Purdue's Defense has plenty of Speed.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Georgia fans should put the 1998 Outback Bowl out of their minds immediately.

That's the message of both Georgia coach Mark Richt and Purdue coach Joe Tiller this week. Six years ago the Bulldogs played Wisconsin in a highly anticipated matchup between Georgia's fast-paced offense and Badgers' running back Ron Dayne.

It wasn't a contest. Georgia quarterback Mike Bobo completed more than 90 percent of his passes; tailback Robert Edwards scored three touchdowns; backup Olandis Gary had 61 yards on just four carries; Dayne didn't even lead Wisconsin in rushing, and it was clear the Badgers didn't have enough athletes to keep up with the Bulldogs.

Times have changed, both Capital One Bowl coaches say. No. 11 Georgia and No. 12 Purdue meet on Thursday at 1 p.m., and Richt and Tiller say the athletes will be evenly distributed on both sides of the ball.

"The Big Ten is closing that gap between Big Ten teams and SEC teams from a speed point of view," said Tiller, who still believes the SEC holds a slight edge.

Tiller pointed to his league's 5-2 record in last year's bowl games, including Ohio State's 31-24 victory over talent-laden Miami in the national title game, as evidence of his point.

"The reason I believe we were more successful in postseason play is that foot speed ratio being better than it used to be," he said. "All the Big Ten teams have placed a great emphasis on improving their foot speed."

Richt doesn't think the SEC has any speed advantage, especially after watching hours and hours of tape of the Boilermaker defense, which is ranked 10th in the nation in total yardage.

"I was hoping to turn on the film and see a lack of quickness or speed," he said, shaking his head. "The football doesn't look a whole lot different."

Bobo, who is now Georgia's quarterbacks coach, said the Badgers played hardly any man-to-man coverage in that 1998 meeting, but this year's Boilermakers often rely on single coverage on the perimeter. He added that Boilermaker defensive end Shaun Phillips is as good or better than any end Georgia faced this year and that middle linebacker Niko Koutouvides is a "freakin' football player."

"I see a lot of speed when I look at Purdue," Bobo said. "I'm very impressed with their athletic ability."

Bobo has noticed a gradual change in Big Ten football based on his participation in the Wisconsin game, the 2000 Outback Bowl against Purdue (as a graduate assistant coach) and preparation for this year's game, he said. The perception that the league was filled to big, slow oxen was always wrong in Bobo's mind. It was simply a function of a style of play based heavily on the running game that didn't allow skill position players to show their talent, he said.

That style has changed over the last decade, thanks to teams like Purdue who started building offenses around the passing game. Whatever the reason for the perception, the Boilermakers are glad it's dead.

"You kind of get tired of it," sophomore tight end Charles Davis said. "We've got athletes where we're from, too. We're not all just bailing hay."

Capital One Bowl results
(Since 1992, when SEC vs. Big Ten format began)
1992 Georgia 21, Ohio State 14
1993 Penn State 31, Tennessee 13
1994 Alabama 24, Ohio State 17
1995 Tennessee 20, Ohio State 14
1996 Tennessee 48, Northwestern 28
1997 Florida 21, Penn State 6
1998 Michigan 45, Arkansas 31
1999 Michigan State 37, Florida 34
2000 Michigan 31, Auburn 28
2001 Tennessee 45, Michigan 17
2002 Auburn 13, Penn State 9

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