Sun Bowl 2013: Virginia Tech Hokies vs. UCLA Bruins, Info, Predictions and More
On Oct. 12, the UCLA Bruins were 4-0, while the Virginia Tech Hokies sat at 5-1. Both teams had BCS aspirations, but each school would go on to lose their next two conference games and will now meet for the first time ever in the Sun Bowl.
The Bruins (9-3) are a much more balanced team than the 8-4 Hokies. UCLA is No. 37 in total offense and No. 56 in total defense. The Hokies, meanwhile, are No. 4 in total defense but No. 98 in total offense.
The biggest storyline in this game will center around a pair of big, talented and athletic quarterbacks.
UCLA's Brett Hundley had a fantastic freshman season in 2012. He completed 67 percent of his passes and tossed 29 touchdowns. He also ran for nine scores. This season, Hundley's overall numbers were down a bit, but he did take better care of the football. He threw for 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions this season. He also led the Bruins in rushing.
Logan Thomas—the Hokies' 6'6", 255-pound signal-caller—is one of the more polarizing players in all of college football. Thomas was outstanding as a first-year starter in 2011, but he has been up and down over the past two seasons. Turnovers have been a big problem for the senior. He led the Hokies in rushing last season and finished second on the team this year. He has 53 career touchdown passes and 24 touchdown runs.
Virginia Tech Keys to Victory
Find a Running Game
To say the Hokies have to struggled to run the ball this season would be an understatement. In actuality, Virginia Tech hasn't been able to run in each of the past two years since David Wilson turned pro.
To make matters worse, freshman running back Trey Edmunds broke his leg in the season finale at Virginia. Edmunds was the Hokies' leading rusher in 2013.
UCLA is just 73rd against the run. The Hokies should use a combination of Thomas, J.C. Coleman, Chris Mangus and Joel Caleb to keep things balanced on offense. The Hokies can ill-afford to be one-dimensional and allow UCLA's stud linebacker Anthony Barr to tee off on Thomas for the entire game.
UCLA has allowed 34 sacks this season. The Bruins struggle to consistently protect Hundley, and he often holds onto the ball too long.
Virginia Tech has sacked opposing quarterbacks 25 times this season, so look for defensive coordinator Bud Foster to be aggressive early. The Hokies will need to force turnovers to win this game.
Play Clean on Special Teams
The Hokies' rise to prominence in the 90s was due, in part, to their stellar play on special teams, as it seemed as though the team would block a kick each game or return one for a touchdown.
This year's unit makes mistakes on a weekly basis. Tech has used three kickers this season, and the team's original kicker, Cody Journell, was booted off the team late in the season.
If the Hokies can limit their negative plays on special teams, they stand a good chance of winning the Sun Bowl.
UCLA Keys to Victory
Logan Thomas is a turnover machine. He has 13 interceptions this season and 39 for his career. He leaves opponents with opportunities to make plays on a weekly basis.
UCLA must take advantage of this and help create scoring opportunities for its offense against one of the best defensive teams in the country.
Find Balance on Offense
The Bruins don't have a 1,000-yard rusher, but they do have three players with over 500 yards apiece. UCLA spreads the ball out at receiver, too.
Against Virginia Tech, the Bruins must strike a good balance between the running and passing game. Getting a running game going early would allow Hundley to take shots deep against Tech's outstanding secondary later in the game.
The Bruins have given up 34 sacks this season after allowing 55 last year, and Virginia Tech's defensive line can pressure the quarterback as well as any team in the country.
UCLA must use shorter drops against the Hokies to keep Hundley upright in the pocket. Sacks lead to turnovers, and the Hokies have intercepted 19 passes this season.
UCLA's offensive strategy, first and foremost, should be to protect Hundley.
Players to Watch: Virginia Tech
Logan Thomas, Quarterback
For the Hokies to win this game—or any game—they need a solid effort from their star quarterback.
When Thomas plays well, as he did against Miami in November, the Hokies' offense goes from wretched to competent. Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler should get Thomas a few opportunities down the field and limit his carries in this game.
J.C. Coleman, Running Back
It has been a lost year for the sophomore back.
Coleman was second on the team in rushing last year, but numerous injuries have cost Coleman much of this season. Even when he's played, he's been at less than 100 percent.
The speedy and diminutive Coleman must be involved in the offense against the Bruins. He is an underrated runner between the tackles and an asset in the passing game. Tech should get Coleman at least 20 touches.
Kyle Fuller, Cornerback
Before his injury in late October, Fuller was playing as well as any cornerback in America. The groin injury that he suffered ruined the remainder of his season. However, there's a good chance he'll be back for the bowl game, as the injury was only expected to sideline him 4-6 weeks (h/t Heather Dinich of ESPN.com).
Fellow senior Antone Exum could also be back against UCLA. Both players have been outstanding for the Hokies, and it would be fitting if they could finish their careers on the field together.
You find Virginia Tech's complete depth chart here.
Players to Watch: UCLA
Brett Hundley, Quarterback
There's been a lot of debate about whether Hundley will return to school next year or not. Regardless of how that turns out, though, Hundley still has one game left this year.
If his mind is on his next venture, the Bruins will not win this game. Virginia Tech's defense is too good.
Myles Jack, Running Back/Linebacker
The versatile Jack was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year—twice. Yes, that's right; Jack was both Freshman Offensive Player of the Year and Freshman Defensive Player of the Year in the conference. He ran for 267 yards and seven touchdowns on offense, while finishing with 70 tackles (including five for loss) and an interception on defense.
Jack was second-team all-conference at linebacker and was outstanding in the backfield over the Bruins' final four games. He is going to be a great player, and Hokie fans should keep a close eye on him come New Years Eve.
Anthony Barr, Linebacker
If you've never seen Barr play, you're in for a treat. On the season, Barr has 10 sacks, 20 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles. He will likely be a top-five selection in the NFL draft.
Virginia Tech left tackle Jonathan McLaughlin has not seen a pass-rusher the caliber of Barr yet in his young career.
Something interesting about Barr is that he is also a former running back.
You can find UCLA's complete depth chart here.
What They Are Saying
UCLA head coach Jim Mora has earned rave reviews for his work in just two years in Westwood. That work earned him a contract extension last week, and Mora couldn't be more excited about UCLA's future, according to Chris Foster of The Los Angeles Times:
This is an exciting time for UCLA football, and the continued commitment our administration has provided gives us every chance to reach our goals, this staff came here with a commitment to win a national championship; that commitment stands.
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer felt that freshman running back Trey Edmunds was having the best game of his young career before breaking his leg against Virginia, per Andy Bitter of The Roanoke Times: "I thought he was having his best game since he came to Virginia Tech,” Beamer said. “But we’ll get that thing healed up and rolling again next year."
Who replaces Edmunds as the team's primary ball-carrier will be something to keep an eye on for the Hokies in the coming weeks.
Virginia Tech has one of the best defenses in the country. UCLA has, arguably, the nation's top defensive player.
However, this game will come down to which quarterback plays the best. Hundley has more help around him at the skill positions, but his offensive line struggles at times. Thomas goes stretches where he struggles with turnovers.
The Hokies will put pressure on Hundley throughout the game and likely force a turnover or two. But UCLA is better on special teams, and that is where this game will be decided.
Prediction: UCLA 20, Virginia Tech 17