Dec. 17, 2001
ATLANTA – “Our preparations for Stanford are right on schedule, and the kids have had a tremendous attitude and have remained focused despite the recent distractions,” said Georgia Tech interim head coach Mac McWhorter as the Yellow Jackets continue their preparations for the inaugural Seattle Bowl.
Making its fifth straight bowl appearance, Tech (7-5) faces the 11th-ranked Cardinal (9-2) Dec. 27 at 4 p.m. EST at Seattle’s Safeco Field.
“Our kids have been resilient,” continued McWhorter at Monday’s pre-bowl press conference. “I’m proud of the way they have responded. I’ve been proud of the way the Georgia Tech family has responded. Our players have done an excellent job of staying focused and going out and working hard. The best way we can help ourselves is to go out and take care of business in Seattle.
“The leadership from our captains and our seniors has been outstanding. We’re really looking forward to going out and playing.”
In Stanford, Tech is facing a talented team that finished second in the Pac 10. This year’s squad is just the second Cardinal team in the last 50 years to win as many as nine games.
“Tyrone Willingham and his staff in their seven years have done a tremendous job building the talent level to the point that they have been able to go 9-2,” said McWhorter. “They’re No. 11 in the country right now. It looks like they ask a lot of their players mentally because they have a lot to give. They do a lot of different things, and they’re very sound in everything they do.
“This game presents not only a tremendous challenge for us but a great opportunity to meet the expectations dealt to us at the start of the season.”
In addition to preparing to face Stanford, the coaching staff is also using the bowl practices to evaluate Tech’s younger players.
“We’re taking a little time, especially at the end of practice, to get a little work with the future of Georgia Tech,” said McWhorter.
One player who could figure prominently in the future of Georgia Tech is quarterback A.J. Suggs, a transfer from Tennessee who has sat out this season but is eligible to play in the bowl game. He is expected to compete for the starting job in the spring and has two season of eligibility.
“It’s a really unique situation, but he is eligible and won’t lose any eligibility by playing in the bowl game,” said McWhorter. “Obviously, A.J. is a talented player. He started at the University of Tennessee, and we were fortunate to have him transfer into our program.
“Without being able to play, he hasn’t been involved in our offense on a daily basis, so he’s a little rusty. He is really responding well. He’s a bright youngster who is picking up things quickly.
“But George Godsey is our starting quarterback. This is not an exhibition game. We’re going out there to win the football game, and George is our quarterback. I don’t know that A.J. will play in the game, and if he does, I don’t know how much.”
McWhorter was asked if he is enjoying the opportunity to lead this team into the Seattle Bowl.
“As a football coach, you enjoy challenges,” he said. “You’re in it to be competitive. I’m focused on our preparations for Stanford, and I’m enjoying that.”
QUOTES FROM INTERIM HEAD COACH MAC MCWHORTER
Thoughts on preparing for Stanford despite the recent distractions: “Our preparations for Stanford are right on schedule. The kids have had a tremendous attitude and have remained focused despite the recent distractions. The leadership from our captains and our seniors has been outstanding. We’re really looking forward to going out and playing.
My main focus right now is on preparing to play a very good Stanford team. Tyrone Willingham and his staff have done a tremendous job building the talent level in the seven years that they have been there. They’re No. 12 in the country right now. This game presents not only a tremendous challenge for us but a great opportunity to meet the expectations dealt to us at the start of the season.
Our kids have been resilient. I’m proud of the way they have responded. I’ve been proud of the way the Georgia Tech family has responded. Our players have done an excellent job of staying focused and going out and working hard. The best way we can help ourselves is to go out and take care of business in Seattle.”
On working with the young players during the bowl practices: “We’re taking a little time, especially at the end of practice, to get a little work with the future of Georgia Tech, but that hasn’t created any changes to the depth chart.”
On quarterback A.J. Suggs: “He is eligible and won’t lose any eligibility by playing in the bowl game. Obviously, A.J. is a talented player. He started at the University of Tennessee, and we were fortunate to have him transfer into our program. Without being able to play, he hasn’t been involved with our offense on a daily basis, so he’s a little rusty. He is really responding well. He’s a bright youngster, who is picking up things really quick.
I don’t know that he will play. If he does, I don’t know how much.”
QUOTES BY GEORGIA TECH’S FOOTBALL CAPTAINS
Fullback/Linebacker Ross Mitchell
“This is my fifth bowl game in a row and the most important thing, in my opinion, is that we go out and play Georgia Tech football. I think the recent events have brought us closer as a team. Our goal is go to the bowl game and show we are a real team.
“Stanford is very sound in everything they do–offensively, defensively and in the special teams. So we know we have our work cut out for us.
“Practice has been a little different under Coach Mac (Mac McWhorter). There has been a little more laughing and joking around. That’s good. I think we needed that at this stage.”
Tailback Sean Gregory
“Stanford really is a great team, very well-coached and one that plays with a lot of effort. If we could somehow beat a 9-2 team like Stanford, that would be a breath of fresh air, especially after all the distractions and the close defeats of this season. If we could win, I would breath a sigh of relief.
“Coach O”Leary and Coach Mac are different in some ways. But basically, they both coach hard-nosed football and insist that you work hard. I have a lot of respect for both of them.”
Defensive End Nick Rogers
“When I first heard about Coach O’Leary leaving Notre Dame, I didn’t believe it. It was very unexpected. It caught all of us by surprise. I do not feel deceived in any way. Human beings are not perfect. We all make mistakes.
“Stanford is a real good team, ranked No. 9. I have looked at a number of films and it is obvious how much better they got as the year went along. The Stanford team can beat you in so many different ways.
“I look forward to Seattle and the seafood I’ve heard so much about.”
Quarterback George Godsey
“The Stanford secondary is very good. Their defensive back, Williams, is one of the biggest safeties I have seen. It will be a real test for our offense and our entire team to play Stanford.
“After all the distractions of the past week, it has been good to get back heavily involved in practice. Football is a release. It’s important now that we focus on the business ahead–the business of playing in a bowl game.
Coach O’Leary’s situation is very unfortunate. The thing that sticks out to me is Notre Dame really hired him in the first place because of his coaching accomplishments and for no other reason. To the younger guys on our team, that is a very big deal. Since this is my last game, it affects me in a little different way. I feel badly for Coach O’Leary, but I’ll be happy, too, playing my last game under Coach Mac.”
Cornerback Chris Young
“Stanford is a great team. We look upon this bowl game as an opportunity to prove ourselves by beating a very good 9-2 team. It will not be easy.
“Coach O’Leary’s situation really is typical of the way things have gone this season. It was an emotional blow for me. In my opinion, Coach O’Leary is a mastermind. I’m so sorry for him and his family. We miss him and all his joking around.
“On the other hand, Coach Mac has done a great job of leading us in the right way. So we look forward to the opportunity of playing in this bowl game.”