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Russell Athletic Bowl preview

Another game in the NCAA Bowl series previewed by James Jack, @materialista27. Read more of his work on his dedicated College Bowl site.

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Russell Athletic Bowl

Friday December 28th, 17:30 ET (22:30 GMT)
Florida Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Florida
Rutgers Scarlet Knights vs. Virginia Tech Hokies


The Russell Athletic Bowl is played annually at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, so no Mickey Mouse characters here. The bowl is operated by Florida Citrus Sports, which also organizes the Capital One Bowl and Florida Classic. The bowl was founded in 1990 by Raycom and was originally played at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami where it was known originally as the Blockbuster Bowl. On June 18, 2012, naming rights were purchased by Russell Athletic for the 2012-2015 games. This game pits the 3rd team from the ACC against the 2nd team from the Big East. Unlike some of the other bowls, the Russell Athletic bowl usually has no problem producing it's conference tie-in teams. Last year's game had a bit of a twist though

Both of these teams used to play in the Big East, however the 9-3 Rutgers Scarlet Knights are one of the scrappiest teams in the FBS this season. The Knights score 22.4 points per game and only 341.1 yards per game (good for 102nd in the nation). Rutgers rode their defense to seven straight wins to start the season. However four of the Scarlet Knights’ victories came by 12 points or less. Playing close games every week took it's toll on Rutgers’ as (25)Kent State put them away 35-23 in Piscataway. The Knights picked themselves up after their bye week, beating a poor Army side 28-7 and restricting Cincinnati to just a field goal in a 10-3 win on the road. Unfortunately the final two weeks of the regular season were woeful with defeats to Pittsburgh and (21)Louisville. The victory for the latter secured their spot in the Sugar Bowl as Big East champions. Sophomore QB Gary Nova had thrown for over 2500 yards and 22 TDs, however he gave up 13 INTs in the last 3 games of the season. That's not the kind of play you want to see at this point in the season. RB Jawan Jamison has chewed up yards on the ground without too much reward, he has 1054 yards but only 4 TDs.

Meanwhile Virginia Tech at 6-6 is a poor version of the Scarlet Knights at 23rd in the country in total defense allowing only 344 yards per game and 38th in the nation in scoring defense relinquishing a measly 23.9 points per game. Rutgers, by comparison give up 321.3 yards per game and 14.3 points The Hokies nearly missed out on bowl-eligibility because of their tepid offense. Virginia Tech began the year 4-6 yet somehow the Hokies knocked off Georgia Tech in overtime and trounced Bowling Green 37-0. A VT disappearing act early in their game with Duke meant they trailed by 20 points after 9 minutes of the game, however they rallied well and scored 5 touchdowns of their own drubbing the Blue Devils 41-20 on the shoulders of freshman running back J.C. Coleman. Despite that performance, he hasn't seen much of the ball and the majority of their gains on the ground have come from junior QB Logan Thomas who finished with 167 carries for 528 yards. He's also thrown for 2783 yards and 17 scores. The danger sign is his 14 interceptions however as only 2 of them have come in winning games, the other 12 coming in their six defeats. With the Rutgers' ball-hawk defense grabbing 16 picks this season and Logan Ryan snagging four of them, the Hokies must protect the ball. If they can get it to the outside, receivers Marcus Davis and Corey Fuller both have over 750 yards and 5 touchdowns a piece.

FOR RUTGERS TO WIN
Defense wins championships or so they say. Well Rutgers have to hope that this rings true as their stingy defense is easily the difference maker in this game. If they can shut down Logan Thomas, then VT don't have too many other options on the ground. If they can pressure Thomas, there are turnovers to be had, but if the ball gets to Davis or Fuller, they have to be stopped early as they both have the potential to score every time they have the ball in their hands.

FOR VIRGINIA TECH TO WIN
The Hokies have to continually change up the looks the give the Scarlet Knights defense, whether it's Thomas on the QB draw or a quick toss to Coleman out of the backfield, they need to keep the ball moving. If the Rutgers defense starts to crumble then the opportunity is there to get the ball to Davis or Fuller on the outside and given both teams struggles offensively, that could be enough to win this one.

VERDICT
If Virginia Tech and Rutgers follow their season’s tendencies, the Russell Athletic Bowl will be a grind. The Hokies and Knights offensively are about as plain as you can get. What carries both is defense. This may even turn into a special teams battle. VT will need it too going 1-4 during away games and 0-1 at neutral sites thus far this year. The Hokies were punished four times by 14 or more points on the road so Rutgers 5-1 during away games this season should prevail. The Scarlet Knights though have won by seven, nine, 10, 12 and 25 while losing by 21.

ADVICE
Rutgers +2
Under 41 points

DRINKING GAME
1 drink: Any mention of a Rutgers defensive player in the NFL. Here's the alumni list

2 drinks: Any comparison of Logan Thomas to Ben Roethlisberger.
Finish it: Any subtle or otherwise comparison between any Disney character and a play made on the field.

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