Michigan football team drawing respect from Virginia Tech for its combination of power, size and speed
KENNER, La. — Forget the fact Virginia Tech has never played Michigan.
It hasn't even faced a Big Ten team since 1993, when it beat Indiana in its only matchup against the conference.
So, needless to say, the Hokies had to do a little head scratching when their Sugar Bowl matchup with the Wolverines was announced earlier this month.
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
But there's also more of a power-running game with tailback Fitz Toussaint, one of the fastest rising stars in the Big Ten.
Robinson rushed for 1,307 yards and 16 touchdowns this season, and Toussaint added 1,059 yards and nine scores. They are only the second pair of backs to rush for 1,000 yards in the same season in school history, and the first since 1975.
Together, they helped Michigan rank 12th nationally in rushing at 235.7 yards per game.
That one-two punch belies what Virginia Tech was expecting to see from a Big Ten team.
"When you think Big Ten, you kind of think powerful, and they have a quarterback that can run all over the place," Virginia Tech receiver Danny Coale said. "So, they’re not only powerful, but they’re quick.
"It’s a unique team that I don’t think we’ve played all year long with the combination of size and speed."
Something they have seen, though, is a mobile quarterback, and they have one of their own in Logan Thomas. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer has said that helps his team prepare to face a quarterback such as Robinson.
Still, the Hokies know they'll have their hands full defending Michigan's dual-threat junior quarterback.
"Some quarterbacks are hard to stop in open spaces," Beamer said. "I think this quarterback is hard to tackle in closed spaces. He’s special."
A strong rushing attack starts with sound line play, and Beamer said one of the first things he noticed on film was Michigan's physical play at the line of scrimmage.
"You look at this Michigan team, and the more you study them, the better they get," Beamer said. "They’re certainly well coached, but up front ... they're tough.
"Up front is a strength for them. They perform well and it’s going to be a real challenge for us."
The defensive line took a hit last week when starting tackle Will Heininger went down with a foot injury that has prevented him from practicing and is jeopardizing his status for the Sugar Bowl.
He was seen at a Charlotte, N.C., airport en route to New Orleans with crutches and a boot on his right foot.
Reserve defensive lineman Nathan Brink also has suffered an injury and already has been ruled out of the game.
On the offensive side of the ball, Michigan coach Brady Hoke said there is a job battle brewing at left guard between Michael Schofield and Ricky Barnum.
Schofield has started at that spot nine times this year while Barnum was suspended (one game) or hurt (eight games), but Barnum remains the listed starter on the depth chart and has played well when healthy.
Toussaint and Robinson's success, though, is a testament to the success of Michigan's offensive line, regardless of who starts.
"Their front’s huge," Coale said. "They’re enormous."