December 13, 2006

Dawgs & Hokies on a roll

Virginia Tech and Georgia both stumbled early this season, but they're each heading into the postseason on a roll.

The 14th-ranked Hokies and the Bulldogs will each look to build on their momentum when they square off in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta on Dec. 30.

The Hokies (10-2) lost out on a chance at the Atlantic Coast Conference title with consecutive defeats to Georgia Tech on Sept. 30 and Boston College on Oct. 12. However, they have reeled off six straight wins since then, including victories at home against Clemson and on the road at Miami and ACC champion Wake Forest.

Virginia Tech has outscored its opponents by a total of 144-29 during its winning streak.

``After those two losses, the season could have went either really bad, or we could have stepped it up and finished strong, and that's exactly what we did,'' defensive tackle Carlton Powell said.

The Hokies are one of only two teams, along with Southern Cal, to win 10 games in each of the last three seasons.

Georgia (8-4), meanwhile, dropped four of five games midway through the season, including upset losses to Vanderbilt and Kentucky. But the Bulldogs finished their schedule strong with wins at No. 10 Auburn and against Georgia Tech at home.

``It was up and down, that's for sure,'' coach Mark Richt said. ``We started out 5-0. Then we lost four out of five. Not only did we lose four of five, we felt like we lost a lot of respect in the football world. We've been battling like heck just to get that respect back.''

The Bulldogs also fell out of the rankings during their slump, but had the most votes among teams that didn't make the Top 25 in the final poll of the regular season.

``This is a chance to beat another highly ranked team,'' Richt said. ``I'm sure we'll be the underdog for this game. But if we can find a way to win, hopefully we'll find ourselves back in the Top 25. That's a great motivation for us.''

The Hokies beat Virginia 17-0 in their regular-season finale on Nov. 25 for their fourth shutout of the season. Virginia Tech, which leads the nation with just 9.3 points and 221.1 total yards allowed per game, held the Cavaliers to just 112 yards of offense and five first downs.

``We play hard for each other,'' senior defensive end Noland Burchette said. ``I think that puts us over the edge of being tougher than other people.''

Sean Glennon, in his first full season as Virginia Tech's quarterback, finished 12-for-18 for 146 yards and a touchdown against Virginia. Glennon threw 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions this season.

Running back Brandon Ore sat out the season finale with a sprained left ankle, but is expected to play against Georgia. Ore ranked third in the ACC with 1,137 rushing yards and second in the league with 99.5 per game.

``Getting that rest was probably best for him,'' Beamer said.

Guard Ryan Shuman, who missed the last four games, also is expected to play.

The Bulldogs beat Georgia Tech 15-12 on Nov. 25 in their regular-season finale. Freshman quarterback Matthew Stafford threw for 171 yards and the game-winning touchdown with 1:45 remaining after gaining 302 combined yards throwing and rushing in the victory over Auburn.

Stafford threw just four touchdown passes and 12 interceptions in the first 10 games of the season, but threw no picks and a pair of TDs in the last two.

``When the protection was there, Matthew did a good job of hitting his targets,'' Richt said after the victory over Georgia Tech. ``When it wasn't, he did a great job of throwing it away or taking a sack. It's called managing the game. It's not exciting, but that's what you've got to do.''

Richt let quarterback coach Mike Bobo take over play-calling duties against the Yellow Jackets, plans to use the same arrangement against the Hokies.

``Mike will definitely call the plays in the bowl game, and we'll evaluate everything when the season's over,'' said Richt, who had been calling the plays since he took over as Georgia's coach in 2001. ``He's an outstanding young coach with a great mind. I've got a lot of confidence in Mike, and he'll definitely call the plays this game.''

The Bulldogs ended a streak of four straight 10-win seasons and top-10 finishes this year, but are pleased to be headed to Atlanta.

``Midway through the season, I didn't even think we would get a bowl,'' safety Tra Battle said. ``Now, to get invited to a bowl such as this, I'm excited to the point of elation. I'm so proud of our team.''

The Bulldogs also played in Atlanta last season in the Sugar Bowl, which was moved from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, but lost 38-35 to West Virginia.

``We didn't condition ourselves as good as we should have last year,'' Richt said. ``When we came back from the Christmas break, we had lost a lot of our conditioning.''

Virginia Tech beat Louisville 35-24 in last season's Gator Bowl in Jacksonville.

The Hokies and Bulldogs have played just twice before, splitting a pair of meetings in 1931 and 1932.




 

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