Hokies look to end season on a high note

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  • Date/Time: Saturday, December 27, 2014, 1 PM
  • TV: ESPN
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  • Game notes from Hokiesports.com: Click here
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  • Gameday information: Click here
  • Line: Cincinnati favored by 3

Virginia Tech and Cincinnati are certainly familiar with each other. The schools have faced each other three times since 2006, and the Bearcats were the last team to shut out the Hokies way back on September 16, 1995.

This time the two programs will face each other in a bowl game. This is the third time the Hokies and Bearcats have been opponents in a bowl. Tech lost to Cincinnati 18-6 in the 1947 Sun Bowl, and then VT returned the favor 20-7 in the Orange Bowl following the 2008 season.

Tommy Tuberville is Cincinnati’s head coach, and he was hired by current VT athletics director Whit Babcock. In two seasons at Cincinnati, Tuberville is 18-7. He has a 9-3 record this season, and an overall record of 148-84 as a head coach. That includes a 52-30 mark in SEC play during his Auburn days. The Bearcats are clearly a well-coached team.

Cincinnati is a hot team after winning seven consecutive games. Earlier this year they lost three straight games to Ohio State (50-28), Memphis (41-14) and Miami (55-34), but came back to win their final seven games. They are looking to make it eight against the Hokies, and that would be their first eight game winning streak during the course of a season since 2009, when they went 12-1 under Brian Kelly.

The Bearcats are very good on one side of the ball, and not so good on the other side. Let’s start with their offense.

The Cincinnati Offense

Cincinnati quarterback Munchie Legaux (6-5, 200, Sr.) beat Virginia Tech on a late deep ball in 2012. Legaux still plays for the Bearcats, but he has been displaced by Notre Dame transfer Gunner Kiel (6-4, 208, So.) as Cincinnati’s starter. Kiel runs an offense that put up huge numbers this season, despite the fact that that they only start three seniors. Here’s their starting offense broken down by class. Note that the Bearcats list 12 starters on their depth chart.

Seniors: 3
Juniors: 6
Sophomores: 3

This will be a very potent Cincinnati offense next season, and the Hokie defense will have its hands full in the Military Bowl. Their overall stats are very impressive.

Rushing: #71
Passing: #13
Total: #29
Scoring: #26
TFL allowed: #2
Sacks allowed: #21

At first glance, this should be an excellent matchup. The Bearcats throw the ball very well, they run it well enough to stay balanced, and they are #2 in the country in keeping defenses out of the backfield. Considering Tech is #3 nationally in tackles for loss and #4 in sacks, that will be an interesting matchup to watch. If Cincinnati can keep Tech out of the backfield, they’ll have a much better chance of putting up points.

The Bearcats are very similar to East Carolina. They like to spread the field with four receivers, and they will throw it to all of them. Here’s how the receiving numbers look this year…

WR Shaq Washington (5-9, 174, Jr.): 61 catches, 661 yards, 4 TDs. Washington lines up in the slot, and though he’s not really a big play threat, he’s a very productive receiver.

WR Max Morrison (6-1, 173, Jr.): 43 catches, 445 yards, 4 TDs. Like Washington, Morrison isn’t really a big play threat, but he’s a reliable receiver.

WR Mekale McKay (6-6, 195, Jr.): 42 catches, 690 yards, 8 TDs. McKay has great height, and he has more yards than Shaq Washington despite having 19 fewer catches. He is a big play threat and a major red zone target.

WR Johnny Holton (6-3, 190, Jr.): 29 catches, 431 yards, 5 TDs. The junior college transfer has made an immediate impact for the Cincinnati offense.

WR Chris Moore (6-1, 190, Jr.): 26 catches, 570 yards, 6 touchdowns. Moore is perhaps the top big play threat on the entire Cincinnati offense.

WR Alex Chisum (6-3, 195, Jr.): 20 catches, 203 yards, 2 touchdowns. Chisum is an outside receiver. He is yet another receiver with plenty of experience.

