- The Washington Times - Friday, December 29, 2006

ATLANTA, Ga. — Facing college football’s top-rated defense is a daunting proposition for any offense, but Georgia will start a truly transitional unit against No. 14 Virginia Tech’s established defense in tomorrow’s Chick-fil-A Bowl.

For a second consecutive season, Virginia Tech (10-2) leads the nation in total defense, having shut out four opponents and allowing a little more than 85 rushing yards a game in its last seven outings.

“We have the utmost respect for them defensively,” Georgia offensive coordinator Neil Callaway said. “They play extremely hard. They’re a very physical defensive football team. I think their two techniques inside are very big, strong, physical guys. The two ends outside are very athletic and do a great job rushing the quarterback. So we’ll have our hands full offensively.”

The biggest question for Georgia (8-4) this season has been at quarterback. Matthew Stafford, an 18-year-old freshman, has thrown 12 interceptions to just six touchdown passes. He first took over for injured senior Joe Tereshinski in the second game of the season and ultimately took over as the full-time starter after the Bulldogs’ Oct. 14 home loss to Vanderbilt.

“When he first started playing, the number of turnovers were terrible,” Callaway said. “I mean, we were turning it over four, five times a game and really probably cost us a couple of ball games even though everybody’s out there playing. But the last two games he did outstanding, took care of the football, still made the plays being very competitive but took care of the football.”

While Stafford’s play has improved, Georgia’s offensive line has been plagued with suspensions and injuries. Only seven offensive linemen will be available tomorrow, including senior tackle Michael Turner, who reportedly missed practice Tuesday because of an illness.

“We have six scholarship linemen and a walk-on that are here ready to play,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “That’s all we have in the program right now.”

Callaway, who accepted the coaching job at Alabama-Birmingham, doesn’t expect that to be much of a departure from the regular season situation.

“One or two of them have been missing for this, that or the other, so it’s kind of what it’s always been,” he said. “People make a big deal out of it, and obviously we’d like to have the depth, but you only play with five. And you know pro ball, they generally carry seven or eight guys.”

Richt said current recruiting efforts are targeted at providing some relief for the line, which loses three seniors, but the Bulldogs have not hired a new offensive coordinator yet. Callaway will continue to coach in the bowl game.

“It’s just a difficult thing to do as far as being focused on two different programs,” Callaway said. “So we made a decision early on that the offensive staff along with Coach Richt would really implement the game plan for this game and I would just be … coaching the offensive line and taking care of that part of it.”

The Bulldogs’ biggest challenge with limited numbers has been running regular practices without backups to offer a break, Richt said. Virginia Tech’s defense certainly will take advantage if those linemen tire early in the game.

“We go into the game thinking and knowing that we’re going to wear anybody down,” Hokies junior linebacker Xavier Adibi said. “That’s just something that we really concentrate on as a defense, just wearing the offense down.”

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