Running With Something to Prove

By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 27, 2008

As teams turn toward the backstretch of the regular season, the most unlikely of triumvirates -- Georgia, West Virginia and Virginia -- share a noteworthy characteristic. Each team, to varying degrees, struggled during the early stages of its respective 2008 campaign, but each has recovered to put itself in position to contend for a conference title. Next Saturday, those three teams -- led by three dynamic tailbacks -- will face crucial tests in their revival bids.

Georgia dropped an embarrassing decision to Alabama on Sept. 27, and whispers that the Bulldogs were overrated began to disseminate. Georgia entered the season as the nation's preseason No. 1, and was ranked No. 3 in the nation when it fell at home to the Crimson Tide by 11. The defeat dropped the Bulldogs out of the top 10 and out of most Southeastern Conference title -- much less BCS title -- conversations.

In the past month, however, Georgia has continued to collect wins and rebuild steam. The Bulldogs pummeled Louisiana State, 52-38, on Saturday and were led by tailback Knowshon Moreno, who rushed for 163 yards. Next up, the Bulldogs play Florida in Jacksonville, Fla. Both teams sit atop the SEC East with one conference loss apiece.

West Virginia finds itself ahead of the pack in the Big East, an unlikely scenario given the way the season began for the Mountaineers and first-year coach Bill Stewart. West Virginia dropped consecutive games to East Carolina and Colorado in early September, but it has not lost since. On Thursday night, the Mountaineers ran over visiting Auburn, 34-17, largely on the legs of tailback Noel Devine, who rushed for 207 yards.

"I saw confidence oozing out of everyone tonight," Stewart said. "Our defense played aggressive. We played a little smarter in the second half."

After losses by South Florida and Pittsburgh over the weekend, West Virginia assumed control in the Big East. Next Saturday, the Mountaineers travel to Connecticut, which sits in a two-way tie with Pittsburgh in the conference standings. West Virginia is 0-2 in road games so far this season and will need to reverse that trend if it hopes to continue its strong push.

Speaking of strong pushes, Virginia has recorded four straight wins -- the past two against ranked opponents -- after starting the season 1-3. The Cavaliers upended Georgia Tech on Saturday and took over first place in the ACC's Coastal Division. Tailback Cedric Peerman, who was injured early in the season but now is at full strength, rushed for 118 yards.

The Cavaliers will host Miami next week. The Hurricanes have experienced their share of struggles as well, but they defeated Wake Forest on Saturday and have won three straight.

"It took a little time for us to get going," Peerman told reporters following Virginia's win over Georgia Tech. "Our team has come together. We're more unified. We're playing better."

He was referring to the Cavaliers, though he may as well have been speaking for the Bulldogs and Mountaineers.

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