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Vols, Hokies set for Chick-fil-A Bowl

Photo by Scott Chancey

Photo by Scott Chancey

ATLANTA -- One score really got the attention of Virginia Tech's coaches as they prepared for tonight's matchup with Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Alabama 12, Tennessee 10.

The Vols' narrow loss at No. 1 Alabama on Oct. 24 impressed Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring. Alabama opened its season with a 34-24 win over the Hokies but couldn't reach the end zone against Tennessee.

"Alabama managed four field goals," Stinespring said. "There it is right there. You understand what's in front of you."

Virginia Tech returns to the Georgia Dome, the site of the loss to Alabama, to face Tennessee, another Southeastern Conference team.

The No. 12 Hokies (9-3) are favored against the unranked Vols (7-5), who have won four of their last five games.

Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said the Vols developed into an elite team at the end of the season.

"I go back to the final results. It's not where you start, it's where you end up," Beamer said Wednesday. "Anyone that looked at it would say this team's right at the top of the SEC. They have won four of their last five.

"We played Alabama and I saw how they played Alabama, and they took it right to them. ... The bottom line is that we're playing one of the best, if not the best, teams in the SEC, and we understand that."

Beamer also was impressed by Tennessee's strong play in its 23-13 loss at Florida.

"You look at how they played the good teams," Beamer said. "They crank it up."

The Hokies also finished strong, winning their last four games.

The bowl matches two of college football's most respected defensive coordinators.

Bud Foster's Virginia Tech defense allowed no second-half points in the four consecutive wins and ranks 14th in the nation in total yards allowed.

Monte Kiffin, Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin's father, has a 16th-ranked defense led by star safety Eric Berry. The Vols are 10th in the nation against the pass.

Stinespring said he's motivated by the matchup against Monte Kiffin's defense, and said facing Foster's unit in practice is good preparation.

"Every day when you hit the field, when you're going against Bud and the caliber of defense he puts on the field every single day, you better bring the 'A' game," Stinespring said. "You better prepare yourself for a tough day at the office and play as well as you can play or it's not going to go well for you. It's the same way when you get ready to play Tennessee and Monte Kiffin.

"It's a great defense, a great defensive coordinator. He's proven it over the test of time, the same way Bud has. You know what you're going to get. You're going to line up against one of the best defenses in the country, as we do in Blacksburg. It excites you."

Each team has a running back on the verge of setting a school record for yards rushing in a season.

Tennessee senior Montario Hardesty needs 156 yards to set the Vols' single-season mark. Virginia Tech freshman Ryan Williams needs only 109 yards for the Hokies' record.

Williams' 1,538 yards rushing is the eighth-most by a freshman in NCAA history. He won Atlantic Coast Conference rookie of the year honors and scored 20 touchdowns to set a conference record for a freshman.

Monte Kiffin can't focus only on Williams. Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor passed for 2,102 yards this season with 13 touchdowns and four interceptions.

"They're very, very balanced," Monte Kiffin said. "That quarterback, I just think he's special. ... Tyrod Taylor has really come a long way. He's really a seasoned veteran quarterback. He's a leader out there now. He's very confident in what he does."

Hardesty has 1,306 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns. He finished the regular season with a career-best 179 yards and three TDs against Kentucky.

Tennessee's starting offensive line includes four seniors. Quarterback Jonathan Crompton, who threw for 26 touchdowns, also is a senior.

"We've got our hands full from a defensive standpoint," Foster said. "I think this is one of the better offensive lines that we've faced this year as well as one of the outstanding tailbacks in college football today."

Foster, in his 23rd season at Virginia Tech, said Monte Kiffin is "one of the legends of all of football."

The two sat together at a dinner for assistant coaches on Tuesday night.

"That's a lot of knowledge right there, at lot of good coaching at that table," Beamer said.

The 69-year-old Kiffin said he often is asked about working for his son.

"I say he's the head coach and I'm the assistant, so I call him 'Coach,"' Kiffin said. "As long as he calls me 'dad' we'll get along fine."

The matchup produced the bowl's 13th consecutive sellout.