SEC: Chick-fil-A Bowl 2009 bowls

Instant analysis: Virginia Tech 37, Tennessee 14

December, 31, 2009
A quick look at Virginia Tech’s 37-14 victory over Tennessee on Thursday in the Chick-fil-A Bowl:

Ryan Williams
Dale Zanine/US PresswireVirginia Tech running back Ryan Williams rushed for 117 yards and two touchdowns against Tennessee.
How the game was won: Virginia Tech dominated the second half, outscoring Tennessee 20-0 after halftime. The Vols couldn’t tackle Virginia Tech freshman running back Ryan Williams, who rolled up 79 yards in the third quarter alone before getting hurt. That’s after Tennessee held him to 38 yards on 17 carries in the first half. The Vols generally unraveled in the second half, and no play defined that any more than a wide-open Denarius Moore dropping a sure touchdown pass on a deep ball with just under 13 minutes to play in the game.

Turning point: Virginia Tech broke a 14-14 tie just before halftime with a Matt Waldron 21-yard field goal as time expired. It looked like the Vols would go into halftime with all the momentum after fighting back from a 14-0 deficit. But with 18 seconds to play in the first half, Tyrod Taylor uncorked a 63-yard pass to Jarrett Boykin down to the Tennessee 4. The game clock ran out on the field, but the play was reviewed, and the officials ruled that Virginia Tech called timeout with two seconds remaining. That left enough time for Waldron to kick the field goal and steal the momentum away from the Vols.

Stat of the game: The Hokies rushed for 230 yards, which was the third time in the past five games that the Vols have given up at least 200 yards on the ground.

Unsung hero: Even though he had the early interception, Tennessee senior quarterback Jonathan Crompton came back and played courageously the rest of the way in his final game.

What it means: The Vols (7-6) were looking to put an exclamation mark on their first season under Lane Kiffin. Instead, they put more of a question mark on a season that was highlighted by quality losses and moral victories. Tennessee played respectably in hard-fought losses to Alabama and Florida, improved significantly on offense after a dismal 2008 season and had a defensive stretch during the middle of the season when it played as well as anybody in the league. But in the end, this season will be remembered more for what Kiffin did and said off the field than anything the Vols accomplished on the field.

Second guessing: What was Tennessee’s coaching staff thinking at the end of the first half? In that situation, there’s no excuse for having the defensive backs in any position where a receiver can get behind them.

Chick-fil-A Bowl preview

December, 30, 2009
Breaking down the Chick-fil-A Bowl on Thursday (ESPN, 7:30 p.m. ET) between Virginia Tech (9-3) and Tennessee (7-5):

WHO TO WATCH: Tennessee junior safety Eric Berry has been one of the best players in the country for the past two years and won the Thorpe Award this season as the top defensive back in the country. Under Monte Kiffin, Berry has been used a little differently than he was a year ago when he intercepted seven passes. He’s played a lot closer to the line of scrimmage in more of a linebacker role, and led all SEC defensive backs with 54 solo tackles. The reality is that he can play anywhere you want him to. The Vols will use him in man coverage. They will blitz him. They will let him roam. It's fitting this game is in Atlanta. Berry is from just a few miles down the road in Fairburn, Ga., and this will almost certainly be his final college game. He's expected to announce afterward that he's turning pro.

WHAT TO WATCH: Virginia Tech’s reputation on special teams is well-earned. Year in and year out, the Hokies are as good as anyone in the kicking game. Tennessee, meanwhile, struggled all season to cover kicks and was even worse when it came to getting kicks off. The Vols had four field goal attempts blocked (including one that would have beaten Alabama), not to mention an extra point and punt blocked. On top of it all, Tennessee lost its special teams coach, Eddie Gran, to Florida State. Lane Kiffin said it would be a game-time decision on who handles the Vols’ place-kicking. In other words, the Vols hope it doesn't come down to a kick.

WHY TO WATCH: The Vols (7-5) are trying to make their most convincing statement yet that they’re on their way back. Knocking off the No. 11 Hokies would be an impressive way to end Year 1 under Kiffin, who’s made a lot of noise off the field and created a lot of headlines with his mouth. But his team also played solid football for much of the season and was in every game it played with the exception of the 42-17 blowout loss to Ole Miss on Nov. 14. Kiffin and his staff appear to be recruiting at a torrid pace, and several high-profile prospects are either committed or have shown interest in the Vols. Ending the season with a win over a nationally ranked foe and getting to eight wins would be a huge momentum boost heading into the offseason and give Kiffin even more “street cred.”

PREDICTION: Both teams have strong running games and the kind of running backs who can take over the game in the second half. Senior Montario Hardesty has 1,306 rushing yards for the Vols, while freshman Ryan Williams has 1,538 yards for the Hokies. Giving Tennessee defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin a month to prepare for a team is never a good thing, but Virginia Tech’s edge in special teams is difficult to ignore. Mobile quarterbacks have also given the Vols more problems, and Virginia Tech’s Tyrod Taylor has excellent wheels. After four straight losses to SEC teams, the Hokies are due. Virginia Tech 28, Tennessee 21.



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