Michigan football team trying to avoid another 'embarrassing' bowl showing; so is Virginia Tech
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
The Michigan football team celebrated after it landed a spot in the Gator Bowl last season and snapped a two-year postseason drought.
Then it had its heart ripped out, and fired its coach.
Needless to say, the No. 13 Wolverines (10-2) are hoping for a little different bowl experience this year when they face No. 17 Virginia Tech (11-2) on Jan. 3 in the Sugar Bowl.
“I think that that’s exactly what this is," senior defensive lineman Ryan Van Bergen said on Monday. "It provides an opportunity for the guys who played last year and fell so short in that bowl game -- it provides us a chance to redeem ourselves and show that we can put forth a championship effort in a championship game.
"That’s why I think everyone’s going to be so well motivated and so excited for it.”
Michigan, which went to 33 consecutive bowls before missing the postseason in former coach Rich Rodriguez's first two seasons, went 7-5 last year and drew a matchup with Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl.
Only, it wasn't much of a matchup.
The Wolverines took an early 14-10 lead, but didn't score again and were embarrassed in a 52-14 loss in front of a national TV audience. They allowed 42 unanswered points, despite four weeks to get healthy and correct defensive deficiencies.
They didn't, and Rodriguez was out.
"We went down to Jacksonville and didn’t put on our best performance," senior tight end Kevin Koger said this week. "It was embarrassing, to say the least.
"We can learn from our mistakes. We’re definitely going to have a little fun, but our main focus is to go down there and win a football game."
That preparation begins this week, when the Wolverines practice twice. They will take the next week off for finals, then begin bowl preparation in earnest next weekend.
Initial workouts will focus on fundamentals and developing the young players before moving on to implementing the game plan.
"We've done (bowl practice) a couple different ways, but things we want to stress are the fundamentals, getting back into the fundamentals and techniques we want to play with," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said by phone Sunday night.
The Wolverines hope that plan works better than last year's.
The Hokies are hoping the same thing, as they were routed 40-12 by Stanford in last year's Orange Bowl. They have not fared well under coach Frank Beamer in BCS bowl games, winning one of four appearances.
Two of those BCS losses were in the Sugar Bowl, falling 46-29 to Florida State in the 1999 championship game and 16-13 to Auburn in 2004.
The Hokies have one Sugar Bowl win under Beamer, a 28-10 victory against Texas in 1995, but it pre-dated the BCS era.
"The people there at the Sugar Bowl, we've had quite a bit of experience with them and they're just first class," Beamer told reporters via conference call Sunday. "They do things right. It's always been a great experience to cover that bowl and spend a week in the city there, just first class all the way."
This is Michigan's second trip to the Sugar Bowl. Ironically, it also lost to Auburn in its last trip to New Orleans, a 9-7 defeat in 1984.