
20: Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer is just the fourth coach to reach the postseason in at least 20 straight year, joining Bobby Bowden (28 years), Tom Osborne (25) and Bear Bryant (24).
The Knights have one thing working in their favor that the Hokies don’t: the ability to control the clock and move the chains with a dependable running game. But with the way Virginia Tech’s defense has rebounded, if this game comes down to which QB can make the necessary plays, the potential Thomas brings is more appealing than Gary Nova, who threw 12 picks in the last five games.
The Pick: Virginia Tech 24, Rutgers 20