El Paso, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - The Virginia Tech Hokies and UCLA Bruins will spend their bowl season in the Lone Star State, as the two teams square off in the 80th-annual Sun Bowl on Dec. 31 in El Paso.
Frank Beamer's Hokies had a solid season, despite opening with a 35-10 rout at the hands of the Alabama Crimson Tide. Virginia Tech responded well after that though, with wins in each of six games, setting themselves up for a run at the ACC's Coastal Division crown. A late October loss to Duke was quickly followed by a road loss at Boston College, as the Hokies dropped three of their next four games. However, Tech finished the regular season strong with a 16-6 victory over rival Virginia, finishing the year at 8-4, with a 5-3 mark in- conference, good for second place in the Coastal Division.
This is the Hokies 21st straight bowl appearance but it is the first trip back to the Sun Bowl since the school's first bowl game appearance in 1947. Beamer is excited about the opportunity and the history this game brings.
"We are extremely excited to be coming to the Sun Bowl. All my conversations with people who have been there have been extremely positive, and it is my understanding that the Sun Bowl people do an excellent job with their hospitality. It's great for our kids and fans to be able to visit a different part of the country. The Sun Bowl was our first bowl in 1947, and it's time to get back."
Jim Mora led the Bruins to a 9-3 record this season which landed UCLA in the second spot of the Pac-12 South. The Bruins opened the campaign with five straight wins before suffering back-to-back losses at Stanford and Oregon in conference play. The team bounced back however, with wins in four of the last five games to reach nine wins, including their final game against cross-town rival USC, 35-14.
This marks the Bruins' fourth time playing in this El Paso Bowl and first since 2005. UCLA has played in a bowl game in nine of the last 11 seasons overall.
This game will mark the first meeting between these two teams. Virginia Tech is 0-3 against current Pac-12 teams.
Virginia Tech isn't one of the strongest offensive squads in the country, ranking 98th in total offense. Its passing attack is stronger than its rushing game, however. Quarterback Logan Thomas had his ups and downs this season, throwing for 2,861 yards and 16 touchdowns, against 13 interceptions.
Trey Edmunds was the team's leading runner with 675 yards and 10 touchdowns. He managed to run at a clip of 4.5 yards per carry. Virginia Tech ranked 110th in the NCAA in rushing offense and only managed to average 117.8 yards on the ground per game.
The Hokies may have some offensive deficiencies, but they have one of the best defenses in the country. The team ranks fourth nationally in total defense, allowing 269.6 yards per games. The Hokies are also the eighth in the country in points allowed, only letting other teams score 17.4 points per game.
Jack Tyler (93 tackles, 10.5 TFL) and Luther Maddy (11.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks) have been really strong in the front seven. Kendall Fuller, the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year, played well in coverage, intercepting six passes for the Hokies.
The Hokies will be tasked with slowing down UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley, who had a strong season, throwing for 2,845 yards and 22 touchdowns with only nine interceptions. He averaged 237.1 passing yards per game in leading the nation's 44th best passing attack.
UCLA has great balance with the 38th best rushing attack, averaging 196.6 yards per game on the ground. Hundley (587 yards, nine TDs) led the Bruins on the ground, but tailback Paul Perkins (570 yards, five TDs) had a solid season. The surprise running back for UCLA was Myles Jack (267 yards, seven TDs) who was needed after injuries decimated the backfield. A two-way star at linebacker and tailback, Jack won both Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year in the Pac-12.
The Bruins will be without the team's leading tackler Eric Kendricks (106 tackles) due to an ankle injury. Lucky for them, there is plenty of star power to assuage the loss in All-American Anthony Barr (20 TFL, 10 sacks, five forced fumbles), Jordan Zumwalt (83 tackles, 5.5 TFL) and Jack (70 tackles, five TFL). Barr has played just two seasons on the defensive side of the ball for UCLA, but has settled in nicely, racking up 41.5 TFL over the last two years. The rush linebacker has fortified his position among the top defenders in the next NFL Draft and was awarded the LOTT Impact Trophy for his disruptive play this season.
UCLA is 37th nationally in sacks per game, averaging 2.4 sacks per game. A big play unit, the Bruins like to force mistakes, ranking 19th nationally in turnover margin.
Mora is excited for his team's chance to play in the game and will be looking to get to 10 wins in just his second year at the helm of the Bruins.
"These are the kind of games that you get excited about. We get to play on New Year's Eve in a historic bowl game in front of a national audience on CBS. We get to go for our 10th win of the season against a tremendous ACC opponent in Virginia Tech. This is the kind of opportunity that our players and coaching staff live for, and we can't wait to play this game."