Friday, December 30, 2011

Previewing The Sugar Bowl

Over the past few weeks, we've been looking at all the aspects of Michigan's first BCS bid since the 2006- 2007 season.  We took a look at Virginia Tech's background and then focused on their team performance this season.  However, we've never broken down the specifics of the Sugar Bowl.  How will the game play out on January 3rd?  Will Virginia Tech falter as it did against Clemson, or will they be able to beat Michigan with their solid defense?

Over the past few weeks this game may have received some criticism from fans and the media, but most have not denied the great match-up between the teams.  Two teams that are relatively even matched will have a great opportunity to prove they belong in a BCS game.  Virginia Tech will have to overcome their poor performance lately in bowls and Michigan will have to try to overcome the last three seasons. There's a lot of pride and expectations riding on this game, and I don't think it will disappoint.


This game is predicted to be pretty exciting because of the two high-powered offenses both teams are bringing to the field.  Here are some of the basic stats regarding Michigan and Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech

  • 36th in Total Offense (415.8 yds/g)
  • 53rd in Scoring Offense (28.5 pts/g)
  • 30th in Rushing Offense (188.69 yds/g)
  • 66th in Passing Offense (227.1 yds/g)
  • 35th in Total Offense (423.2 yds/g)
  • 22nd in Scoring Offense (34.2 pts/g)
  • 12th in Rushing Offense (235.67 yds/g)
  • 90th in Passing Offense (187.4 yds/g)
Overall, the two offenses are pretty even, but with a little more analysis, there are some significant differences between the two teams.  Michigan tends to move the ball on the ground, while Virginia Tech tends to rely more on the pass.  Typically, it doesn't make a significant difference whether a team rushes or passes, but it could be a key factor in this game.

These differences are important because Virginia Tech has a solid rush defense and Michigan has a pretty solid passing defense.  This is important because it's going to force each team to use a strategy different than they have for much of this year.  Michigan typically runs the ball for the majority of the game, but they're probably going to have to pass a fair amount.  Similarity, Virginia Tech typically passes the ball, but they're probably going to have to put the ball on the ground a lot more against Michigan.

With a little more analysis of the two teams, I believe this challenge gives the advantage to Michigan.  Michigan may be forced to pass the ball, but the stats listed above are misleading.  Michigan may not have a lot of passing yards this season, but Denard has played very well in the last two games.  In fact, against Nebraska and Ohio State, Denard completed a combined 71% of his passes, 347 passing yards, 5 touchdowns, and only 1 interception.  For a dual-threat quarterback, this is extremely impressive.

David Wilson, Virginia Tech's starting running back, has had some great games this season, but he is coming off what was perhaps his worst performance of the season.  He ran 11 times for just 32 yards against Clemson and was never able to reach the end-zone.  Obviously, Denard is coming in with a lot more momentum than Virginia Tech's running game.  Of course, the Hokie's may figure out how to move the ball on the ground, but I think Denard has shown he will be able to outplay Wilson.

Advantage: Lean Michigan


Virginia Tech

  • 15th in Total Defense (313.9 yds/g)
  • 7th in Points Allowed (17.2 pts/g)
  • 16th in Rushing Defense (107.77 yds/g)
  • 39th in Passing Defense (206.2 yds/g)
  • 17th in Total Defense (317.6 yds/g)
  • 7th in Points Allowed (17.2 pts/g)
  • 36th in Rushing Defense (129.08 yds/g)
  • 17th in Passing Defense (188.5 yds/g)
In terms of stats, these defenses are almost dead even.  In fact, they are exactly even in terms of points allowed.  I think Denard Robinson and the Michigan offense does offer something Virginia Tech has not really seen this season and will represent a challenge, but Michigan will have its own challenge with Virginia Tech's passing attack.  There's really no way to say one defense will be significantly better than the other without using an insane amount of speculation.

Advantage: Dead-lock

Special Teams

Now, special teams is one area where Michigan will have a significant advantage.  Neither team is particularly skilled on special teams (both teams are buried deep in almost all the special teams rankings), but the loss of Virginia Tech's two best kickers over the previous week has the Hokie's scrambling for someone to kick field goals.  With the teams so evenly matched, this may be the thing that ultimately decides the game.

Advantage: Michigan


Both teams have much to prove in this game as many in the national media have exclaimed that neither team belong in New Orleans.  Regardless of opinion, both teams will be fired up to prove the national media wrong and assert themselves.  However, Michigan has an outstanding team chemistry, strong leadership, a desire to prove Michigan's "back," and a lot of momentum.  Virginia Tech is coming off a huge loss, has been in several BCS bowls recently, and have a lot of controversy surrounding player son their team.

Along with this, I expect a strong showing for the Maize and Blue.  Tickets have sold significantly faster than Virginia Tech and I expect many others have bought tickets on secondary sites such as StubHub (even though I hate the site, they do have some good deals).  Virginia Tech's poor bowl record will probably get the best of them with a strong Michigan presence in the stands.

Advantage: Michigan


Assuming neither team implodes or gives away a ton of turnovers (both teams are almost identical in turnover margin) the game will likely come down to Denard Robinson and David Wilson.  If either of them can have a big game and convert on some key plays, they will probably get the margin needed to win the game.  I think with the home atmosphere, Denard Robinson makes the plays through the air needed to win the game, but it should be a close one.

Final Score: Michigan 30-27

Photo Credit: Gregory Shamus

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