2007 Gator Bowl - Ga Tech vs. West Virginia

Posted Dec 14, 2006

2007 Toyota Gator Bowl - Georgia Tech vs. West Virginia

West Virginia (10-2) vs. Georgia Tech (9-4)

Jan. 1st, 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS

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Gator Bowl Player Profile: Georgia Tech RB Tashard Choice team bowl history and more

It's the Mountaineer running game vs. the Georgia Tech run defense. It's the Big East trying to show up the bigger, badder ACC. It's West Virginia trying for its second straight 11-win season, while Georgia Tech is trying to exorcise the demons of the final two games that turned a good season ugly.

After struggling to finish the season and with all the stories about how starting QB Reggie Ball and top defensive back Kenny Scott were academically ineligible, it seems to many like there's no reason for the Yellow Jackets to even make the trip to face a West Virginia team good enough to have been playing in the BCS somewhere.

National Rankings
Georgia Tech West Virginia
Total Offense
78th  320.23 ypg 5th  463 ypg
Total Defense
20th  289.69 ypg 53rd  324.17 ypg
Scoring Offense
57th  24.15 ppg 3rd  38.92 ppg
Scoring Defense
20th  16.85 ppg 46th   20.58 ppg
Run Offense
34th  162.62 ypg 2nd  302.33 ypg
Run Defense
11th  88.92 ypg 9th  87.75 ypg
Pass Offense
100th  157.62 ypg 98th  160.67 ypg
Pass Defense
62nd  200.77 ypg 100th  236.42 ypg
Turnover Margin
36th  0.38 32nd  0.42
Georgia Tech
Notre Dame L 14-10
Samford W 38-6
Troy W 35-20
Virginia W 24-7
at Va Tech W 38-27
W 27-23
at Clemson L 31-7
W 30-23
at NC St W 31-23
at N Carolina W 7-0
Duke W 49-21
at Georgia L 15-12
ACC Championship
Wake Forest L 9-6
West Virginia
Marshall W 42-10
East Wash W 52-3
Maryland W 45-24
at E Car W 27-10
at Miss St W 42-14
Syracuse W 41-17
at Conn. W 37-11
at Louisville W 44-34
Cincinnati W 42-24
at Pitt W 45-27
South Florida L 24-19
Rutgers W 41-39 3OT
Position Ratings
relative to each other
GT 5 highest
1 lowest
2 Quarterbacks 5
3.5 RBs 5
5 Receivers 4
3.5 O Line 4.5
4 D Line 3.5
4 Linebackers 3.5
3 Secondary 2.5
4 Spec Teams 4
4 Coaching 5

Even with all the problems, all the criticisms of the coaching staff, and all the negativity, it's easy to forget that Tech was never that bad losing on the road to Georgia in a 15-12 battle and to Wake Forest in the ACC Championship. The Demon Deacons did something right to get to Jacksonville in the first place, while losing in Athens by three shouldn't ever be something to hang your head over.

This has been a good, sound Tech team all season long that lost three games (throw the opener against Notre Dame into the mix) that it probably should've won, and got erased by Clemson 31-7 on the way to a spot in the ACC title game. The defense has been among the best in the nation through all the other inconsistencies, and the special teams have been good. The run defense, outside of the Clemson game, has been a rock, and West Virginia almost exclusively runs the ball, so this might be a better game than expected.

The Mountaineers were dangerously close to the national championship losing at Louisville in one of the best games of the year and in a stunner to South Florida to ruin Big East title hopes. As good as they've been, and as much respect as they've received after shocking Georgia in the 2006 Sugar Bowl, they're still looking for the type of win that once and for all firmly establishes the program as a national player. Wins over Maryland, Mississippi State, Pitt, and a triple overtime thriller against Rutgers isn't quite enough.

Remember, before last year's bowl season, West Virginia was known as the biggest bowl dog in the pen losing 11 of the previous 12, and everyone seems to have forgotten how it almost blew the Sugar Bowl needing a fake punt to finally put the Dawgs away. In other words, West Virginia is still fighting history.

