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2012 Sugar Bowl Recap: Michigan Wolverines Edge Virginia Tech, 23-20

Aaron Fischman |
January 3, 2012 | 10:00 p.m. PST

Staff Writer

Unlike this picture, the Wolverines rallied around coach Brady Hoke Tuesday (NHN_2009/Creative Commons)
Unlike this picture, the Wolverines rallied around coach Brady Hoke Tuesday (NHN_2009/Creative Commons)

The Michigan Wolverines notched their first bowl victory since Jan. 1, 2008, with an overtime Sugar Bowl victory over the Virginia Tech Hokies in New Orleans, La. Here's how it went down:

When Virginia Tech Had the Ball: 

The Hokies controlled the ball for much of the first quarter (nearly 11 minutes), but scored just six points on their first two possessions despite getting into the red zone on both occasions. An inability to reach the end zone is nothing new for the Hokies. Nationally, Virginia Tech's offense placed 97th in red zone TD percentage with a success rate of just 53.1 percent. Despite Tech's failure to find the end zone in its first three red zone opportunities, it finally converted a touchdown (and two-point conversion) when it mattered most, tying the game at 17 with 11 minutes left the fourth quarter.  

Sophomore quarterback Logan Thomas did not record big numbers tonight, but he converted again and again on third and long, often scrambling for the yards his team needed. Running back David Wilson, who ran for 1,627 yards during the regular season, was able to bounce back after a miserable first quarter, in which he lost 22 yards on one particularly embarrassing running play. He did not have a great game by any means, but he did just enough for the Michigan defense to respect the run.

When Michigan Had the Ball: 

The Wolverines offense started miserably, going three-and-out on its first possession, followed by an interception on the ensuing possession. Throughout the game, the Hokies bottled up the Wolverines rushing attack. Quarterback Denard Robinson has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in two consecutive seasons, but was held to just 13 yards on 13 carries through the first four quarters of play. Fellow 1,000 yard-man Wolverines running back Fitzgerald Toussaint also did not see much running room throughout the game. Through regulation, he was held to 25 yards on 10 carries. 

Fortunately for Michigan, Robinson threw two touchdown passes, both going to trusty senior wide receiver Junior Hemingway. With that said, one of the touchdown passes could have easily been intercepted and Robinson was not very accurate, to say the least. Through regulation, he only completed 9 of 21 attempts and misfired on a couple of easy attempts.    

A Fortuitous First Half for the Wolverines:

Virtually everyone would agree that the Hokies outplayed the Wolverines in the first half. However, due to three crucial (and lucky) plays, the Wolverines went into the halftime break with a 10-6 lead.

1) With 4:21 remaining in the second quarter, Virginia Tech had held the Wolverines scoreless and forced yet another Michigan punt from its own 26-yard line. However, a roughing the kicker penalty continued the drive for the Wolverines (a drive in which the Wolverines ultimately went 96 yards for a TD). 

2) Around midfield, on 3rd and 17, as he was facing intense pressure from the Hokies defense, Robinson heaved a desperation pass. The pass was nearly intercepted by safety Eddie Whitley, but found its way into the hands of Junior Hemingway for the 45-yard touchdown. Although Whitley did take a risk by going for the interception, as once he missed there was no one to tackle Hemingway, Robinson's pass was poor. Robinson was surely lucky the play did not result in a turnover.

3) After forcing and recovering a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, the Wolverines were set up with prime field position. However, with 30 seconds left, Michigan ran an ill-advised fake field goal pass, which should have once again been intercepted. Instead, the ball was batted into the hands of offensive lineman Jareth Glanda. As a result, the Wolverines got the first down and were ultimately able to tack on three points before the end of the half. Rather than having to go into halftime with a 7-6 lead, the Wolverines led 10-6.    

Stat of the Game: 

Virginia Tech outgained Michigan, 377 total yards to 184, but committed 68 yards of penalties and only scored one touchdown despite five trips to the red zone. Michigan's red zone defense coupled with Virginia Tech's red zone incompetence and the Hokies' lack of discipline can effectively explain the outcome of the game.

