Posted: Tuesday January 3, 2006 3:28AM; Updated: Tuesday January 3, 2006 3:44AM
West Virginia's Steve Slaton eclipsed Tony Dorsett's 1978 Sugar Bowl rushing record, which also came against Georgia.
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Have questions or feedback? E-mail Cory McCartney.
ATLANTA -- No Miami. No Boston College. No Virginia Tech. The days of the Big East hanging with the power conferences were supposed to be over, with Pitt's embarrassing loss to Utah in last year's Fiesta Bowl a symbol of the new reality of the "Big Least."
Just ask Georgia about that one.
With a 38-35 win over the Dawgs in the Sugar Bowl, Steve Slaton, Pat White and West Virginia showed that not only is their conference not the laughing stock many believed, but a young, electric group of Mountaineers are ready to be major players -- and maybe even national title contenders. But they're still not ready to ditch the Rock of Gibraltar-size chip on their collective shoulders.
"[This win] gives West Virginia a lot of confidence, but I still don't think anybody is going to give us any respect," said White, a redshirt freshman who threw for 170 yards and a touchdown and ran for 77 yards.
All Rodney Dangerfield acts aside, this wasn't just any win over a SEC opponent. The Mountaineers were journeying into the mouth of the lion, playing Georgia in a de-facto home game for the Dawgs. Add in that a West Virginia team that runs 75 percent of the time was going against a rush defense that just happens to be one of the best in the country, and this was going to be another embarrassment.
West Virginia ran for 382 yards, including freshman Slaton's Sugar Bowl-record 204 yards and three touchdowns, and 82 more yards from bruising fullback Owen Schmitt. Georgia came in allowing just 124 yards per game on the ground.
"Those guys are hard to tackle," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "Even when you get them in your sights and you call the right defense, and you get guys in position, you've still got to get them down."
It was a mammoth upset for the Big East, but the win was anything but perfect -- or dominating. The Bulldogs seemed to finally wake up after falling behind 28-0, and West Virginia could only muster a 27-yard Pat McAfee field goal as Georgia clawed within three points, 31-28, at the end of three quarters.
But game MVP Slaton finally put the game out of reach, scoring his second 52-yard touchdown after Georgia had pinned the Mountaineers on their own five-yard line off a 51-yard punt from Gordon Ely-Kelso.
"I think [that run] gave us a big spark for our whole team and our fans," said Slaton, who broke the 1,000-yard mark on the season in the first half. "That little spark that we needed gave us a little big more oomph."