Hokies arrived in Atlanta on Christmas night to begin preparations for the
Chick-fil-A Bowl. Tech will practice in two different locations this week
leading up to Thursday night’s game against the Tennessee Volunteers.
As is Virginia Tech’s custom, Hokie players were allowed to drive themselves
to the bowl game, which means they can be reimbursed by the NCAA for travel
expenses. No Virginia Tech players experienced problems with travel, and all
arrived safely in Atlanta.
For the first few nights in Atlanta, the players have a midnight curfew,
which will switch to 11 p.m. as the game gets closer. There are 100 Tech
players, including walk-ons and redshirts, in Atlanta for the game.
Saturday, the team practiced in the Atlanta Falcons’ indoor practice facility
at Flowery Branch, Georgia. They will also practice there Sunday before holding
all other practices inside the Georgia Dome, the site of the game. The field
turf in the Falcons’ practice facility is identical to the turf in the Georgia
Dome. In 2006, the Hokies practiced in Georgia Tech’s practice facility, and the
transition to the Georgia Dome turf was a difficult adjustment.
In their comments to the media this week, Tennessee players and coaches have
been very respectful of the Virginia Tech program, complimenting the Hokie
coaches and players and telling the media that they (the Vols) are treating the
bowl as a BCS bowl.
The Hokie coaches and players have likewise been serious in their preparation
for the bowl. After taking criticism following the 2007 Orange Bowl loss to
Kansas for not having the team properly prepared, Frank Beamer adjusted his
team’s practice schedules and philosophy for bowl games, preparing more
intensely for the 2008 Orange Bowl, which Tech won over Cincinnati. The loss is
the Bearcats’ only defeat in their last 19 games.
The Hokies and Vols have had similar bowl preparation schedules, with each
team working with their younger players for a week or so shortly after the end
of the season, then shifting to two full weeks of practice with complete squads
leading up to the bowl. In the past, Beamer had given his seniors time off
before the bowl game as a reward, but he ceased that practice last year.
In today’s practice at Flowery Branch, cornerbacks Cris Hill and Jayron
Hosley practiced at the field corner spot vacated by the academic ineligibility
of senior cornerback Stephan Virgil. In comments made to the media, Tech senior
free safety Kam Chancellor addressed the loss of Virgil, saying:
"He’s a big part of our defense so it does hurt a little, but we always
have a good recruiting class, so we’ve got some good guys behind him who are
just going to have to step up. It’s up to Cris Hill and Jayron Hosley to step up
and fill the hole that he left. (Hosley’s) a pretty laid back dude, but when it
comes to getting out there on the field, he’s as competitive as it gets. Both of
them have been getting the same amount of reps in practice, and I can see them
both getting about the same playing time at the beginning of the game."
Another key storyline of the bowl is the matchup between 69-year-old
Tennessee defensive coordinator Monte
Kiffin, whose impressive coaching resume includes 13 seasons (1996-2008) as
defensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, against 46-year-old Virginia
Tech offensive coordinator Bryan
Stinespring, who joined Virginia Tech as a graduate assistant in 1990 and
has been a full-time coach at VT since 1993. Stinespring has been Tech’s
offensive coordinator since 2002.
Kiffin’s defense will be a stiff challenge for Stinespring and the Hokie
offense, which improved greatly this year statistically. The Hokies were more
explosive behind quarterback Tyrod Taylor (2,102 yards passing, 13 TDs, 4 INTs),
tailback Ryan Williams (268 carries, 1,538 yards, 19 TDs, 5.7 ypc), and an
improved receiving corps.
Ryan Williams, who is currently ranked fifth in the nation in rushing with
128.2 yards per game, said of the Tennessee defense, "They’ve
got a really good defensive unit. Any defense that can hold Florida down has got
a lot of talent. Tyrod (Taylor) and the receivers have shown over the last few
games that they can make some plays, and that we can be very dynamic on offense.
If their defense is keyed in on stopping me, we feel like we can step up in
other aspects of the offense."
But it’s more than just Tech’s offense versus Tennessee’s defense. When asked
about playing for ACC pride against an SEC opponent, senior Tech tight end Greg
Boone didn’t hesitate to say that the game hits closer to home. "It’s
always great to be playing for your conference, but for me it’s a little more
personal. We’ve played three SEC teams since I’ve been here — Georgia, LSU and
Alabama — and gone 0-3. As a senior, I really want to go out with a win."
Virginia Tech’s string of futility against the SEC goes further back than
Boone’s career. The Hokies lost the 2004 Sugar Bowl to Auburn, 16-13. Tech’s
last victory against an SEC opponent was 2002, when the Hokies knocked off LSU
26-8 in Lane Stadium.