There were a lot of interesting lessons to be learned from the Michigan Wolverines wild win over the Virginia Tech Hokies in an overtime thriller in the 2012 Sugar Bowl.
Both teams have both good and bad things to take from the game. And since both return numerous starters next season (namely quarterbacks Denard Robinson and Logan Thomas) and will likely start the season ranked in the Top 10, each team has things to build on and areas where they can focus on improvement.
Here are the five most important lessons we learned from Brady Hoke's crew's win over Frank Beamer and the Hokies.
Their team may have lost the game, but the Virginia Tech Hokies' defense won the battle last night with the Michigan Wolverines offense. The high-powered Wolverines, who averaged 34 points and 423 yards per game in the regular season, were held to 184 yards, 12 first downs and only 20 points in regulation.
Virginia Tech tried to help the Michigan offense, too. The Wolverines were given the ball in Hokie territory three times.
If I were a Michigan fan, I would be concerned about my offense's ability to move the ball on elite defenses. This was a Virginia Tech D that was down three of their best starters, and other than two plays that went for touchdowns (one of which should have been an interception), the Wolverines were effectively shut down by them.
After this win, the Wolverines have high hopes for next season. But after the way Denard Robinson and company were limited by the two best defenses they faced this year (Tech and the Michigan State Spartans), I'd be very concerned about the prospect of starting with the Alabama Crimson Tide in 2012.
The biggest thing preventing the Virginia Tech Hokies from moving into that upper echelon of college football teams is the offensive line. Just as always happens when the Hokies face an elite opponent (think '07 LSU, '09 Alabama, Stanford in the Orange Bowl), the line got pushed around.
Running back David Wilson had minus-eight yards on his first seven carries. He ended up with 82, but most of that was due to his own escapability and hard running through tackles.
The offensive line cost the Hokies big twice in the first half. On a first-and-goal from the Michigan Wolverines four, several defenders bust through the line and forced Wilson to backtrack for a 20-yard loss.
And on a 4th-and-1 from the Wolverines six, quarterback Logan Thomas was stopped dead when Michigan's defensive line once again penetrated without issue. The Hokies only got three points from their first two trips inside the Michigan 10.
If Virginia Tech is ever going to compete for another BCS National Championship, they have to get better up front. Their offensive line was dominated last night by a Wolverine defensive front minus a starter and a key reserve.
The Michigan Wolverines gave up 377 yards to the Virginia Tech Hokies last night, but they made big stops when it counted.
They held the Hokies to six points in the first half, despite the fact that Virginia Tech got inside their 30-yard line three times and inside their 10 twice. And they held them to two more field goals in the second half, when a touchdown would likely have won the game for Frank Beamer.
Brady Hoke should be very proud of the way his defense limited a powerful Hokies offense last night. The bend but don't break approach paid off in the end.
Frank Beamer is so well-known for his special teams acumen that a word was invented just for him to describe the way his players make things happen in that facet of the game (Beamerball). However, as good as the Virginia Tech Hokies' special teams are most of the time, they once again let Beamer down in a big game.
The examples are numerous. In the 2000 Sugar Bowl (Virginia Tech's only national championship game appearance), the Hokies outgained Florida State but were undone by a blocked punt returned for a touchdown and punt return touchdown from the Seminoles. Last year against the Boise State Broncos, they had another punt blocked.
Against the Alabama Crimson Tide in 2009, they lost fumbles on a punt and a kickoff. Against the No. 2 Matt Ryan-led Boston College Eagles in 2007, the Hokies lost because they failed to recover an onside kick by Boston College.
And in their last Sugar Bowl appearance in 2005, the Hokies lost to the Auburn Tigers by three thanks to a missed chip-shot field goal.
But last night was perhaps the worst game for Virginia Tech special teams in Beamer's career. The Hokies roughed the Michigan Wolverines punter, fumbled a kickoff, held three times on kickoffs/punts, botched a fake punt and missed an overtime field goal (though I'm not blaming Justin Myer for the loss. He performed admirably with the first four made field goals of his career).
In order to win one of these big games, the Hokies have got to stay out of their own way. And that starts with (ordinarily) their bread and butter, the special teams.
For both the Michigan Wolverines and Virginia Tech Hokies, there are many positives the teams can take from the 2012 Sugar Bowl.
For Michigan, in their first BCS Bowl since 2007, the Wolverines came out, fought off a fierce opponent, and came away with a win. The Wolverines face an even tougher non-conference opponent (the Alabama Crimson Tide) in the opener next season. This game should give them a lot of confidence heading into that showdown.
For Virginia Tech, even though they lost, they outplayed a solid, No. 13 ranked Michigan team for the majority of the game. They limited a high-powered offense to less than 200 yards and came back from an 11-point deficit to take the game to overtime. They once again lost a big game, but they didn't get clobbered like they did last season against the Stanford Cardinal.
Both teams return a lot of starters (namely their starting quarterbacks), and both have a good shot of starting next season in the Top 10.