If past is prologue, Virginia Tech’s Sugar Bowl collision with Michigan on Tuesday will hinge on special teams. Talk about unsettling for the Hokies.
First, police charged kicker Cody Journell with a felony for his alleged role in a home invasion/marijuana deal gone bad. Per school policy, he was suspended immediately and indefinitely.
Then, on the team’s first night in New Orleans, backup Tyler Weiss violated curfew. Per coach Frank Beamer’s policy, he was sent home via Greyhound.
This leaves senior Justin Myer, who’s missed the only two field goal attempts of his career, a 57-yarder against North Carolina and 53-yarder against Virginia, both this season.
There’s little sense piling on Journell and Weiss. To varying degrees, they brain-cramped and suffered the consequences.
The troubling notion for Tech is that the Sugar Bowl figures to be a defensive struggle that might very well turn on a field goal, kick/punt return or blocked punt/field goal.
Much like the Hokies’ three previous Sugar Bowls.
In 1995, Tech trailed Texas 10-0 late in the first half when receiver Bryan Still fielded a Longhorns punt at the Hokies’ 40. Still had led the Big East in kickoff returns the previous season, but a shoulder injury limited his special teams duties in ’95.
Hale for the Sugar Bowl, Still returned the punt 60 yards for a touchdown. Tech rode subsequent momentum to a 28-10 victory.
The Hokies returned to New Orleans four years later to play Florida State for the national championship. They trailed 7-0 in the first quarter when the Seminoles’ Tommy Polley blocked a Jimmy Kibble punt, and Jeff Chaney returned it 6 yards for a touchdown.
Florida State led 21-7 in the second quarter when game MVP Peter Warrick returned a punt 59 yards for a touchdown. Tech had allowed only 36 punt-return yards all season.
The Hokies rallied for a 29-28 fourth-quarter lead before the Seminoles scored 18 unanswered points to win 46-29.
Five years later at the Sugar Bowl, Tech trailed undefeated Auburn 16-0 late in the third quarter when Jimmy Williams intercepted Jason Campbell at the Tigers’ 32. The Hokies drove to the 6, but stalled, setting up Brandon Pace for a chip-shot.
His 23-yarder hooked left with 13:54 remaining, his only miss from inside 30 yards all season. The kick seemed irrelevant, until Bryan Randall’s two touchdown passes to Josh Morgan narrowed the final margin to 16-13.
Clearly, Tech is compromised against Michigan, and the absence of a proven kicker could force Beamer to attempt fourth-down conversions he would otherwise forgo in favor of a field goal.
But the Wolverines are no special teams juggernaut either. Sophomore Brendan Gibbons is 10-of-14 on field goals this season, 6-of-10 from 30 yards and beyond. He was 1-for-5 as a freshman.
Michigan ranks 107th nationally in net punting, 100th in kickoff returns and 51st in punt returns. In those same categories, Tech is 108th, 99th and 36th.
Blocked kicks? The Wolverines blocked one this season – Josh Furman smothered a punt against Nebraska. Gibbons had one field goal and one extra point blocked, the latter his only miss among 53 PATs.
The Hokies have blocked one kick this season – Tony Gregory got a punt in the opener against Appalachian State. The only block against Tech was a Journell PAT at Marshall.
No doubt, special teams bear watching Tuesday.
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And here’s a link to my Daily Press print columns, including one on Tech senior Danny Coale.Copyright © 2015, CT Now