Recent history isn't exactly on the side of this being a classic. The Gator Bowl has been among the worst of the season over the last several years with just two of the last 19 decided by a touchdown or less, while the Yellow Jackets were awful against Utah in last season's Emerald Bowl losing 38-10. With Auburn vs. Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl, Tennessee vs. Penn State in the Outback and Arkansas vs. Wisconsin in the Capital One all going at the same time, this bowl might get lost in the shuffle. Even so, this takes a back seat to few other bowls in terms of star power.

Players to watch: Georgia Tech WR Calvin Johnson is one of the top five pro prospects in college football and a near-lock to be a multi-millionaire this time next season. He has it all with blazing speed, height, strength, a great attitude, and hands that seem to make footballs stick to them.

C.J. caught only two passes for 13 yards against Georgia, and while he leads the team with 67 catches for 1,016 yards and 13 touchdowns, he was a decoy far too often when Reggie Ball was throwing. Now with Taylor Bennett under center, he might get more passes his way.

Bennett's a big left-hander with a far better arm than Ball. While he doesn't have Ball's mobility, he can move around a little bit and isn't going to be a sitting duck fort the West Virginia pass rush. His job will be to hand off to Tashard Choice, throw it to Calvin Johnson, not turn the ball over, and throw it to Calvin Johnson again. This is his big chance to show he deserves to be the main man going into next year.

Of course, West Virginia is all about its unstoppable two-man tandem of QB Pat White and RB Steve Slaton, who've each endured their share of bumps and bruises throughout the season to continue to be two of the nation's most electrifying players.

White struggled through a high ankle sprain late in the year and missed the win over Rutgers, but he still finished with 1,074 rushing yards and a whipping 17 touchdown passes. He's a better passer than he gets credit for, but he's not exactly Peyton Manning if the offense relies on him to start winging it around. He's unstoppable around the goal line and even better when he gets in space. If he's hurting, Jarrett Brown is capable enough to see a little bit of work.

Slaton belongs in the NFL yesterday, but he'll be back for at least one more season as the premier home-run hitting runner in college football. Big, fast, and elusive, it's his job to wait, wait, wait, and then zoom though the hole where he goes from zero to sixty in a heartbeat. While known for his running averaging over seven yards a pop, he's underrated for his receiving skills with nice hands. When he gets the ball on the move, it's over.

West Virginia will win if... Bennett stinks. Oh sure, the Yellow Jackets have won before despite shoddy quarterback play, but the entire game changes if Bennett isn't at least average. If he doesn't complete a few deep balls early to force the West Virginia safeties to back off so Choice can have some room to move, the running game might be non-existent. The same holds true for the Mountaineers. White has to be effective right off the bat with a few throws to keep the linebackers off the line. West Virginia's running game is all about creating space, but Tech has the back seven to fill the gaps in a hurry. Slaton and White need a head of steam to make their cuts and moves, and as Clemson proved, the Yellow Jackets can be run on if ...

Georgia Tech will win if... they don't miss a lot of tackles. They only allowed more than 164 rushing yards once this year, to Clemson, and that was because the back seven took too many wrong angles, was often out of position, and didn't keep short gains from turning into back-breaking big plays. Tech can't get involved in a shootout, and as long as it does what South Florida did and keep Slaton's production to a minimum be being patient, not overpursuing, and using its speed to turn runs inside for the safeties to clean up, it shouldn't have to.

What will happen: Never dismiss a team with nothing to lose. The Georgia Tech defense is among the best West Virginia has faced all season long, and the quarterback issues are actually going to be a positive. Calvin Johnson will have his moments, and Bennett won't be that bad, but the Mountaineers are relatively healthy and should be a step quicker and more precise than they were at the end of the year. This won't be the blowout many are expecting.

Line: West Virginia -7 ... CFN Prediction: West Virginia
26 ... Georgia Tech 17