2009 Chick-Fil-A Bowl Preview
#13 Virginia Tech (9-3, 6-2 ACC) vs. Tennessee (7-5, 4-4; SEC)
December 31st, 2009 @ 7:30 PM (EST) – ESPN – Atlanta, Georgia
The Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, formerly known as the Peach Bowl, has a long and illustrious history. First played in 1968, the Chik-Fil-A Bowl has been a showcase for southern football teams in the postseason. Since 1993, this game has matched the SEC and ACC and has the 3rd longest current sellout streak with eleven straight full houses, only beaten by the Sugar and Rose Bowls. This year’s game matches two very complete football teams as the ACC attempts to break a four year losing streak.
Tennessee began a new era this season under Lane Kiffin, bringing a change in their culture from the long tenure of Phil Fulmer. Kiffin was formerly the coach of the Oakland Raiders and an assistant at USC and he brought in a very high-profile staff, highlighted by Kiffin’s father, legendary defensive coordinator Monty Kiffin. The Volunteers began the year with some serious scuffles on offense en route to a 2-3 start. However, the Vols took some enormous strides forward during a 4-1 finish, highlighted by an overtime victory at Kentucky to cap off a winning regular season.
It might surprise a lot of people that Tennessee’s offense finished 32nd in the country in scoring at 30.6 points per game. This was partly due to the 43rd ranked rushing offense. UT featured two solid tailbacks, the foremost of whom was senior Montario Hardesty, who rushed for over 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns. The Volunteer passing game also turned out to be surprisingly solid after a horrible started and finished 47th in the country. Jonathon Crompton’s evolution from the bane of Tennessee fans’ existence to future NFL draft pick was particularly stunning, as he finished with 2,565 passing yards and 26 touchdown tosses against only 12 interceptions. Tennessee’s offense heads into this game as a very productive unit.
Defensively, The Volunteers were excellent all year, finishing 27th in scoring at 21 points per game. Kiffin inherited a plethora of talent, highlighted by 1st team All-American safety and Thorpe Trophy winner Eric Berry. Berry anchored the Vols’ excellent showing against the pass, which finished 10th in the country and only allowed 5 touchdowns through the air, the lowest total in America! However, they were only 58th against the run, a weakness that could be a problem against Tech’s powerful ground game.
Virginia Tech continued their success under Frank Beamer with another strong season in the ACC. The Hokie Head Coach is in his 24th year at Virginia Tech, where his record is 186-92-2. With a victory, Tech would post their 6 th consecutive ten win season since joining the ACC. However, the Hokies have to overcome a hex in the city of Atlanta: They are 9-1 everywhere else but have a 0-2 record in the Capital of the South this season.
Tech was quite solid offensively, scoring 31.4 points per game to finish 28th in the country in scoring. This was driven largely by their 15th ranked rushing offense, which averaged 206 yards per game thanks to ground-churning freshman Ryan Williams, who ran for 1,538 yards and 19 touchdowns. Their passing offense was only ranked 98th in the country but Tyrod Taylor threw 13 touchdowns against only 4 picks and is also a major threat to make a play with his feet. The Hokies were also excellent in protecting the football, coughing it up only 14 times all season to finish 13th in the country.
The Virginia Tech defense is one of the country’s best year in and year out under Bud Foster and 2009 was no exception as the Hokies finished 11th in the country in scoring at 15.8 points per game. They were less stout than usual against the run this season, only finishing 52nd, but their pass defense was exceptional, finishing 6 th while only allowing 8 passing touchdowns, good for 4th in the country. The Hokies also forced 22 takeaways to contribute towards Virginia Tech’s ACC-best +8 turnover margin.
One other major factor in most bowl games is the motivation that each team brings. Tennessee missed out on the postseason last year and they will be very excited to play before a partisan crowd less than three hours from campus. Meanwhile, Tech is coming into this game with a four game winning streak and a young team that is looking towards building for the 2010 season. Don’t expect either team to have a motivation edge because both will be hyped up.
With two exceptional pass defenses that are coupled with average run defenses, expect this game to be dominated on the ground. The question is which team is going to make the plays in the running game? Both teams have a dominating tailback (Hardesty for Tennessee and Williams for Tech), both have a solid backup (Brown for UT and Oglesby for Tech) and both have established their offensive identity on the ground. However, there is one major difference between these two running games: Tech’s Taylor is one of the most mobile quarterbacks in the country and will make plays with his feet. The Hokies are also better at protecting the football, which could be a critical difference.
In the end, Virginia Tech and Tennessee are very evenly matched. Both will run the ball on offense as their primary option and that will make for a fairly fast game. However, the difference in this game is going to be the playmaking abilities of Tyrod Taylor, who will protects the football well and has the ability to hit the big play through the air and on the ground. Expect a very close game but the difference will be Taylor’s feet as Tech will win the Chik-Fil-A Bowl for the ACC for the first time in five years.
Outback Bowl Pick: Virginia Tech 23, Tennessee 17
by Matt Baxendell
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