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January 2, 2013

Final Grades: Russell Ath Bowl

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Miraculously, Virginia Tech kept its winning season streak alive and extended it to 20 with a 13-10 win over Rutgers Dec. 28 in the Russell Athletic Bowl. That was in little thanks to the Hokies' offense, who was inept, but the defense for the most part was solid. Having seen replays and thought it over, here's publisher Jason Stamm's final exam of the Hokies' win:

For a guy who could have been playing his final game for Virginia Tech, junior Logan Thomas didn't do much to increase his NFL draft stock. He was off on a number of passes and even a couple of connections, notably a fourth quarter strike to Marcus Davis, were well off and required good balance and concentration on the receivers' parts. Thomas might have had just one pass in the game that showed why NFL teams like his potential, the 22-yard touchdown pass to Corey Fuller in which Thomas perfectly lofted a fade pass. Still, he fell well short in delivering a solid performance in the season's last game. Will it still be Thomas' final game for the Hokies?


Another area that fell extremely short. A total of three yards rushing isn't going to make anyone happy, despite the win. Much of that was a result of the opening-drive fumble, but still, Virginia Tech got no ground production at all. Senior Martin Scales at least didn't lose yardage, but had just 14 yards on 12 carries. And for the guys returning, like freshman J.C. Coleman, the early prognosis doesn't look good. The pressure is on for the spring season to show some kind of improvement. We've avoided this grade all season at every position, but this game was truly this performance.


As bad as the offense looked overall, this group had a few moments. The 22-yard touchdown catch by senior Corey Fuller was a great pass by Thomas but also a great example of concentration on Fuller's part, who's shown that trait a number of times this season. And despite the offensive ineptness, senior Marcus Davis came just 10 yards short (953) of breaking Virginia Tech's record for receiving yards in a season, behind Andre Davis' 962 yards. Davis finished with 62 yards for the game, including an impressive late catch down the left sideline and one in overtime to set up the game-winning field goal. Blocking wasn't the best at times tough, and brings the overall grade here down a bit too.


The struggles on offense had just as much to do with the offensive line as anywhere else. The running backs have to know when and where to hit holes, but it's tough when there really aren't any. Thomas being sacked four times doesn't help either and the poor snap by sophomore center Caleb Farris on the Hokies' second offensive play of the game led to what maybe should have been a safety, but was ruled a touchdown when Rutgers' Khaseem Greene recovered the ball in the end zone. As bad as the running backs were, this position group was up there, too.


One of the best defensive performances for Virginia Tech this season started up front. The Hokies harassed and hurried Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova all game, as he completed just 17 of 40 passes for 129 yards. Big Derrick Hopkins also got to him for a sack. The Scarlet Knights didn't do much on the ground either, which was largely attributable to the great work up front.


Despite not starting due to tardiness to a team meal senior Bruce Taylor (other players were also tardy), had one of his best games in his final game for Virginia Tech. Taylor had a team-high 11 tackles and a pass break up as the defensive leader, while another senior, Alonzo Tweedy had eight tackles and a sack. Don't forget junior Jack Tyler, who was behind those two with seven tackles. It was the kind of performance needed especially when the offense was as bad as it was.


For all the struggles the Hokies' secondary has had this season, everything finally came together for this game. The defensive backs were like glue on the Scarlet Knights' receivers most of the game, only allowing one big play, which came in the second quarter on a 43-yard pass. Virginia Tech got the play of the game from junior Antone Exum, who intercepted Nova in the fourth quarter to set up the Hokies' touchdown pass. But Virginia Tech should have had at least four other interceptions, which were all dropped, by Exum, sophomore Detrick Bonner (two) and junior Kyle Fuller. This position suddenly looks much promising heading into next season.


Virginia Tech again squeaked out a close game thanks to a late field goal, for the third time this season. Junior Cody Journell was clutch on a 22-yard game-winner in overtime and on a 25-yarder in the fourth quarter. He missed on a 51-yard field goal late as well but in his defense, it was a bit out of his range. Freshman A.J. Hughes punted a whopping 11 times (teams combined for 21) with an impressive long of 57 yards and an average of 42.2. Four of those were inside the 20 yard line, with just one touchback. Tweedy was also his usual stalwart self on coverage, with a few impressive tackles. This group saw plenty of action and did well, allowing just 40 yards on returns. On returns itself though, the Hokies didn't get a lot done.


The offense, in particular the running game and offensive line's inability to get anything going doesn't look good. The decision for Journell to try a 51-yard field goal that was a bit short doesn't look good either, but the coaching by the defensive staff brings this grade up a bit. The calls seemed to be the right ones made on defense.


The listed attendance was 48,127, but in the Florida Citrus Bowl, which is comparable in capacity to Lane Stadium had way less actually at the game. Both lower bowls, on the sidelines, were full, but there were plenty of seats there. Still, there were a number of Hokies fans in attendance, who roared to life late when Virginia Tech scored and celebrated with the team after the last-second win.



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