ATLANTA (AP) -- Georgia had the home-field advantage. West
Virginia had the chip on its shoulder.
Steve Slaton rushed for a record 204 yards and the No. 11
Mountaineers gave a much-needed boost to the beleaguered Big East,
upsetting eighth-ranked Georgia 38-35 Monday night in the first
Nokia Sugar Bowl played outside of New Orleans.
"I think we took to heart some of the criticism of our league
and the fact that no one was predicting us to win," West Virginia
coach Rich Rodriguez said. "Basically, we were playing in their
home environment, their home state."
West Virginia (11-1) stunned all those red-clad fans at the
Georgia Dome by jumping to a 28-0 lead by the opening minute of the
second quarter. The Bulldogs (10-3) rallied, twice closing within a
field goal in the second half, but they couldn't finish one of the
greatest comebacks in bowl history.
Give most of the credit to Slaton, who wasn't even the
Mountaineers' best freshman runner in fall camp and didn't crack
the starting lineup until the sixth game of the season. Georgia
certainly had no answer for the speedy back, who squirted through
big holes and left defenders such as All-American safety Greg Blue
in the dust on a pair of 52-yard touchdown runs.
Slaton scored three touchdowns and eclipsed the previous Sugar
Bowl rushing record, a 202-yard performance by Pitt's Tony Dorsett
in a national championship-clinching victory over Georgia in 1977.
"It was just our speed," Slaton said. "They couldn't match up
The Mountaineers saved their biggest surprise for the end.
Georgia was poised to get the ball back when West Virginia dropped
back to punt on fourth-and-6 at the Bulldogs 48. Phil Brady hauled
in the long snap but took off running, gaining 10 yards on the fake
and a game-clinching first down.
"We were definitely playing for a return," Georgia coach Mark
Richt said. "We didn't think they would do that. Give them a lot
of credit. It takes a lot of nerve to do that."
The last of Slaton's touchdowns gave the Mountaineers a
seemingly comfortable 38-28 lead with 8½ minutes to go. D.J.
Shockley brought Georgia back with his third touchdown pass, a
43-yarder to Bryan McClendon with 5:33 left, but never got his
hands on the ball again.
The teams combined for 1,003 yards, much of it coming in a wild
first half that ended with the Mountaineers holding a 31-21 lead.
"West Virginia did a heck of a job jumping on us," Richt said.
"The only consolation is we didn't lay down and die."
The 72nd Sugar Bowl was shifted to Atlanta after Hurricane
Katrina slammed into New Orleans, flooding the Big Easy and leaving
the Superdome in no shape to host a Pop Warner game, much less a
While poignant, the Sugar was the least heralded of the BCS
bowls, a distant fourth to the Fiesta matchup between Notre Dame
and Ohio State, the Joe Paterno-vs.-Bobby Bowden showdown at the
Orange and, of course, the national championship game between No. 1
Southern Cal and No. 2 Texas at the Rose Bowl.
But the Fiesta -- a 34-20 romp for Ohio State -- didn't come close
on the excitement meter. And both the Orange and Rose will be
hard-pressed to produce a game this thrilling.
West Virginia also did its part to stymie criticism of the Big
East. OK, so the league isn't as strong since Miami and Virginia
Tech bolted to the Atlantic Coast Conference, but the Mountaineers
proved they're one of the best teams in the country.
They certainly came out with something to prove, facing the
champion of the powerful Southeastern Conference just 75 miles from
its Athens campus.
"I think West Virginia was extremely excited," Richt said.
"They brought a little more emotion in the beginning."
The Mountaineers, who had lost 11 of their last 12 bowl games,
jumped on Georgia with two touchdowns apiece by Slaton and Darius
Slaton showed his speed on the first of his 52-yard runs, which
capped West Virginia's opening possession. His other first-half
score came on an 18-yard burst through a tiny hole, the freshman
prancing across the goal line in front of Blue.
Reynaud caught a 3-yard pass from Pat White, then caught the
Bulldogs off guard on a 13-yard reverse that left all but a couple
of defenders running the wrong way.
But Georgia didn't fold.
Kregg Lumpkin got the Bulldogs on the scoreboard with a 34-yard
touchdown run, sparking a little life in the mostly Georgia crowd.
They were roaring by the time the teams trotted to the locker room,
having cut the deficit to a more manageable 10 points.
Thomas Brown had a 52-yard touchdown run for the Bulldogs,
getting loose after appearing stuffed at the line by the
West Virginia kept the big plays rolling when fullback Owen
Schmitt, a transfer from Division III Wisconsin-River Falls,
rumbled for 54 yards on a third-and-1 play. But the Georgia defense
finally arrived, stuffing Slaton for a 3-yard loss and forcing the
Mountaineers to settle for Pat McAfee's 27-yard field goal.
Georgia reclaimed the momentum before halftime with an 11-play,
80-yard drive. The Bulldogs converted on fourth-and-1 at their own
42, then Shockley bailed them out on third-and-10 by scrambling
away from pressure and delivering a 32-yard pass to Mario Raley.
Shockley followed with a 15-yard run, then connected with
Leonard Pope on a 4-yard touchdown pass with 58 seconds left in the
With 62 points by halftime, the teams set both Sugar Bowl and
BCS records for one half. The biggest difference was turnovers;
Shockley and Danny Ware both fumbled the ball away, and the
Mountaineers capitalized each time with TDs.
Late in the third quarter, Shockley tossed a 34-yard touchdown
to A.J. Bryant, pulling the Bulldogs to 31-28. They never got any
Shockley completed 20-of-33 passes for 277 yards and also rushed
for 71 yards on eight carries.
But it wasn't enough against West Virginia, which ripped through
the Bulldogs for 382 yards rushing. Schmitt had 82 yards on the
ground, while White rushed for 77 and completed 11-of-14 yards for
another 120 yards.
"They just ran their offense," Richt said, "and they ran it