Dawgs' D wants to show they are good, too

Willie Martinez

ATLANTA – At this point, with the Chick-fil-A Bowl set to kick off at 8 p.m. today in the Georgia Dome, most every Georgia fan knows all about Virginia Tech's defense.

The No. 14 Hokies, who play the Bulldogs tonight in a game televised by ESPN, are ranked No. 1 in the country in scoring defense and total defense. Like the fans, Georgia's defensive players know that well. They can't help it.

"I know that stat because I read it and see it all the time, and I'm sure they see it also," defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said. "They sit there and listen to it. They know Virginia Tech is awesome on defense."

Georgia would like to show tonight that it isn't half-bad either. The Bulldogs (8-4) also are a top 10 defense, at least in yards allowed, where they are ninth in the country (264 ypg). Georgia is 22nd in the nation in scoring defense (17.1 ppg).

"If Virginia Tech had the No. 1 offense, then I would want to go out there and have a great game," Georgia fullback Brannan Southerland said. "I know our defense feels the same way. They want to go out there and show what kind of defense they are. By no means are they some crappy defense."

The confluence of the two defenses, combined with the fact that Georgia is starting a freshman quarterback and Virginia Tech a sophomore, convinced Las Vegas odds-makers to set the over/under for this game (the prediction for total points scored by both teams) at 40.5, the lowest of any bowl game this season.

However, stout defenses don't always translate into low scores, Georgia coach Mark Richt said.

"Defense creates touchdowns and points too, special teams does," Richt said. "You can get a punt block for a touchdown, a punt return for a touchdown, interceptions for touchdowns. There are a lot of ways to score, and defense is a big part of it and special teams is a big part of it. I wouldn't be surprised to see a lot of points. I'd be surprised to see the offenses running up and down the field all day."

Not many people have run up and down the field on the Hokies. They've given up 29 points in the last six games, and their defense has scored 14 points while giving up six in the last three games.

Like the Bulldogs, the Hokies' defense had a swoon during the season, allowing 60 points in back-to-back losses to Georgia Tech and Boston College. The performances led to Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster taking away the lunch pail he uses to symbolize the team's work-a-day approach to the game.

The Hokies earned the lunch box back later in the season, Foster said this week, but the team declined to take it for fear of jinxing its recent run. In fact, the steel box that Foster traditionally gives his unit's player of the week didn't make the bowl trip for the first time since it started being used prior to the 1995 season.

For the season, the Hokies are allowing 9.3 points and 221 yards per game.

"It's the expectations that (Foster) brings," Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "When those guys sign there, they know what is expected of them on the defensive side of the ball and that's to play physical and to basically shut people down and that's what they've been doing."

Virginia Tech is paced by linebackers Vince Hall and Xavier Adibi, who finished first and 14th, respectively, in the ACC in tackles. Hall had 115 by himself.

"Vince, he has a knack," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "I don't know how fast he is, but he's run down some people and you say, ‘How'd he do that?' Then he'll jump in a hole and make a tackle and you're like, ‘Why'd he do that?' He's just got good football instincts."

Speed is the name of the game for all the Hokie defenders, Georgia center Nick Jones said.

"They kind of remind us of our defense, they're built for speed," he said.

Tonight, Georgia wants to remind people of Virginia Tech's defense.

"Anybody who is an athlete likes challenges, and I'm pretty sure they're excited about the challenge of playing the No. 1 defense in the country," Adibi said, "and we're ready for it."

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