WR Nate Cole (6-1, 193, So.): 15 catches, 145 yards, 2 touchdowns. Cole is Cincinnati’s seventh wideout, but he still caught 15 passes this year.

That’s a deep unit, and it’s also very experienced. Out of those seven guys, six are juniors and one is a sophomore. Bearcat fans should be really excited for the 2015 season.

Overall, quarterback Gunner Kiel has completed 60.2% of his passes for 3,010 yards, with 30 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He also has solid mobility, and overall he is one of the best quarterbacks on Tech’s 2014 schedule.

Cincinnati’s running game doesn’t put up huge numbers, but it is efficient and it helps keep defenses off balance. The Bearcats average 157.6 yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry. Those are good numbers for an offense that throws the ball over 50% of the time. They have two primary ball carriers:

Mike Boone (5-10, 205, Fr.): 91 carries, 601 yards, 6.6 ypc, 9 TDs
Rod Moore (5-10, 176, Sr.): 134 carries, 596 yards, 4.4 ypc, 5 TDs

Boone is the more talented player, and he would have an outside shot at a 1,000 yard season had he not missed four games during the regular season. Gunner Kiel is also a running threat out of the read option. He gained 262 rushing yards this year, though he also lost 126 (107 through sacks). If the Hokies allow the Bearcat running game to get going, it will be a long afternoon in Annapolis. Cincinnati is a much more dangerous football team when they are balanced on offense.

The Cincinnati offensive line is good. That much is clear, as no offense could put up these kind of numbers without a competent offensive line. The best player up front is left tackle Erik Lefeld (6-6, 310, Sr.). He was a First Team All-AAC player, and he is projected to be taken in the later rounds of the NFL Draft. He will be one of the top challenges of the season for Dadi Nicolas and Ken Ekanem.

Despite Cincinnati’s prolific offensive numbers on the season, I feel like the Tech defense is poised to play a good game on Saturday. They’ll have their work cut out for them, but I believe they’ll rise to the occasion.

The Cincinnati Defense

As good as the Cincinnati offense is, the Bearcat defense is the direct opposite.

Rushing: #82
Passing: #112
Total: #103
Scoring: #66
TFL: #75
Sacks: #29

Cincinnati gets to the quarterback well, but other than that they are not a good defense. They play a “bend but don’t break style,” which could prove troublesome, but overall the Tech offense should be able to move the football enough to at least play a field position game.

The Cincinnati front seven is somewhat undersized, and it wasn’t difficult to block them in the running game this year. Here’s a look at the size of their two-deep…

DE Silverberry Mouhon (6-4, 252, Jr.)
DE Jerrell Jordan (6-3, 250, Sr.)
DT Brad Harrah (6-5, 258, Sr.)
DT Brandon Mitchell (6-2, 290, Jr.)
DT Camaron Beard (6-5, 290, Sr.)
DT Chris Burton (6-3, 272, Fr.)
DE Terrell Hartsfield (6-3, 246, Sr.)
DE Mark Wilson (6-3, 225, Fr.)

Size doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Just look at Virginia Tech’s defense through the years as an example. That said, this particular Cincinnati defense hasn’t been good this year, though they’ve had their moments. They held a 1-11 SMU team to three points, they shut out UConn, and they held Temple to six points. Other than that, they’ve pretty much gotten torched.

Defensive end Terrell Hartsfield is Cincinnati’s best player up front. He finished the season with nine TFL and eight sacks. He was a First Team All-AAC performer. However, Cincinnati’s best players in the front seven are at linebacker…

MLB Jeff Luc (6-1, 260, Sr.): 121 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks. Luc is a huge middle linebacker, and he anchors the interior of the Bearcat defense. He is their leading tackler and best run stopper. He is an FSU transfer who played in 19 games for the Seminoles. Luc was a First Team All-AAC player in 2014.

