Virginia Tech has underwhelmed this year but will rebound from its inconsistent play in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, the Virginia Tech Hokies will continue to a three-game winning streak and push their record over .500 to close out the season.
Rutgers blew the chance to win the Big East outright by losing to Louisville—thereby missing out on a BCS game against Florida in the Sugar Bowl—but shared the title as the season drew to a close.
A victory over Tech would give the Scarlet Knights their third-ever 10-win season, but the Hokies will have too much for their old rivals and earn a measure of respectability by emerging victorious.
Here are five reasons why you can finally trust Virginia Tech to play to its potential.
It's difficult to know which Logan Thomas is going to show up each game, but when he has been good, Thomas looks like one of the best quarterbacks in college football.
As well as leading the team in passing yards, Thomas is also Tech's leading rusher with 528 yards and nine touchdowns, which illustrates the problems Va Tech has had without David Wilson on the ground.
You get the feeling that Thomas is going to be getting a lot of carries on 3rd-and-short situations, extending drives with his legs and keeping the chains moving. Rutgers has been very successful against the run this year, so the burden falls on Thomas to carry the attack on both fronts.
In a game that, however unlikely, could still be Thomas' last with Virginia Tech, he should have no problem rising to the occasion and having a big day.
When Thomas has been successful, Marcus Davis has usually been central to that success. Thomas has been plagued by accuracy issues, but Davis has shown great ability to catch a poorly thrown ball and bring it down for positive yards.
It's vital that Davis gets a couple of catches early on, as the running game will likely suffer against the stout Rutgers defense, which ranks 23rd in the FBS against the run. Davis pulling down passes will ensure Thomas gets into a rhythm and the air attack can do some damage.
Davis is a senior, so this will be his Tech swansong. The wideout needs 109 yards to eclipse 1,000 over the entire year, so look for him to be Thomas' main target.
Stopping the Run
As mentioned above, if Virginia Tech plays like it is capable of doing, it will not only put up points, but Rutgers will struggle to keep the scoreline close.
The Rutgers running game has been poor to close out the season, and Tech has the defensive personnel to shut it out altogether. They held Florida State to 25 carries and minus-15 yards (via CBSSports.com), so they enter the game as favorites to win the matchups and get the offense back on the field.
Jawan Jamison is the main threat for Rutgers, and it's no coincidence that the team lost two straight games when his rushing threat was contained. Quarterback Gary Nova doesn't have the arm to beat teams through the air, so they rely on the run to get a fresh set of downs.
If Tech can force Rutgers to 3rd-and-long, it will struggle to sustain drives. Nova tends to make one read and then check down to his tight end, so containing the running game will force him to make throws he is less comfortable with, leaving him susceptible to interception.
Linebackers Jack Tyler and Bruce Taylor will be integral to the Hokies as they attempt to halt Jamison and Rutgers. Tech has amassed 14 sacks over the last three games and looked aggressive on defense, which will keep Rutgers from settling into the game.
Nova has thrown 12 interceptions over the last five games, which means Antone Exum could make himself a hero to end the season.
Exum has four interceptions and 15 pass breakups this year, turning around a slow start to gain a second-team All-ACC nomination and file paperwork to the NFL's draft advisory board.
It's unlikely Exum leaves for the NFL this year as he has only spent one season at each position during his career at VT. He started as a nickelback before moving to safety and this year making the transition to boundary corner.
The game against Rutgers has the potential to be all about defense. Both teams have a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball, and the scoring opportunities could be limited.
This is why Exum is so crucial to the game; at 6'1” and 225 pounds, he is one of the bigger corners in football. This is particularly important for the final game, as Rutgers receiver Brandon Coleman is 6'6”.
Exum has shown himself to be a fast learner throughout his college career, and his knowledge of the position will be enough to beat the Scarlet Knights' receivers. They rely on size more than skill and as a result often run bad routes, which can again lead to interceptions if Nova is under pressure to deliver a ball in coverage.
Defensive coordinator Bud Foster hasn't got the best out if his group this year, but in the final stages of the season we started to see a level of consistency from them that just wasn't present early on.
With a quarterback who has looked nervy under pressure, expect Foster to dial up a variety of blitzes and offer different looks to confuse Nova and force him into bad throws.
At the beginning of the year, the Hokies surrendered big plays that cost them to the tune of 31.8 points per game over the first four. In contrast, they've had 24 sacks and forced 10 turnovers over the last six, conceding 25.5 points per game (via HamptonRoads.com).
This improvement will continue against an average offensive line. The zone-blocking scheme Rutgers uses should play into the hands of Foster, who has had a lot of success against similar offensive schemes.
Pittsburgh ran all over the Hokies under a ZBS this year, so Foster will be using that game as both a motivator and teaching method for his young unit. He won't allow an undisciplined performance like that again, so look for the defense to get after Nova and mix up the blitz packages throughout the game.
This game is likely to be a defensive battle and a low-scoring contest. Tech has beaten Rutgers in its last 11 meetings, and that's not going to change.