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2011 Sugar Bowl Recap

Michigan Wolverines vs Virginia Tech Hokies - Michigan 23, Virginia Tech 20 (OT)

The 2012 Sugar Bowl invited two teams outside the top 10, marking the first time since 1945 that this prestigious January bowl game failed to include at least one top-10 school. What you saw inside the Superdome on January 3 was a close game and an exciting one, but it was also very much a battle of less-than-elite teams. The Michigan Wolverines claimed a rousing and highly meaningful triumph for their football program by nipping the Virginia Tech Hokies, but one should not be led to think that this was a classic event by any stretch of the imagination.

First, it’s important to give Michigan its due. The Wolverines were coming off a 7-6 season in 2010. That season was better than 2008 and 2009, in which the Maize and Blue failed to make a bowl game, but it still fell far short of expectations in Ann Arbor, as well it should. Michigan should be a nine- or ten-win program on an unfailingly annual basis. The Michigan brand name should always be able to land elite talent and put a top-tier product on the field. Former coach Rich Rodriguez manifestly failed to do this in his three seasons at the helm of the program following the retirement of distinguished coach Lloyd Carr, so when Brady Hoke took over before this 2011 season, it was hard to imagine the Wolverines doing anything of consequence.

Look at them now.

Michigan didn’t play Big Ten champion Wisconsin, and it didn’t reach the Big Ten Championship Game, but the Wolverines accomplished everything else they possibly could have hoped for… and then some… in 2011. They beat Ohio State for the first time since 2003. They won 10 games in the regular season for the first time since 2006. They made a BCS bowl for the first time in five seasons. They went from the outhouse to the penthouse in one season, as Hoke and his staff – particularly defensive coordinator Greg Mattison – transformed the internal culture of the program. This win over Virginia Tech – built on the backs of UM’s first-rate defensive line, which contained Hokie running back David Wilson and limited long-distance passing plays from Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas – shows Michigan fans that the program is back in very capable hands. Hoke appears likely to bring Michigan back to the highest realm of the college football world.

With that having been said, let’s not say this game was the slightest bit attractive.

Michigan might have won, but the Wolverines didn’t look good in the process of notching this sweet Sugar-y victory. Quarterback Denard Robinson continued to throw jump balls and display the questionable thought process that has dogged him throughout his career. Robinson was fortunate that receiver Junior Hemingway – Michigan’s best offensive player – caught two of those prayers for touchdowns to power the Wolverines on Tuesday night. Michigan tried a fake field goal before the half which essentially blew up; the Wolverines succeeded only because a tipped pass miraculously fell into the hands of a UM offensive lineman who was legally moving downfield when the pass was released.

Virginia Tech – which has still won only one BCS bowl game in the 14-season BCS era (the 2009 Orange Bowl against Cincinnati) – was largely responsible for the night’s wayward feel. Wilson, a supreme talent, somehow ran 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage on a red-zone snap in the first quarter, killing a promising drive. Virginia Tech also roughed Michigan’s punter, failed on a 4th and 1 at the Michigan 5, whiffed on a number of pass-batdown attempts, and generally failed to translate its first-half dominance into a scoreboard lead. The biggest error of all for the Hokies came when they committed a false start on a huge 3rd and 2 play in the final minute, when Tech – down 20-17 – was trying to score a game-winning touchdown at the Michigan 8. If not for that penalty, Virginia Tech might have won. Instead, the Hokies had to settle for overtime, in which a pass from Thomas to receiver Danny Coale was ruled incomplete after a long review by officials. The Hokies thought they had a touchdown, but when the replay booth overturned the call, a shaken Tech kicker, Justin Myer (a third-stringer who performed beautifully in regulation time, hitting four of four kicks), missed his ensuing attempt. Michigan was able to settle for a field goal, and when Brandon Gibbons banged in his field goal try, the Sugar Bowl belonged to the Maize and Blue.

This game meant a lot to Michigan – make no mistake about it. One should simply acknowledge that the 2012 Sugar Bowl was not a piece of fine art.

By: Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer

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