Four years after facing off in the 2014 Military Bowl, Virginia Tech and Cincinnati square off for the second time in the Military Bowl and the fourth time in any bowl game. The Bearcats will be hoping to reach 11 wins and even the bowl game series record with VT while the Hokies will look to continue their winning season streak and win their third-straight bowl game against Cincinnati.
With that said, here are our keys to the game for the Hokies against Cincinnati.
Establish the Run
Virginia Tech was able to gain some offensive momentum over their final two games largely due to a much improved running game led by Steven Peoples. The Hokies' rushing attack was quite good against Virginia averaging 5.6 yards per carry while the Hokies had a solid ground game through their primary running back against Marshall.
Peoples has been particularly good with 19 carries for 96 yards against Virginia
and 14 carries for 78 yards against Marshall
, averaging over 5 yards per carry in each of those game. Throughout the season, Peoples has shown improved explosiveness and agility that has helped him jump from 3.8 yards per carry last season to 5.1 yards per carry this season.
While Ryan Willis got out of a rut against Marshall, the weather conditions will likely slow down the Hokies' vertical passing game. Because of that, it will be more important for the Hokies to establish their running game between the tackles to create space on the outside for WR bubble screens and other short passes.
However, Cincinnati has a tough front 7 that is 7th in rushing yards allowed per game while also giving up only 3.2 yards per carry. The Bearcats also have five players with at least 7 tackles for loss including star DT Crotez Broughton who had 47 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, and 7.5 sacks. Broughton will give the Hokies a major challenge up the middle with VT needing their interior offensive line to step up against Broughton.
Virginia Tech will need to establish the rushing attack especially up the middle, but will face a tough challenge in Broughton and the Bearcats' talented rush defense.
Contain Michael Warren
Cincinnati's offense starts with a strong running game led by talented tailback Michael Warren. The Second Team All-AAC RB has been quite good this season with 1,163 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns including a very good average of 5.2 yards per carry. In addition, Warren is tied for third on the team in receptions with 24 catches for 222 yards and a touchdown.
While first year QB Desmond Ridder has been very good in his own right, expect Cincinnati to look to the run game once again headlined by Warren especially with the wet forecast for tomorrow's game.
Bud Foster will look for LBs Rayshard Ashby and Dax Hollifield to keep a close eye on Warren and be aggressive in filling gaps. Meanwhile, expect VT to use nickelback Khalil Ladler at times in man coverage against Warren knowing the passing threat that Warren brings and the extra speed that Ladler can give the Hokies in coverage.
With Cincinnati likely to rely on Warren heavily tomorrow, the Hokies will need to contain him and that starts with solid linebacker play from a young group that has shown plenty of promise throughout the season.
Play With Heart and Intensity
We can give you all the football analysis you want but all of that doesn't matter if both teams don't come out with intensity, something that happens plenty of times in bowl games especially with teams that have gone through challenging, disappointing seasons.
For Virginia Tech to have any chance, they have to come out actually wanting to play in this game. Okay, that seems obvious regardless of circumstance but given the emotional ups and downs Virginia Tech has been through, it could be tempting for the Hokies to check out some.
All indications are that it won't be the case, but they'll be facing a Cincinnati team that likely won't come out flat after a breakout season that has them in their first bowl game since 2015. If the Hokies don't show up, this game will get ugly.
However, if the final two games of the regular season are any indication, this Virginia Tech didn't quit on this season when they easily could've, and it would be shocking if they did now.
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
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