In what was purely a test to see which defense would crack (also a test for many viewers' eyes), Virginia Tech was able to capitalize on Rutgers' mistakes Friday to win the Russell Athletic Bowl 13-10 in overtime. The game had a combined 392 yards of offense, speaking volumes about both team's defensive ability (and offensive ineptness).
The game came down to two kicks in overtime, and the Hokies were fortunate to make theirs while Rutgers missed. Virginia Tech ends the season 7-6 and on a three-game winning streak.
Here's how the Hokies were able to complete their first bowl win since 2009.
WHY VIRGINIA TECH WON
In the lowest-scoring Russell Athletic Bowl in history, one might assume the Virginia Tech defense won this game to ensure coach Frank Beamer's 20th consecutive winning season. And you'd be correct thinking that. The Hokie D played magnificently throughout the contest, surrendering just three points.
The unit allowed 196 total yards of offense, the lowest output for a Hokie opponent since Michigan in the Sugar Bowl. Holding Rutgers to just 67 yards on 39 carries (1.7 yards per carry) was the key to the game, which forced Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova to beat Virginia Tech through the air.
It's been said plenty of times down the stretch, but punter A.J. Hughes had another fantastic game. While booting a career-high 11 punts (in rainy conditions might I add), he averaged 42.2 yards per punt, kicked three over 50 yards, and placed four inside the 20-yard line. Junior kicker Cody Journell also deserves recognition: the game-winning kick marked his sixth game-tying/winning field goal in the final minutes this season. (six-for-six)
WHY RUTGERS LOST
Although Virginia Tech was equally as horrendous on offense, Rutgers still averaged less yards per play (2.5) than the Hokies (2.7). As mentioned, Nova was relied upon to beat the Hokie defense, and he failed miserably. Nova had his lowest completion percentage of the season (42.5%) as well as the lowest amount of yards (129). He also threw an interception for the seventh consecutive game.
As an offensive unit, Rutgers had 16 possessions. They were able to produce just four drives of over 20 yards, and had eight three-and-outs (including six drives of four plays or less in the fourth quarter). The group also went 3-of-20 on third down. Sound familiar?
While senior linebacker Khaseem Greene was able to score a touchdown on a fumble recovery, that was the only fumble that Rutgers was able to recover of the five times the Hokies coughed up the football. In a game that came down to mistakes, Rutgers has to be kicking itself for not taking advantage of the loose balls.
Speaking of not taking advantage of opportunities, the two missed field goals by Nick Borgese was essentially the difference in the ballgame.
NUMBERS THAT DON'T MAKE SENSE WITH THE RESULT
An obvious number that sticks out here is the three (yes, three) total rushing yards for the Hokies on 32 carries. That was good for exactly 0.1 yards per carry. I'm not exactly sure how you win a collegiate bowl game when your average rush is as long as a miniature Snickers.
In a defensive battle such as this one, it would be expected that the time of possession battle was vital. However, Rutgers beat Virginia Tech in that category 32:34-27:26 (including 19:02-10:58 in the second half), which is further evidence of just how good the Hokies' defense played.
WHAT THE HOKIES COULD IMPROVE UPON FOR NEXT SEASON
It could be placed under the numbers that don't make sense category, but the Hokies once again were undisciplined at numerous points in the game. They racked up a total of 95 yards on 14 penalties, and gave Rutgers four first downs via the penalty. Rutgers had just 35 yards of penalties, marking a 60-yard difference in field position. The 2013 Hokies must improve in this area.
With the seriously awful rushing performance, it was essentially a perfect representation of this year's struggles. The two running backs that received more than one carry (Martin Scales and J.C. Coleman) combined for 20 yards on 19 carries. The Hokies HAVE to find a go-to running back next year, whether it be in-house or a new face.
Another area that really hindered the offensive attack was the inability of having a reliable tight end. Senior tight end Randall Dunn had just one catch for six yards in this one. Hokies 2012 tight end stats (between sophomore tight end Ryan Malleck and Dunn): 29 catches, 305 yards, 3 TD. Virginia Tech really needs a strong-catching athlete in that spot next season.
Remember that absurd streak of field-goals made against the Hokies? Well, the streak was still standing strong at 13 straight entering the game, and Borgese made it 14 in a row in the first quarter. But finally the Hokies luck turned around for the final two kicks of 2012. Borgese ended the streak with a 47-yard miss in the fourth quarter, and ended the season by missing a 42-harder in overtime. The streak had lasted for 31 quarters.
Junior cornerback Antone Exum's huge interception in the final quarter marked the fourth consecutive game Virginia Tech produced an interception, and the secondary had a season-high of ten breakups. The defensive front also played well again, tying a season-high of 12 tackles for loss. For the season, the unit registered an interception in nine of 12 games, and had at least nine tackles for loss in seven of the 12 games. The group also had a total of 17 sacks in the final four games, certainly something to build on for next year.
We won't know whether junior quarterback Logan Thomas' career is done for a couple weeks, but he finished the season by breaking his own record for total yards. He recorded exactly 3,500 yards after producing 3, 482 last year, and he's also the first quarterback to lead Virginia Tech in rushing since 1965 (Bobby Owens). His go-to receiver, Marcus Davis, finished the year just 9 yards short of Andre Davis' record of 962.