Fischman MVP:

Wide receiver Junior Hemingway earns the nod. No one really lit it up for Michigan on Tuesday, but Hemingway caught two touchdown passes. On his second touchdown catch, he showed amazing concentration to make the leaping grab, while simultaneously remaining in bounds.  

Honorable Mention:

In a losing effort, Logan Thomas played extremely well. Once again, his stats don't jump out at you tonight, but he made conversions on third and long that gave his team a great opportunity to win the game. The Hokies just were not able to do that, largely due to my least valuable player.

Fischman LVP:

The Sugar Bowl Least Valuable Player was not actually one player, but a whole unit: The Hokies special teams. I can name at least four mistakes by the Hokies special teams. These mistakes were costly:

1.) In the first half, the Hokies special teams allowed the Wolverines to get a first down on Michigan's ill-advised fake field goal attempt (discussed at greater lengths in the Fortuitous First Half section). This was more of a fluke play than anything, but the next three errors were definitely the fault of the Hokies special teams.

2.) In the closing minute of the second quarter, Virginia Tech returner Tony Gregory fumbled the kickoff. This resulted in three points for the Wolverines and a four-point lead going into the half.

3.) An unsuccessful Hokies fake punt resulted in a turnover on downs and gave the Wolverines great field position with the score tied at 17.  

4.) Myer's missed 37-yard overtime kick.

Turning Points: 

The ultimate turning point came in overtime when the Hokies' Justin Myer missed a 37-yard field goal. Because the Wolverines won the overtime coin toss and opted to defend first, this missed kick meant that any Michigan points would win the game. In fact, that's precisely what happened. Per NCAA overtime rules, the Wolverines started on the Hokies' 25-yard line, barely moved the ball and were able to win with a 37-yard field goal (the same distance that Myer missed from just moments earlier).

I don't completely blame Myer, because he came into the year as his team's third-string kicker. The two kickers ahead of him on the depth chart were inactive due to suspension. Also, he made four of five field goals in the game. For a third-string kicker, he was pretty darn good. If Virginia Tech had made fewer mistakes, they would have won this game in regulation, and this never would have happened.

It should be noted that initially, the referee ruled that Hokies receiver Danny Coale came down with an amazing touchdown catch on a third down overtime play, but the ruling was overturned. Although there was probably not enough evidence to overturn, I don't consider the overturned ruling a turning point, because I think the referees ultimately got the right call. I'd rather go with something a player (as opposed to a referee) actually influenced as a turning point.

Another turning point came when the Hokies elected to run a fake punt midway through the fourth quarter rather than pin the Wolverines deep into their own territory with the score tied at 17. The failed conversion gave the Wolverines prime field position with seven minutes to go. Michigan's struggling offense could only get 23 yards, but because the Hokies gave them such great field position, 23 yards was enough to get into comfortable field goal range for a field goal to take the 20-17 lead. 

Wolverines End Bowl Drought:

Michigan had not won a bowl game since Lloyd Carr coached the team. That's right. January 1, 2008 was the school's last bowl win. The Wolverines also came into the game having lost five of their last six bowl games including a blowout loss in last year's Gator Bowl at the hands of the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

With the Sugar Bowl victory, the Wolverines will finish the season on a four-game winning streak. This season, the Wolverines significantly improved their defense under first-year coordinator Greg Mattison. After surrendering 33.8 points per game two seasons ago, the Wolverines allowed just 17.2 points per contest this past season. Things are starting to look up for the Wolverines.    

Hokies Finish Season on Losing Note:

Despite only losing three games all season, the Hokies dropped their final two contests and have now lost 6 of their last 9 bowl games. Sophomore quarterback Logan Thomas will return next season, but he will be missing his two leading receivers. Running back David Wilson has not yet made a public decision of whether or not he will he return for his senior year.


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