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College Football: Virginia Tech Bowl Preview

WIN WILL BE HOKIES’ SALVE

BY NATHAN WARTERS

ORLANDO, Fla.—Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer tried to stay positive through his team’s struggles in 2012, but the subpar season took a toll on him at times.

“I didn’t sleep real well most nights, and my diet was really working because I was losing weight when I didn’t want to lose any more weight,” said Beamer, who shed 32 pounds in the offseason by exercising and changing his eating habits. “I wasn’t eating.”

    RUSSELL ATHLETIC BOWL

    Virginia Tech (6–6) vs. Rutgers (9–3)

    WHEN: Today, 5:30 p.m.

    WHERE: Florida Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Fla.

    TV: ESPN

    RADIO: WJFK–FM 106.7

The Hokies (6–6), who lost six of eight games in the middle of the season, turned things around by winning their last two contests. But they still need one more win to avoid their first losing season since 1992.

Virginia Tech, in the midst of its worst season in 20 years, will try to finish 2012 on a high note against Rutgers (9–3) today in the Russell Athletic Bowl at Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium.

“We want to prove to everybody that even though we’ve had a down year, we can still play with the big boys and still get wins in big games,” Hokies linebacker Jack Tyler said.

Virginia Tech and Rutgers played each other 12 times as Big East members from 1992 to 2003, and the Hokies have won 11 straight in the series.

But Beamer said Thursday that this is a different Rutgers program than the one Tech last faced nine years ago.

The Scarlet Knights, who clinched a share of the Big East regular-season championship this year for the first time in school history, never finished above .500 during their 11-year losing streak to the Hokies, but they have had a winning record in seven of the last eight years.

Rutgers, which is slated to join the Big Ten in 2014, is tied with Mississippi State for the longest current bowl win streak at five.

“They’re much more talented,” Beamer said. “They’ve got those big, tall receivers that can run, a great defense, and they’ve blocked a bunch of kicks. They’re just a talented, very well-coached football team, so we’ve got our work cut out for us in that regard.”

Rutgers has built its program around the same principles that have made Virginia Tech a success under Beamer. Oddly enough, the Scarlet Knights have played more like past Hokies teams this season than Virginia Tech has.

The Scarlet Knights rely on a bruising running game—led by 1,000-yard tailback Jawan Jamison—a shutdown defense that ranks fourth nationally in points allowed per game (14.25) and 14th in total yards allowed per game (321.25) and an opportunistic special teams unit that leads the nation with eight blocked kicks.

“They value very similar things to what we value offensively, and I think defensively and special teams as well, even though we don’t do it the same way,” Rutgers first-year coach Kyle Flood said. “They certainly value the run game and they value being a physical football team, which we also value.

“It’s going to be two football teams trying to do the same things to each other, and really whoever executes the best [today] at 5:30 is going to be the team that has an opportunity [to win].”

Virginia Tech has struggled on offense all season—ranking 78th nationally in points scored per game (26.08), 71st nationally in total yards per game (391.83) and 64th in rushing yards per game (157.75)—and its defense went through some growing pains before coming together recently.

The Hokies found a way to win their last two games, however, which has probably led to fewer sleepless nights for Beamer. He was in good spirits Thursday when talking about his team and its prospects for today’s game and for the future.

“We’ve got kids that are working hard and want to be successful, and we weren’t always that way,” Beamer said. “You want to figure out, ‘OK, how can we get over this hump?’

“The thing I go on [about] is, I’m proud of these kids because in life everything doesn’t go smoothly all the time. Sometimes it’s rough, and there’s adversity, there’s disappointment, and I think our guys handled it the right way. They always wanted to play better.”

For Hokies senior linebacker Bruce Taylor, he’d love to atone for the team’s previous struggles with a strong performance today against the Scarlet Knights.

“What we had this year was unacceptable in my eyes,” Taylor said. “We did finish strong but we know what we’ve got to do to be better. This bowl game, I feel like this can be the first step for the team, not just me personally, but for the team to get better, get back on the right track.”

Nathan Warters: 540/374-5442

nwarters@freelancestar.com

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