ATLANTA – Virginia Tech owned the second half of the Chick-fil-A Bowl this time around.
Unlike the last time, when the Hokies let a halftime lead slip away in a tough loss to Georgia, they dominated the final 30 minutes this go-round by using Ryan Williams’ rushing and yet another powerful second-half defensive performance to roll past Tennessee 37-14 in front of 73,777 fans at the Georgia Dome.
The win capped an amazing run to end the season for the Hokies, who closed out the campaign by winning their final five games to finish with a 10-3 record. Tech now has won 10 games in each of the past six seasons – something only Texas can claim.
This year’s team also became the first Tech team ever to win back-to-back bowl games. The Hokies moved to 8-9 in bowl games under head coach Frank Beamer.
“The players and the coaches deserve a lot of credit for bringing the team back in that second half when we lost the momentum in the first half,” Beamer said. “The way we came back and won this thing says a lot about our players. We won four games after things didn’t look so good. We had two tough losses [Georgia Tech and North Carolina] and then we come down here and beat a really good Tennessee team.
“It’s us and Texas that have won 10 games the past six years and that’s special. The fact that we finally won back-to-back bowl games is special. And hopefully, we’ll be ranked in the top 10 when all the playing is done.”
The Hokies got outstanding performances all the way around, led by a dominating defense that allowed no points in the second half for the fifth straight game. Tech gave up just 112 yards in the second half – with 43 of that coming in the Vols final drive with the outcome well in hand.
For the game, the Hokies held Tennessee to just 240 yards of offense and sacked Vols quarterback Jonathan Crompton six times. He had been sacked 12 times all season.
“Today, it was just a great team effort,” said whip linebacker Cody Grimm, who was named the bowl’s defensive player of the game after having seven tackles – three for a loss – and one sack. “We didn’t accomplish everything we wanted to this year, but to go out with a win over an SEC school that was hot at the time … and not only winning, but how we did it. We dominated the game, I thought. You can’t say enough about the team.”
One also can’t say enough about Williams, who rushed for 117 yards on 25 carries and scored two touchdowns before leaving in the third quarter with an ankle injury. He also broke Tech’s single-season rushing record of 1,647 yards set by former tailback Kevin Jones in 2003. Williams finished the season with 1,655 yards.
The redshirt freshman from Manassas, Va., spearheaded Tech’s second-half effort. With the Hokies clinging to a 17-14 lead, Williams carried the ball eight straight times on the Hokies’ first possession of the second half, including runs of 21 and 32 yards. On the ninth play of the drive, Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor gave the Hokies some breathing room, scoring on a 1-yard quarterback sneak that gave Tech a 24-14 lead with 8:42 left in the third quarter.
The Hokies went on to score on their next three offensive possessions. Their only offensive possession in the second half that didn’t result in a score was the final one in which Taylor took a knee to run out the clock.
“Everyone was just doing their job,” said Williams, who was the offensive player of the game. “When everyone does their job on the field, then things like that can happen.
“It was just execution, from the offensive line to the receivers. When we execute like that, I think we can stay with the best defenses out there.”
On Tech’s second possession, steady kicker Matt Waldron boomed a career-long 46-yard field goal to give Tech a 27-14 lead. The Hokies then put the game away on their third possession of the second half, driving 80 yards in eight plays. David Wilson, who split carries with Josh Oglesby once Williams went down, scored on a 4-yard run to give Tech a commanding 34-14 lead.
Waldron’s 22-yard field goal with 2:38 left in the game accounted for the final score.
Oglesby and Wilson accounted for 67 yards of Tech’s 229-yard rushing day. Tech’s offense showed excellent balance, as Taylor completed 10-of-17 for 209 yards, with an interception. Jarrett Boykin caught four passes for 120 yards, including a 63-yarder at the end of the first half that set up a Waldron field goal at the buzzer.
Crompton paced the Tennessee attack by throwing for 235 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. Montario Hardesty rushed for just 39 yards, and the Vols, as a team, finished with just five yards rushing, thanks to those six sacks.
“We’ve got a lot of talent coming back,” Taylor said, looking ahead to 2010. “This is certainly a great confidence builder, winning this bowl game.”