How Michigan and Virginia Tech Met in the 2012 Allstate Sugar BowlThey weren’t used to being in the headlines. But these two kickers – Michigan’s Brandon Gibbons and Virginia Tech’s Justin Myer – became the focus of newspaper stories across America after the 78th Sugar Bowl.
Place-kicking was a major subtext in the game. A season earlier, under former Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, Gibbons lost his position as the Wolverines’ No. 1 kicker after making just one of seven. He rectified that under new coach Brady Hoke, going 13-of-17 as the Wolverines resurfaced as a Big Ten force with Michigan winning 10 of its 13 games after floundering the last few seasons.
Virginia Tech’s Justin Myer was a senior walk-on who had never kicked a field goal as a collegian, going 0-for-2 in his limited role, though he had a strong leg, once making a 72-yarder in practice. The longest he has made in a game was 47 yards – but that was in high school.
But circumstances thrust Myer straight into the limelight. Just after Virginia Tech accepted its third Allstate Sugar Bowl invite, first string place-kicker Cody Journell was suspended after a run-in with the law. Then backup Tyler Weiss was sent home after breaking curfew once the Hokies got to New Orleans.
Clearly the kickers were going to be items of interest if one of these teams was going to break recent bleak bowl droughts. Michigan had lost five of its last six bowls, and had not won a BCS postseason game since the 2000 Orange Bowl; and Virginia Tech, under the nation’s winningest coach Frank Beamer (251-121-4) was 3-4 over the last eight seasons.
The Sugar Bowl was in a quandary. For the sixth straight year the Sugar Bowl was hosting a game without the SEC champion because it was involved in the national championship. This time there was no other SEC school to replace the champion because LSU and Alabama, two schools from the same league, were playing for title. Since only two teams from the same league are permitted in BCS bowls, Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan had to find a replacement – and make some very difficult decisions.
In a game that would be overshadowed by the BCS Championship Game at the same Mercedes-Benz Superdome site a week later, he bypassed higher ranked teams for opponents he thought competitive and attract the most fans.
“I think we hit the mother lode,” Hoolahan said, referring to the combination of teams in both games.
These were clearly capable teams. No. 13 Michigan had rebounded from the tumultuous Rodriguez years with a solid 10-3 record, and No. 11 Virginia Tech was 11-2. But neither had won the conference championships, and the Hokies lost 38-10 in the ACC title game to Clemson, and many pundits were unhappy with the selection, the first Sugar Bowl since 1945 without either team in the Top 10.
But Michigan was a great story with the Wolverines becoming relevant again in the Midwest, and Virginia Tech already a proven commodity to the Sugar Bowl, having played in New Orleans three times in the last decade and a half. Things didn’t quite work out with Tech in large measure because it was to be played on a Monday, on the first back-to-work date of the holiday season, and partly because of exorbitant airline tickets, which rose to as much as three times their normal price the week of the game.
Beamer had to be wondering just what he got himself into. Wolverine bug-on-the-pond quarterback Denard Robinson presented a lot of headaches. He moaned that Robinson reminded him of two former Virginia Tech quarterbacks – Michael Vick and Tyrod Taylor. “I think they’re certainly the same type of athlete,” Beamer said. “A lot of quarterbacks are hard to tackle in open in spaces. This is one that’s hard to tackle in closed spaces. He’s quite an athlete. You look at videos and a lot of times guys you think are going to get him, they don’t get him. He’s got skill now, and he throws the ball well. He’s not only an athlete, but he can throw the ball well.”
Robinson was a statistical marvel last season when he rushed for 1,702 yards (an NCAA record for a quarterback) and 14 touchdowns and passed for 2,570 yards and 18 touchdowns.
This season he passed for 2,056 yards and 18 touchdowns and rushed for 1,163 yards and 16 touchdowns, all the while becoming the face of Michigan football.
Hoke was concerned about 6-foot-6 Tech quarterback Logan Thomas, a 60 percent passer, or Hokie flanker Danny Coale, who had 60 receptions for 904 yards as a senior. Not to mention star running back David Wilson, the ACC’s offensive player of the year.
Those were the kind of athletes that scare coaches. Not kickers.
Recap by Sugar Bowl historian Marty Mulé, an award-winning sportswriter who covered college football and the Sugar Bowl for the New Orleans Times-Picayune for 33 years.