ATLANTA — Whether they were in giant costumes, riding inflatable blimps or parachuting from the rafters, cows were omnipresent in the Georgia Dome for Thursday night’s Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Appropriate, since Virginia Tech’s aggressive running offense turned Tennessee into ground chuck.
Ryan Williams set three school and Atlantic Coast Conference records in a 37-14 victory. The Hokies severely outgained the Vols on the ground, rolling up 229 net rushing yards while allowing just 5 for Tennessee. That total was significantly affected by six sacks of Jonathan Crompton, the last of which led to him exiting the Georgia Dome on a stretcher wearing a neck brace.
The Hokies (10-3) also held Tennessee (7-6) scoreless in a half for the first time during Lane Kiffin’s tenure as Volunteers coach.
“Very disappointed in the outcome today,” Kiffin said. “For whatever reason, we didn’t play well.”
Kiffin stressed concern about his team’s lack of focus throughout the Vols’ week of workouts in Atlanta.
“You could tell that I was not pleased with our practices down here,” Kiffin said. “We need to go get some more players and find a special teams coach.:
In a bowl season that’s seen several underdogs impress, this was one matchup that went as expected.
Virginia Tech played like the 11th-ranked team in the country. Conversely, Tennessee played like an unranked squad that lost five times in the regular season.
Named the outstanding offensive player of the game, Williams finished with 117 yards and two touchdowns, both in the first half. His second TD, from 6 yards, set ACC records for total touchdowns (22) and rushing touchdowns (21) in a single season. Williams also broke Kevin Jones’ single-season Tech rushing record. His effort was highlighted by the Hokies’ opening drive of the second half, when he ran the ball on seven of eight plays for 70 total yards.
“When I see green, I take advantage of it,” Williams said. “Everybody just blocked and executed, from the offensive line to the wide receivers. When we can execute well, we can stay with the best defenses out there.”
The Hokies completely dominated the first quarter. After 15 minutes of football, Tennessee had 13 yards of offense, and Crompton had completed one pass for negative yardage.
After Williams’ second TD, the Vols did show signs of life. A 40-yard bomb from Crompton to Denarius Moore sparked a UT scoring drive in which the Vols’ fifth-year senior QB completed 4 of 5 passes for 75 yards.
It was the high moment for Crompton, who otherwise limped to an 11-of-19 effort for 183 yards with a short TD strike to Moore and was harassed all day by the Tech defense.
The UT quarterback took his share of big hits—whether it was a blindside blow from airborne cornerback Jayron Hosley, or Dorian Porch throwing Crompton for a 14-yard loss on Tennessee’s last offensive play.
Crompton was taken to the hospital as a precautionary measure. The Knoxville News-Sentinel reported Crompton exhibited concussion-like symptoms in the locker room.
“We were ready for everything. You’ve got to give them credit,” UT right tackle Aaron Douglas said. “They’ve got a great front. We fought all game. We just didn’t get some breaks.”
Tech’s consistent pass rush led Kiffin to dial down his play-calling, especially on third downs.
“We gave up six sacks; I didn’t feel like breaking a bowl record and giving up 12,” the coach said.
Hardesty entered the bowl in pursuit of his own share of history, but his 24 yards rushing fell well short of the 158 he needed to surpass Travis Stephens to become the Vols’ single-season record holder. He still had his moments, though.
Hardesty punched in Tennessee’s first TD, shedding a tackle by Tech defensive lineman Cordarrow Thompson who appeared to have wrapped up the Vol co-captain. UT’s standout tailback also set up his team’s second score, taking a short pass from a harried Crompton and dashing 47 yards to get pushed out just shy of the goal line.
At that juncture, Tennessee seemingly had all the momentum. But it wouldn’t last.
Virginia Tech got the ball back with nine seconds remaining, and nimble QB Tyrod Taylor promptly heaved a 63-yard bomb to Jarrett Boykin. Time appeared to expire, but the officials put two seconds back on the clock—time for Matt Waldron to boot a 21-yard field goal and put the Hokies back in front.
“I knew that there was time left looking at the clock when Boykin made the catch,” Taylor said. “It just surprised me that they were playing prevent defense and he was wide open down the middle.”
After that, it was all Virginia Tech. The Hokies rolled up 225 yards of offense in the second half, while limiting UT to 116 yards.
Cody Grimm had one of the Hokies’ five sacks among three tackles for loss. He earned outstanding defensive player honors.
Taylor finished 10 of 17 for 209 yards.
Janzen Jackson intercepted Taylor to give the Vols possession at midfield prior to their second touchdown.
Virginia Tech broke a four-year losing streak for the ACC in this bowl matchup. Miami was the last team from the league to win here, working over Florida 27-10 in 2004.
How certain was victory for Tech? The Hokies gave coach Frank Beamer his Gatorade shower when 2:30 still remained in the game.