Tennessee Volunteers (7-5, 7-5 ATS) vs. No. 11 Virginia Tech Hokies (9-3, 6-5-1 ATS) Chick-fil-A Bowl Georgia Dome Atlanta, G.A. December 31st 7:30PM Eastern
By Jay Horne of Predictem.com
Point Spread: Tennessee +4.5/Virginia Tech -4.5
The 42nd annual Chick-fil-A Bowl or formerly known as the Peach Bowl will kick off on New Year’s Eve live from the Georgia Dome in a traditional clash between the SEC and ACC. Coach Lane Kiffin and the Tennessee Volunteers ended the season with a 7-5 record in his first year and will get to take on one of the powerhouses from the ACC by way of the Virginia Tech Hokies. The Hokies finished the season at 9-3 and if not for a 5 points loss to Georgia Tech they would have been fighting for the conference championship. Instead, the Hokies will now try to take down an SEC opponent in the Chick-fil-A Bowl which would be the first time a member of the ACC has accomplished that feat since the 2004 bowl season.
Tennessee was really a late bloomer this season starting off slow, but then rallying back to win 5 of their last 7 games and salvage a respectable season. The Volunteers had some close battles with highly ranked teams failing to knock of Alabama and Florida by 12 points combined. Tennessee was able to knock off a top 25 South Carolina team, but they will go after the no. 11 Hokies in attempt to score a big win for the SEC. One thing that the Volunteers do have riding on their side is a solid defense that ranks 16th in the nation holding opponents to 308 total yards per game.
Tennessee will be going to war with one of the best traditional style rushing teams in America and it is important that their defensive line wins the battle up front. However, the strongest part of the Tennessee defense has been the secondary this season led by safety Eric Berry and company who held opponents to just 165 yards through the air ranking 10th in the country. Still, it will be the defensive line that gets the biggest test in the bowl match-up as they look to stop one of the most impressive young tailbacks in the nation in Virginia Tech’s Ryan Williams.
The entire Virginia Tech offense has found most of their success on the ground this season averaging over 206 yards per game. The Hokies have a big offensive line and a premier running back in Williams. Williams ranks 6th individually in the nation with a total of 1,538 rushing yards in his freshman season only 4 yards behind Mark Ingram of Alabama. Virginia Tech also houses a pretty exciting QB in Tyrod Taylor. Taylor is a quick runner that tries to make plays with his arm first and foremost, but also must be expected as a runner with his speed.
On the year, Taylor completed just 55% with 2,102 yards and 13 touchdowns to just 4 interceptions. When Taylor can make plays on the run and execute in the passing game, Virginia Tech is a dynamic balanced offense. The key will be for the Tennessee defense to get pressure on Taylor and not allow him to be very comfortable forcing the Hokies offense to keep the ball on the ground. If that happens, Tennessee will have a much better chance of winning the football game.
On the Volunteers offensive side of the football, they will also be up against a strong talented defense that ranks 14th in the country in Virginia Tech. However, their offense is very similar to the Hokies as well. Running back Montario Hardesty racked up over 1,306 yards this season with 12 touchdowns to lead the ground attack. Also, quarterback Jonathan Crompton as inconsistent at times but developed into a solid reliability throughout the year sort of similar to Taylor behind center for the Hokies.
The ideal situation for the Volunteers is to keep Crompton from making any mistakes when he drops back considering he has thrown 12 interceptions this season and been known to throw quite a few throughout his career. The Hokies defense will get pressure so Crompton will have to take some sacks or just throw some balls away to avoid any interceptions. However, Crompton will also have to make some plays in the ball game as well against an extremely tough Virginia Tech defense. Wide receivers Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore can provide momentum in the passing game if they can catch some balls early. Early momentum will be critical for Tennessee considering their inconsistent tendencies throughout the year. If the Volunteers start off strong, they should be able to finish strong.
Jay’s Pick - These two teams are very similar in style. I believe the defenses will shine in this game. Big plays will be far and few between as the outcome could be a nail bitter. Take the under 49.