ATLANTA (AP) -- The Atlanta Falcons had barely finished their
season when workers swarmed onto the Georgia Dome turf.
They painted the Nokia Sugar Bowl emblem at midfield. They adorned the
stands with blue and yellow signs. They washed out the Falcons
logos in each end zone, filling in the colors of Georgia and West
With a bit of imagination, this could actually pass for the
Superdome of years past.
Actually, it's a most unusual Sugar Bowl, forced out of New
Orleans for the first time in its 72-year history by the
devastating floods of Hurricane Katrina.
Instead of meeting in the Big Easy, No. 8 Georgia and
11th-ranked West Virginia had to settle for a Monday night matchup
at the Georgia Dome, which underwent a harried makeover after the
Falcons' final game.
It all seemed a bit surreal.
"Atlanta is a great town, but I know quite a few people in city
of New Orleans," said West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez, a former
Tulane assistant."When I left there, I always thought it would be
great to go back to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl."
The Bulldogs (10-2) had no complaints about playing a major bowl
just 75 miles from their Athens campus, in the very same stadium
where they claimed their second Southeastern Conference
championship in four years.
Georgia tried to make it feel like a home game, even scheduling
a"Dawg Walk" so the players could enter the stadium through a
cauldron of red and black -- just like they do between the hedges.
"We have had some great experiences in the Dome," coach Mark
Richt said."Our fans have been fantastic in there. We will have a
'Dawg Walk' before the game, so we will try to mirror what we did
in the SEC championship."
The Big East champion Mountaineers (10-1) realize what they're
While a sizable contingent from West Virginia has descended on
Atlanta, there's no doubt that Georgia is the de facto home team.
The oddsmakers certainly feel that way, making the Bulldogs a solid
West Virginia quarterback Pat White summed it up best, saying he
expects to find"a sea of red" when he trots on the field.
"It's pretty much a home game for them," the redshirt freshman
said."We like the underdog role. They're an SEC school. Nobody
expects us to do anything against them. We know we can go out and
play with anybody on any given day."
The Sugar Bowl will finish off a three-games-in-four-days run
for the Georgia Dome, which agreed to pinch-hit for the heavily
damaged Superdome despite the hectic schedule.
After LSU blew out Miami in the Peach Bowl on Friday night, the
stadium crew hustled to get things ready for Sunday's game between
the Falcons and Carolina. As soon as the Panthers finished a 44-11
rout of Atlanta, it was time for another makeover -- with only about
28 hours to prepare for the Sugar Bowl.
Georgia has been to the Sugar more than any other bowl, but
never one quite like this.
"It has been a little different with it being so close to
home," said kicker Brandon Coutu, a native of the sprawling
A West Virginia victory would give a much-needed boost to the
beleaguered Big East, which kept its automatic berth in the Bowl
Championship Series but took a huge blow when powerhouses Miami and
Virginia Tech bolted for the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"Personally, I think it would be a big statement," freshman
running back Steve Slaton said."A lot of people have us as
underdogs. We proved ourselves so far this year, so we're ready to
do it again."
The Mountaineers rely heavily on their two star freshmen. Slaton
has 924 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns; White has run for 708
yards, passed for 875 and accounted for 14 touchdowns in all.
"They just stepped right in and kind of kept the ball
rolling," fullback Owen Schmitt said."Stuff they pull out on the
field, it's really exciting to watch. Even when you're on the
field, you kind of almost stand still for a second and you're like,
But Slaton and White haven't faced a defense with Georgia's
speed, which begins up front and extends all the way through the
"They're freshmen," All-America safety Greg Blue said."We've
just got to introduce them to how we play in the SEC."