Virginia Tech is entering their upcoming Military Bowl matchup with an overall season record of 6-6 while finishing 6th in the Coastal Division of the Atlantic Coastal Conference. While they struggled mightily against their conference opponents during the year, they do have several high profile victories over Ohio State, North Carolina, and Duke. Much of their success this season, came as expected, has been because of their strong defensive play under veteran defensive coordinator Bud Foster. Foster's unit this season ranked 18th overall in the nation with points against, giving up about 20 points per game. The Hokies defense will face an extremely difficult challenge against the explosive Cincinnati Bearcats offense.
The Bearcats are arriving in Annapolis with an overall record of 9-3, finishing near the top of the American Athletic Conference on the back of their prolific offense. They ranked 13th overall in the nation averaging about 300 passing yards per game. The appropriately named Gunner Kiel had an excellent season throwing for 3010 passing yards with 30 touchdowns and completing 60% of his passes. In his absence, backup quarterback Munchie Legaux filled in admirably with 574 passing yards and 3 touchdowns. Surrounding Kiel, head coach Tommy Tuberville's Bearcats also feature dual running backs in Mike Boone and Rodriguez Moore in addition to receiving threats Mekale McKay, Shaq Washington, Max Morrison, and Chris Moore. The Bearcats offense should prove to be the challenge that defensive playcaller Bud Foster is expecting it to be.
Virginia Tech's defense has had a strong season thanks to the play of defensive ends Ken Ekanem and Dadi Nicolas while linebacker Deon Clarke has led his respective unit. Ekanem and Nicolas have combined for 31 tackles for loss and 17.5 sacks. The ability to get pressure from the outside on Kiel will be a priority for the Hokies while interior lineman Corey Marshall and Nigel Williams will look to stop the Bearcats ground game. Clarke, a junior linebacker, has had an excellent season with 63 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, and an interception. Foster's unit will look to limit the Bearcats offense to allow the Hokies' offense an opportunity to win this game.
<iframe width="560" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/FialSZtx7TM" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
The Hokies offense has been well balanced for much of the season. Quarterback Michael Brewer has posted solid numbers including passing for nearly 2600 yards with 17 touchdown passes and completing nearly 60% of his passes throughout the season. On the ground, running backs Marshawn Williams and J.C. Coleman have combined for a total 851 yards on 206 carries while Hokie receivers have had a strong year behind Isaiah Ford, Bucky Hodges, Cam Phillips, and Willie Byrn. While the Hokies offense is balanced, it has struggled to score points, ranking 98th overall in the nation with 23.3 points per game. Fortunately for the Hokies, the Bearcats defense has struggled at times during the season.
The Bearcats are led defensively by senior linebackers Nick Temple and Jeff Luc in addition to senior defensive end Terrell Hartsfield. Luc and Temple have combined for 229 tackles, 21 tackles for loss, and 9.5 sacks while Hartsfield totaled for 34 tackles, 9.5 for loss, and 8 sacks. Collectively, they ranked 99th overall on defense this season and have had their struggles giving up big plays to opposing offenses this season.
If Virginia Tech expects to win against Cincinnati, they will need to establish a strong defensive gameplan to limit the Bearcats offense. It is highly unlikely that the Hokies can win an offensive shootout and will put pressure on Foster and his defense to lead them to victory. I expect Virginia Tech to win this game 19-17 in a gritty battle in Annapolis.