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Everything You Need to Know for the Sugar Bowl

Denard Robinson hopes to lead Michigan to its first 11-win season since 2006.
Gregory Shamus, Getty Images

While most of the BCS drama focused on the final poll and whether Alabama or Oklahoma State should face LSU in the championship game, the Sugar Bowl was not without its own share of controversy.

Michigan and Virginia Tech are marquee names in the football world who received BCS at-large invites over higher ranked teams like #8 Boise State and #11 Kansas State. Virginia Tech’s BCS invite was one of the biggest surprises of bowl season, being invited to the Sugar Bowl after being blown out by Clemson (for the second time this season) in the ACC Championship game.

Michigan’s Turnaround Season

Under first-year head coach Brady Hoke, Michigan completed one of football’s biggest turnarounds this year, going from 5-7 in 2009 to 7-6 last year to 10-2 this season. The big difference this year for Michigan was the turnaround on defense. After giving up record numbers of yards and points last season, the Wolverines ranked seventh in the nation in scoring defense, giving up just 17.2 points per game. On offense, while everyone knew about quarterback Denard Robinson’s ability to run the ball (1,163 yards and 16 touchdowns this season), the surprise this year was the emergence of running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, who gave the Wolverines a two-headed rushing attack with 1,011 yards and nine touchdowns. Led by that tandem, Michigan ranked 12th in the nation in rushing, averaging 235.7 yards per game. Robinson threw for 2,056 and 18 touchdowns this season, but did throw 14 interceptions. With their rushing attack, the Wolverines averaged 34.2 points per game.

Virginia Tech Limping In After ACC Title Game Loss

Virginia Tech is still stinging from its 38-10 beatdown by Clemson in the ACC title game. The Hokies are led by a tough defense that ranks 15th nationally in total defense and eighth in scoring. They are looking for some redemption, however, after giving up 457 yards and a season-high 38 points in that game. On offense, the Hokies are paced by running back David Wilson, the ACC Player of the Year. Despite being held to just 32 yards against Clemson, the junior averaged 125.2 yards per game (sixth-best in the nation) and finished with 1,627 yards and nine touchdowns. While the Hokies are a run-first team, quarterback Logan Thomas has proven to be effective when needed, throwing for 2,799 yards, 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions this season.

Keys to the Game: Run Defense and Special Teams

While both teams feature strong defenses this year, the key matchup will be the Hokies defense against Michigan’s rushing offense. Virginia Tech ranks 15th nationally in rush defense, but they haven’t faced a rushing tandem with the firepower of Robinson and Toussaint. Special teams could also play a big role. Virginia Tech prides itself on strong special teams play, but will be without starting kicker Cody Journell, who has been suspended following an arrest on breaking and entering charges. The redshirt sophomore had completed 14 of his 17 attempted field goals this year.

ALLSTATE SUGAR BOWL: #13 Michigan (10-2) vs. #11 Virginia Tech (11-2)

[Tuesday, Jan. 3 at 8:30 PM ET on ESPN]

 

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