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To say the Hokies (6-6) have had a disappointing season is an understatement a year after appearing in the Sugar Bowl. They stumbled out of the gate losing three of their first seven, and dropped three straight conference games before winning their final two.
It's a tumble that coach Frank Beamer said isn't lost on his players, and particularly a senior group that is trying to avoid Tech's first losing season since 1992 as it makes its 20th straight bowl appearance.
''They're very aware of that,'' Beamer said. ''I'm really proud of this football team because we've lost some games in tough ways, we've had some unusual things happen, we haven't always played great or as well as we need to play. And had some disappointments, had some setbacks, had adversity.
''But the football team always stayed together. They never pointed fingers; they always stayed together, played hard for the most part and ended up winning their last two games when things just didn't look very good. So if we win this game it would make a statement.'
• Shred the Hokies' secondary: Nova would be wise to closely study the game films from the Hokies' defeats to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Pitt QB Tino Sunseri and Cincinnati QB Munchie Legaux combined for nearly 700 passing yards and six TDs.
• Force turnovers: If the Scarlet Knights hope to become the third team from the conference to defeat the Hokies, they could benefit from winning the takeaway game, as the Panthers and Bearcats did. The two teams forced seven Hokies turnovers combined, five on interceptions. Rutgers opponents lost nine fumbles in a four-game stretch in the middle of the season. In the last three games, though, the Scarlet Knights recovered just one fumble.
• Pound the ball with Jamison: The Scarlet Knights' sophomore was considered for Big East Offensive Player of the Year honors before suffering the ankle injury on Nov. 10 vs. Army. Until that point, Jamison had averaged 105.7 yards per game as Rutgers opened 8-1. Following the injury, Jamison had just 34.3 rushing yards per contest in the Scarlet Knights' last three games. Rutgers went 1-2 during the stretch.
• Consistency from Thomas: When the Hokies quarterback has been on his game this season, he has looked like one of the top quarterbacks in the nation. He nearly threw for 300 yards against a stingy Florida State defense and torched North Carolina for 354 in an October loss. When Thomas has struggled, he has been inaccurate and turnover-prone.
• Contain Jamison: The Hokies have been stifling with their run defense to close the season. In two of its last three games, Virginia Tech has allowed 30 yards or less. Despite the win, Florida State finished with 25 carries for a season-low minus-15 yards. At other times this year, the Hokies' run defense has been porous. In a pair of defeats to North Carolina and Pitt, Virginia Tech allowed more than 550 rushing yards combined.
• Spread the field with Davis: Yards on the ground could be tough to come by against one of the nation's top run defenses. The Hokies must look to WR Marcus Davis on deep routes downfield. The senior wideout has four 100-yard receiving games this season.
Thirteen players that started for Virginia Tech in last season's Sugar Bowl overtime loss to Michigan are on this year's roster. ... The Hokies are 1-1 all-time in games played in Citrus Bowl Stadium. Losing to Florida State 33-20 in 1991 and beating Central Florida 44-21 in 2000. This is the Hokies' 10th visit to the state of Florida for a bowl (five Gator Bowls and four Orange Bowls). ...Virginia Tech is 18-33 all-time in games played in the state of Florida and 149-128-19 all-time in neutral site games. ... Rutgers and Mississippi State own the nation's longest active bowl winning streak at five games. ... The Scarlet Knights are 1-0 all-time vs. ACC opponents in a bowl game, having beaten N.C. State 29-23 in the 2008 PapaJohns.com Bowl. ... With the matchup against Virginia Tech, this marks the seventh consecutive season Rutgers has played against an ACC opponent. Since 2006, the Scarlet Knights are 3-3 in those games.
These two teams aren't exactly strangers. Before Virginia Tech made the move to the ACC, both schools were in the Big East, where they met 12 times. The Hokies dominated the series 11-1, with the Scarlet Knights' victory coming in the first meeting in 1992.
Both teams run very balanced offenses, with Rutgers getting 63.1 percent of its yardage through the air, compared to Virginia Tech's 59.7 percent. The biggest difference is the Scarlet Knights had only six rushing touchdowns on the season compared to the 18 scores on the ground for the Hokies.
Synopsis: The Golden Gophers did just enough to reach this bowl, beating the teams they were supposed to but failing to make a dent in the top division of the Big Ten. The Red Raiders had a similar campaign in the Big 12 as what appeared to be their breakthrough win against West Virginia had its value diminished. But Texas Tech fans should be pleased by the hiring of favorite son Kliff Kingsbury to succeed Cincinnati-bound Tommy Tuberville. The Minnesota offense ranked third from the bottom in the conference, and QB MarQueis Gray and TB Donnell Kirkwood might have trouble making headway against the Red Raiders' front wall, anchored by DT Kerry Hyder and DE Dartwan Bush. Texas Tech's attack has more explosive potential with QB Seth Doege looking often for WRs Eric Ward and Darrin Moore. Gophers' DE D.L. Wilhite will try to disrupt their timing.