WLB Nick Temple (5-10, 220, Sr.): He is a Warren Central grad (Darren Evans, Kris Harley) and Virginia Tech monitored Temple in recruiting. However, they never extended a scholarship offer. He has a team-high 10.5 TFL, and he also has three sacks.

Overall, that’s not an awful Cincinnati front seven, but their defensive numbers through 12 games say that they aren’t very difficult to block. With Augie Conte moving to right tackle, I think the Hokies will finally have their best five run blocking offensive linemen in the right spots. I believe we’ll see them have some success on the ground against the Bearcats.

Cincinnati’s secondary has been a weak link this year. Three of their starters are sophomores, and they have three freshman backups in the two-deep. Here’s the starting group:

CB Grant Coleman (6-0, 176, So.): Coleman only broke up one pass all season despite starting 11 games.

S Andre Jones (6-1, 197, So.): Jones had one interception and broke up six passes.

S Zach Edwards (5-11, 186, So.): Edwards was second on the team in tackles with 110. It’s generally not a good sign when your safety makes 110 tackles.

CB Howard Wilder (5-11, 180, Sr.): Wilder broke up four passes and had two interceptions.

Nobody from the Bearcat secondary earned All-AAC honors with the first team, second team, or honorable mention. They were one of the worst defense in the country in passing yards allowed, and they were #95 in pass efficiency defense. If the Hokie passing offense gets shut down in this game, it will be their own fault.

Special Teams

Cincinnati plays great special teams. Here is how they stack up in the advanced stats from FootballOutsiders.com.

Field goal efficiency: #11
Punt return efficiency: #9
Kickoff return efficiency: #121
Punt efficiency: #44
Kickoff efficiency: #39
Opponent FG efficiency: #42

With the exception of kickoff returns, the Bearcats are good across the board on special teams. Their overall rank is #17. As a contrast, Tech’s overall special teams rank is #67.

I’m a bit worried about special teams in this one. Frank Beamer has been watching DVDs of practice from home, and whenever he sees something he needs to correct on the punt or punt block/return team, he calls Shane Beamer to his house, shows it to him on film, and has him make the correction in practice. That’s running the risk of something getting lost in translation between Frank, Shane and the players, and that’s why I worry about some kind of blown assignment.

Final Thoughts

I think this game will be somewhat similar to the UVA game. I think the Tech offense will have more success than usual, though they certainly won’t dominate. I think the Hokie defense will play well, though the Cincinnati offense is certainly good enough to challenge them.

A Military Bowl appearance against Cincinnati isn’t important for the program in the grand scheme of things. However, for me personally, a 7-6 record sounds a lot better than a 6-7 record. A loss in the Military Bowl would be Tech’s first losing record since 1992. Think about what you were doing back in 1992, and I bet it’s a lot different than what you are doing today. I was in the fourth grade.

I believe this is a solid matchup for the Hokies. It’s going to be a good football game, but if they are focused and can limit their mistakes, I believe they will win.

Chris’ Prediction: Virginia Tech 24, Cincinnati 20

Will Stewart’s Take: I’ll admit that I haven’t spent much time thinking about this bowl game. A small-stadium, right-after-Christmas matchup with Cincinnati doesn’t make my skirt fly up. I’m pleased the Hokies sold their allotment of tickets so quickly, but otherwise, I haven’t dedicated much mental energy to it, as I try to catch up on things that got ignored during the regular season (which is, frankly, pretty much everything).

But after reading Chris’ rundown of the Bearcats in this preview and his advanced stats articles for the Cincinnati offense and defense, I’m intrigued to see what will happen Saturday. I like seeing Bud’s defense go up against a high-powered offense, and whenever VT’s offense matches up with a not-so-stout defense … well, I peek through slitted fingers and hope it goes okay.

All kidding aside, I think the Hokie D will slow down the Cincinnati O, and the Hokie O will have a better day against Cincinnati’s D then we’re used to seeing from VT. These teams are going to meet somewhere in the middle, and it should be a close contest.

