(12) Virginia Tech (9-3) at Tennessee (7-5)
Thursday, December 31st, 7:30 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The Virginia Tech Hokies of the ACC and the Tennessee Volunteers of the SEC will collide on New Year's Eve in the 2009 Chick-Fil-A Bowl at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
Virginia Tech is hoping to clinch a 10-win season for the sixth consecutive year, and that would be a tremendous accomplishment to say the least. The team is 9-3 overall this season, including a 5-2 mark against ACC competition. The Hokies are just 8-14 all-time in bowl games, and head coach Frank Beamer is 7-9 in bowl games after winning last year�s Orange Bowl. Beamer's team closed out the 2009 regular season with four consecutive double-digit victories, so expect a confident group of Hokies entering this bowl matchup.
"We feel fortunate to be going back to the Chick-fil-A Bowl," said Beamer upon learning of the bid. "It is an extremely well-run bowl in which we'll be facing a tradition-rich University of Tennessee football team. I know our fans will be excited and we look forward to traveling to Atlanta for the game."
Speaking of Tennessee, it owns a 25-22 all-time record in bowl games. UT is playing in the Chick-fil-A Bowl for the fifth time in school history and first since back-to-back appearances following the 2002 and 2003 seasons. The Vols are 1-3 in the Atlanta-based bowl, and they enter this game with a 7-5 overall record. Four of the final five games resulted in victory for the Vols, who were able to even their SEC mark at 4-4. First-year head coach Lane Kiffin halted on-campus preparations for this bowl game a day earlier than expected.
"We were really almost to a point of over-working them, with the practices being so long and so physical, that they needed some time off," said Kiffin. "Our injuries were mounting, so it was good timing."
Tennessee owns a 5-2 lead over Virginia Tech in a series that dates back to 1896. The most recent meeting took place in 1994, a 45-23 triumph by the Vols.
Virginia Tech is led by standout freshman tailback Ryan Williams, who has run for a school and ACC freshman record 1,538 yards this season. He needs 110 yards against Tennessee to break the school's single-season rushing record set by Kevin Jones in 2003. Williams has 20 total touchdowns, including 19 rushing scores, and was named First Team All-ACC earlier this month. The rookie has had a play of 40 yards or more in seven games, proof of his big-play ability.
"The things he did from game one to game 12 have been absolutely amazing," says Tech associate head coach Billy Hite of Williams. "I think he became a complete football player."
Overall this season, the Hokies are generating 31.4 ppg on the strength of 388.3 total ypg. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor has become a better passer during the course of his career, and he has connected on 55.8 percent of his throws for 2,102 yards and 13 touchdowns against four interceptions. As a runner, which has also been a strength, Taylor has racked up 344 yards and four scores. Jarrett Boykin paces the club with 36 catches for 715 yards and five touchdowns.
Virginia Tech's defense was the only one in the country to finish in the top 10 each of the last four seasons in total defense. They are limiting opponents to 15.8 ppg and 300.1 total ypg. Opposing quarterbacks have completed fewer than 50 percent of their passes against Tech, which has permitted a mere eight touchdowns through the air. Nine rushing scores have been allowed, and the Hokies are giving up just 3.8 yards per rushing attempt. Keep an eye on Third Team All-American Cody Grimm, who has recorded 99 total tackles and forced seven fumbles.
Tennessee is scoring 30.6 ppg this season while generating 395.4 total ypg. The offense has been explosive at times, and the total of 45 offensive touchdowns registered is certainly impressive. Jonathan Crompton was overshadowed by some other SEC quarterbacks this season, but the Vols' signal caller had a tremendous campaign, passing for 2,565 yards and 26 touchdowns. Gerald Jones has 41 catches for 610 yards to pace the squad, while Denarius Moore has six receiving scores.
Tennessee has a true workhorse back in Montario Hardesty, who was one of the top tailbacks in the SEC this season. He posted 1,306 yards and 12 touchdowns, carrying the ball 264 times.
On the defensive side of the ball, Tennessee is holding opponents to 21.0 ppg and 308.8 total ypg. The Vols have been outstanding against the pass, yielding a mere 9.5 yards per completion. Just five touchdowns have been registered by opposing quarterbacks, a stat that any defense would be proud of. The run defense hasn't been nearly as formidable, but the fact that foes are gaining 4.2 yards per carry suggests that it isn't a major problem area.
Rico McCoy is a hard-hitting linebacker for the Vols, and he has made a team- high 112 tackles this season to go along with five forced fumbles. Eric Berry is an outstanding defensive back, and recently won the Thorpe Award for his efforts. He is the active NCAA leader and stands second in NCAA history with 494 interception return yards.
In what figures to be a close game from start to finish, give a narrow edge to Tennessee. The Vols are a much more balanced offensive team than the Hokies.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Tennessee 23, Virginia Tech 20
12/29 10:46:52 ET