Understandably, when Tech fans found out the Hokies’ bowl opponent, they immediately thought of passing and lots of points.
Tech’s coaches and players thought that, too.
The Hokies’ defense will face arguably its toughest task of the season when it takes on Oklahoma State’s offense in the Camping World Bowl on Dec. 28. In doing so, the unit will be taking on a quarterback familiar to defensive coordinator Bud Foster – Mason Rudolph, the Cowboys’ 6-foot-5, 230-pound leader.
“We tried to recruit him,” Foster revealed last week.
Rudolph played his high school football at Northwestern High in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and enjoyed a record-setting career. Despite all his accolades and records, he received little interest from Clemson, which had taken a commitment from Deshaun Watson at the time, and South Carolina, which had Michael Scarnecchia from Florida in the fold. Rudolph’s offers included LSU, Louisville, North Carolina, Ole Miss, Virginia, and of course, the Hokies.
Rudolph and his family visited Tech’s campus in June of 2013. The Rudolph family had ties to the region, as his father, Brett, played at North Carolina, and his mother, Jamie, ran track at Liberty.
Ultimately, Rudolph picked Oklahoma State because of his familiarity with Mike Gundy’s offense, which was similar to the one he ran in high school, and because the Cowboys only had one scholarship quarterback at the time – J.W. Walsh. Four years later, Rudolph leads the country in passing yardage (4,553 yards), and Oklahoma State’s passing offense ranks No. 1 nationally (392.3 ypg).
“He’s big,” Foster said of his scouting report of Rudolph. “He’s got a live arm. Very accurate. Strong. He’ll stand in the pocket against the rush. I think the NFL guys will like him a lot because he’s in that 6-4, 6-5 range, and he’s a drop-back guy. He doesn’t run a whole lot. Not that he can’t, but he doesn’t do that. He delivers the ball extremely well on time.
“You can see a lot of experience in the offense and just a lot of game experience, and it shows by his completion percentage, where he throws the ball, how quickly he gets rid of it, all those things.”
Foster added that he’s only begun to starting crafting a game plan. After all, the coaches have been on the road recruiting.
But the Hokies have seen numerous up-tempo, spread offenses this season – and fared reasonably well. Tech has not allowed 400 yards passing in any game this season and only two 300-yard passing games. One of those came in the season opener against West Virginia, a familiar foe for Oklahoma State since both reside in the Big 12. WVU quarterback Will Grier threw for 371 yards and three touchdowns against the Hokies.
“I’d like to think we’ll be prepared for that,” Foster said of Oklahoma State’s tempo. “They [the Cowboys] are fast. We’ve just got to get lined up quickly. With that said, communication has got to be critical. I don’t want them to dictate to us, but at the same time, they’re going to go at a tempo, and we’ve got to be able to get lined up and be ready to go and not give up anything cheap. Make every throw competitive, or make every run … make sure we’re in our proper gaps and those type of things. That’s part of the tempo – just getting lined up and getting your eyes in the right spot and be ready to go execute.
“But I hope we’re farther along now obviously going into game 13 than we were in game 1.”
Football Scoop named Tech tight ends coach and special teams coordinator James Shibest as its Special Teams Coordinator of the Year. The Hokies rank in the top 30 nationally in all four major special teams categories – punts, punt returns, kickoffs and kickoff returns. Behind Greg Stroman, the Hokies are one of just 13 teams with multiple punt return scores, and the Hokies have yielded just 42 yards on returns this season. Shibest, who also won the award in 2008, will receive the honor at the American Football Coaches Association Convention in January.
Tech head coach Justin Fuente offered support for tailback Travon McMillian, who has decided to transfer despite leading the Hokies in rushing this season with 439 yards. McMillian, who rushed for 1,000 yards as a freshman, will graduate in two weeks and will not play in the Camping World Bowl.
“I’m going to support Travon in whatever he wants to do,” Fuente said. “I’m proud that he’s going to be a Virginia Tech graduate. He has had a good career here. It’s part of the rules that guys can graduate and move on, so we’re going to wish him well. We have a very good relationship. I hope he has a lot of success.”
In one of the season’s most anticipated bowl games featuring deep ties between the two coaching staffs and one of the top defenses and offenses in the nation, No. 22 Virginia Tech will take on No. 17 Oklahoma State in the Camping World Bowl on Thursday, Dec. 28, at 5:15 p.m. in Orlando.
The game can be seen on ESPN with Beth Mowins, Anthony Becht and Rocky Boiman on the call. All information regarding the game and the week’s events can be found on the bowl central page, located at the top-right of this story.
Virginia Tech vs. Oklahoma state: inside the series
• Dec. 28 will see the third all-time meeting in the series between Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech.
• It’s been a little more than 45 years since the last time the two teams played on Oct. 14, 1972 in Blacksburg, a 34-32 upset victory for the Hokies over the 19th-ranked Cowboys.
• Oklahoma State’s No. 19 ranking in 1972 was the only time either team was ranked when playing one another.
• Virginia Tech radio analyst Mike Burnop, who was a tight end for the Hokies from 1970-72, played in both of those games against the Cowboys. Burnop caught two passes from QB Don Strock for 30 yards in the 34-32 victory in Blacksburg and registered seven catches for 80 yards in the 1971 contest in Stillwater.
• The backup quarterback to Don Strock in both of those games was current Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians.
• The Hokies are 1-1 vs. teams in the current configuration of the Big 12 in bowl games; a 24-21 loss to Kansas in the Orange Bowl (1/3/08) and a 28-10 victory vs. Texas in the Sugar Bowl (12/31/95).
• Fuente has led his teams to bowl games in each of the last four seasons.
• Fuente is 2-0 all-time in bowl games; featuring the Hokies’ win over Arkansas in the Belk Bowl last season and Memphis’ victory over BYU in the 2014 Miami Beach Bowl.
• Despite guiding the Tigers to the 2015 Birmingham Bowl, Fuente did not coach in the game after accepting the head coaching job at Virginia Tech.
VIRGINIA TECH-OKLAHOMA STATE CONNECTIONS:
• The connections between the Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech coaching staffs run deep, starting with the two head coaches.
• Justin Fuente looked up to Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy when he was one of the first passing quarterbacks at the high school level in Oklahoma. By the time Fuente got to Tulsa’s Union HS. He was being recruited by Gundy, who was then a graduate assistant with the Cowboys.
• Virginia Tech offensive line coach Vance Vice played with Gundy at Oklahoma State from 1986-88 where the two won the 1987 Holiday Bowl and 1988 Liberty Bowl alongside Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders. Vice is a native of Bristow, Oklahoma.
• Virginia Tech offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Brad Cornelsen, a Texhoma, Okla. native, had two separate stints at Oklahoma State working with Gundy.
• Cornelsen worked as a graduate assistant from 2001-02 in Gundy’s first two seasons as assistant head coach and offensive coordinator. After a run on the staff at Illinois State, including a three-year period from 2003-06 working with Fuente, Cornelsen returned to Stillwater in 2008 to work for Gundy as a quality control analyst.
• Oklahoma State defensive analyst Bill Clay broke into coaching at Granby HS in Norfolk, Va., in 1965-68 and later went on to coach linebackers at Virginia Tech in 1972, coincidentally, the last season when the Hokies and Pokes played.
–Jimmy Robertson, VT Athletics