November 29, 2007

It comes down to this

Jo-Lonn Dunbar was asked Wednesday if there was any way he wouldn't be playing Saturday in Jacksonville, bad ankle and all.

"No way - body bag," Dunbar quickly shot back. "That's the only way I will not be in that game."

You get the feeling the entire roster feels this way about this game - if you can walk, you play, or at least try to. That's basically what DeJuan Tribble said. He wants to be out there, too.

This is what these kids have been waiting for. This is what they've been talking about, especially the seniors who have come close. They endured the confusion of a coaching change, welcomed the new guy with open arms and have thrived under Jeff Jagodzinski. Guys who used to play football are now having fun playing football. And now, they have the shot at the Orange Bowl.

Dunbar said a win Saturday would "Just elevate the program to the elite status, something the program needs and something the program deserves."

Matt Ryan, the seriously deserving ACC Player of the Year - in what has to be called a wire-to-wire victory because he was preseason and postseason winner - is excited; but talking to him Wednesday you didn't get the feeling he's TOO excited, to the point of distraction.

He said the Eagles aren't taking the field Saturday to prove anything to anyone - even though he has to know the nation is watching. "We're trying to win a game and that's the bottom line," he said. "I don't know how we're going to do it or how it's going to play out."

Clearly, BC doesn't want it to play out like that Thursday night in the rain in Blacksburg - you can't count on late heroics bailing out what was anything but a strong performance. The idea here, on a neutral field, is to establish control of the football game - not an easy thing to do against Va-Tech and it's very stingy defense.

"They're tough," Ryan said, pointing to the Tech defense being strong from the front wall on back. "There's no hole in their defense," he said. "But we've got to do what we do well."

In typical Ryan fashion, he accepted congratulations for the Player of the Year honor by saying it's something his teammates have a right to share in the limelight. You didn't expect this kid to take a personal bow, did you? It's not in his makeup.

Teammate Jamie Silva said he thinks Ryan deserves to be in the Heisman mix, which apparently won't happen. But Heisman or not, this is the year Matt Ryan took the BC program to a new level - win or lose Saturday afternoon, this is a new level and he deserves the credit for doing it.

"He's been playing great all year," Silva said. "He brought us up to No. 2 in the country at one point … he's played great all year. I feel like he showed he should definitely be up there with those other (candidates)."

A loss Saturday and there will be disappointment. That's obvious. Does it cancel out what this team has done? No way. But college football is judged by what happens in the postseason and, face it, the Orange Bowl is a lot tastier than a different game in Florida.

One writer Wednesday was doing a story on how much fun the kids are having with Jags. Dunbar said the coach is not above ribbing players who are in the whirlpool, saying, "He calls guys NASA sometimes - you're not playing unless everything's go."

The lines the kids related were funny. Silva talked about remembering Jags "dancing in the locker room" after the win at Clemson. Asked to judge the performance, the safety said, "A little bit better than his performance at the Virginia Tech celebration but not too much?

Good times, Does anyone remember any of that when Tom O'Brien was here? O'Brien won, but this word "fun" keeps coming up, doesn't it?

It's just different; and it worked.

Now, we'll see if the Eagles can have more fun Saturday in Jacksonville. The feeling here is this team STILL hasn't played it best game yet, so why not Saturday? Why not beat Frank Beamer and his Hokies twice in a matter of weeks?

"We've played in big games before," said Silva. "Obviously, not as big as this. We'll be ready and we'll know how to handle the stage.

"We're in the right position and we just have to follow through now."

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