In the Russell Athletic Bowl, the Virginia Tech football program will look to stay above the dreaded .500 mark on the season. A loss would end their season with a sub-.500 record, the first time in over 20 years. But do the Hokies have enough in the tank to topple a 9-3 Rutgers team? Let’s take a look…
This is the battle of two very average quarterbacks at the moment. For Virginia Tech you have Logan Thomas, the 6’6 freak athlete with a cannon that has mightily underwhelmed this season. Thomas has thrown for a pedestrian 17 touchdowns and a woeful 14 interceptions. Thomas has been asked to do more in the run game than was initially planned at the start of the year, and you have to wonder what type of shape that has left his body in at this point. Thomas has infinitely more upside than the opposing quarterback, but it’s a question of whether or not he can get back to his winning form. If the Hokies are going to succeed, Thomas will have to work primarily as a passer and will have to be more accurate than his 52.6 completion percentage on the season.
For Rutgers we find Gary Nova, a 6’2 sophomore with an average arm but comparable stats to Logan Thomas. Nova has thrown for 22 touchdowns on the year, five more than Thomas, but has also thrown 15 interceptions, one more than Thomas. Nova has had the luxery of a 1,000-yard rusher this season and a duo of very tall wide receivers. However, He has still been very average on the year due to his shortcomings in pure arm strength. If the Scarlet Knights are going to be successful, Nova will have to use his weapons to their fullest potential, attacking Virginia Tech’s corners who are usually on an island with no safety help over the top.
Edge: Slightly Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech has been abysmal at running the ball this season. This is a direct result of a self-induced log jam at the running back position, often playing up to four running backs in a single game. This rotation has been paired down slightly with J.C. Coleman, Tony Gregory, and Martin Scales seeing a bulk of the carries, but the trio of backs have found limited success behind a sub-par offensive line, especially along the interior positions. Second to Logan Thomas in rushing yards, true-freshman J.C. Coleman has led the Hokies’ rushing attack with 486 yards on the season. And while that looks bad, Coleman is averaging 4.8 yards per carry. Coleman is a speedy kid with homerun potential, but a weak offensive line has rarely led to those opportunities. That’s where Martin Scales comes in. A converted fullback, Scales has been the bruiser back and has picked up crucial yards when needed. If the Hokies want to succeed, they will need solid contributions from whichever backs see the field.
Rutgers will be leaning on Jawan Jamison to carry the load. Jamison, who has rushed for 1,054 yards this season, is coming off an injury however. Before his injury Rutgers was 8-1 with Jamison averaging over 100 yards per game. Since his injury however, Rutgers has gone 1-2 with Jamison averaging less than 40 yards per game. If Jamison is really back to running like his former self, Rutgers should be in a position to do some damage on the ground. The biggest problem for the Rutgers backfield is that they have no nose for the endzone. In fact, the Rutgers running backs have a combined six touchdowns on the year. This shows a clear lack of execution when nearing the redzone and against a stingy Virginia Tech run defense, this could prove problematic for Rutgers. If Rutgers wants to succeed, they will need Jamison to not only run like he did earlier in the season, but he will also have to find a way into the endzone.
Edge: Slightly Rutgers
Virginia Tech has had many ups and downs this year with its wide receiving core. Marcus Davis has had a bad tendency to run lazy routes and to take plays off it seems, however, he is only 109 yards away from becoming Virginia Tech’s first 1,000-yard receiver. David has the ability to burn a corner at any second, but has had trouble getting the attention of Logan Thomas at times. A physical specimen, Davis stands at 6’4, weighing in at around 230 pounds – a larger frame for a wide receiver. He can truly be a nightmare for secondaries when put in the right spots running vertical routes. Corey Fuller has stepped up as the season has progressed and might be Virginia Tech’s most stable go-to weapon, showing sound route running and above-average hands. Beyond those two Dyrell Roberts has almost completely fallen out of the wide receiver rotation and Demitri Knowles has shown promise but is still young and raw in some aspects. If Virginia Tech wants success, Davis will have to give a full effort and use his physical tools to get an advantage over the Rutgers secondary.
The Rutgers wide receiving core is made up of big bodies who can attack the ball at its highest point. The focal point of the passing attack will be junior Brandon Coleman who stands anywhere from 6’5-6’6 depending on who you believe. Coleman leads Rutgers in receiving yards this season and has shown an innate ability to take advantage of man coverage on the wide side of the field. With Virginia Tech leaving its corners on an island for the majority of games, expect Coleman to get some looks vertically against Antoine Exum. Mark Harrison and Tim Wright will also look to get into the mix at wide receiver as well. However, the knock on the group as a whole is that they are lackluster route runners and struggle to get separation at times. Moreover, quarterback Gary Nova has had trouble finding the receivers due to some accuracy and arm concerns. If Rutgers wants to be successful, Nova will have to find Coleman early and often, taking advantage of the islands Virginia Tech puts their corners on.
Edge: Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech has a tendency to use their tight ends in the least opportune times during drives, and have had limited success with the group as a whole. Ryan Malleck gets most of his receiving yards outside of the redzone as a drive develops and Randall Dunn rotates in to get the redzone looks from Logan Thomas. The weakness of both of these tight ends is their blocking – frankly they stink at it. Neither one holds their blocks particularly well, and the footwork certainly leaves something to be desired. If Virginia Tech wants to get production out of this group, they will need to run block much better than they have all season and will need to step up in big moments when called upon in the passing game.
For Rutgers, their main threat at tight end is D.C. Jefferson, a 6’6, 250 senior. Jefferson was a bigger factor in the pass game early in the season, but hasn’t recorded a single catch over Rutgers’ last three games. Quarterback Gary Nova likes to work to his tight ends and tailbacks, so it is imperative that Jefferson get back into sync with Nova before they step on the field. This rhythm between Jefferson and Nova is so important because Rutgers’ other two tight ends have a combined nine receptions – half of Jefferson’s 18 on the year. If Rutgers wants to succeed, Nova and Jefferson will have to find a way to get back on the same page.
Virginia Tech’s offensive line is definitely stronger from the outside-in. Both tackles, Nick Becton and Vinston Painter, have been very effective in run blocking and pass protection. However, the further in you move, the worse Virginia Tech’s line seems to get. Almost all of the guards that Virginia Tech will play will be below-average. Brent Benedict is a strong run blocker but struggles with footwork in pass protection. However, between David Wang, Matt Arkema, and Michael Via, there really isn’t a quality player in the bunch. Losing Andrew Miller really hurt Virginia Tech at the center position, but Caleb Farris is quietly doing a decent job. However, Farris has struggled with his snapping to Logan Thomas, resulting in more fumbles on the exchange. If Virginia Tech wants to be successful, Farris will need to have his synergy down with Thomas during the center-QB exchange, and the guards really have to step their respective games up.
Rutgers employs a zone-blocking scheme similar to the one that Virginia Tech uses. This scheme has been effective for the most part in springing Jawan Jamison for decent yardage, but the line as a whole has struggled in pass protection for quarterback Gary Nova. Rutgers has great size at the tackle position on both ends, but especially at right tackle where the Scarlet Knights have a duo of 300+ pound tackles with a lot of height. Outside of that right tackle position too, this line as a whole is pretty young, starting as many as three sophomores at times. If Rutgers wants to be successful, their offensive line will have to do a better job in pass protection and will have to give Nova ample time to find his wideouts.
Edge Virginia Tech: Wide Receivers
Slight Edge Virginia Tech: Quarterback
Draw: Tight Ends and Offensive Line
Slight Edge Rutgers: Running Back
Edge Rutgers: None