Crunching all three of Chris’ articles together, I interpret that offensively, Cincy is at their best when passing, they do a good job keeping rushers off the QB, and they have an efficient run game that keeps their passing game going.

So the challenge for Bud’s defense is to shut down the run game and be disruptive on passing downs. Don’t allow the run game to supplement the passing game, thus putting all the pressure on the passing game, and then disrupt that passing game – same as always, in other words. The wild card is Gunner Kiel’s running ability. Is it good enough to throw a wrench into Tech’s defensive game plan?

Cincinnati’s defense – again, crunching all three preview articles together – is a “bend but don’t break” defense that isn’t good at forcing three-and-outs and often enables opposing offenses to get into the scoring zone (40 yards and in) and red zone (20 yards and in). Cincinnati’s best metric defensively is their sack ranking. This leads me to believe that they’ll often give up a bunch of yardage, then get a sack and end the drive.

So the challenge for VT’s offense is to stay ahead of the chains and avoid the sack, and move the ball efficiently. (It’s worth noting, per the advanced defense stats article, that even if they do sack you, Cincy has a habit of giving up long gains in long-yardage situations, so a sack isn’t a disaster.) If J.C. Coleman continues to have success running the football like he has in the last three games (56 carries, 311 yards, 5.6 ypc), it will be difficult for Cincinnati to end VT drives, and we could have an entertaining game on our hands.

Like Chris, I worry about the special teams situation. Cincinnati has better special teams, and that could swing the balance. Then there are the intangibles. Are the Hokies properly prepared for this one, with Frank being out for a couple of weeks now, and the game coming so soon after Christmas?

This should be a good one. I’m going to go with the good guys, because they have had winning seasons for over 20 years now, and they’re not about to stop.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, Cincinnati 24

Who will win the Military Bowl?

  • VT wins by 1-9 (53%, 582 Votes)
  • VT wins by 10-19 (20%, 215 Votes)
  • VT wins by 20+ (3%, 31 Votes)
  • Cincinnati wins by 1-9 (18%, 202 Votes)
  • Cincinnati wins by 10-19 (6%, 65 Votes)
  • Cincinnati wins by 20+ (1%, 7 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,102

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9 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. I’m going with VT taking care of Business in this one. Started the season winning, ending the season winning. better than 9+ points , IMHO.

  2. If there is a chance of miscommunication between a headcoach and an assistant, I feel pretty good when those coaches are father and son. They’ve been talking football (and not football) for a LONG time. I’m more concerned with game day decisions. If Frank treats this as any other game and not a “BIG game”, I’ll feel better that he won’t do something ill-advised like a fake punt late in the game ala Michigan.

  3. What was the number for our ticket allotment that we sold? Will there be real bodies in the seats?

    Thanks, Go Hokies and Merry Christmas

    1. It was announced that our initial allotment of VT tickets were sold out in less than 24 hrs. I’m not sure we received a second allotment. However, I know a number of HOKIE fans got their tickets through other sources after VT sold out. The Navy, Marine Corps Memorial Stadium should be a complete sell out since it holds around 40,000 and is a historic venue.

  4. To me it seems like we have struggled defensively against teams with a QB that can run. This guy runs the read option. I don’t know if he can scramble and create, I haven’t heard. But, if we solve that puzzle, I think we win. If not, it could be another bad day, e.g., East Caro-damn-lina.

  5. I am less worried about dvd-gate as Chris is. presumably frank sees film after he makes suggestions or corrections and he would see if his instructions got misinterpreted. he would be able to say “I meant this…” seeing the video is good on that it allows him to see if things are as they should be. plus he will be back at practice and presumably have walkthroughs.

  6. Which Tech team shows up? The one who laid an egg against Wake Forest, or the one who left it all on the field against the Hoos? Also, how will the lay off impact Tech (who hasn’t played well recently following an off-week…or a bowl break)?

    Let’s hope for the best. Go Hokies!!

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