Jackets Could Reach Milestones in Silicon Valley Football Classic

Dec. 21, 2002

With a change in NCAA statistical rules, several Georgia Tech players have a chance to achieve milestones as the Yellow Jackets (7-5, 4-4 ACC) take on Fresno State (8-5, 6-2 ACC) in the Silicon Valley Football Classic, Dec. 31 at 3:30 p.m. ET at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, Calif.

Until 2002, bowl game statistics have never been counted in season or career totals for teams or individuals. However, the NCAA ruled that beginning with this season, bowl game stats will count.

That means that Tech placekicker Luke Manget has one more shot at the NCAA record for consecutive extra points, as well as the ACC career scoring record, and Kelley Rhino has a chance to become the ACC’s all-time leader in punt return yards.

Entering the bowl game, Manget has made 157 consecutive extra points, four behind the NCAA record of 161, set by John Becksvoort of Tennessee from 1991-94. Already Tech’s all-time leading scorer with 319 points, the senior from Conyers, Ga., ranks third in ACC history, trailing a pair of former Florida State kickers in Scott Bentley, with 326 points, and Sebastian Janikowski with 324 points.

Rhino needs 56 punt return yards to break the ACC career of 1,191 yards by Ledel George of NC State. The senior from Smyrna, Ga., missed the Georgia game with a sprained foot but hopes to return for the bowl. He now has 1,135 career yards on 112 returns.

With a 12th regular-season game plus a bowl game figured in, several season records could also fall.

Rhino needs four punt returns and 69 punt return yards to break the Tech season records of 48 returns and 515 yards that he set in 2001.

Senior wide receiver Kerry Watkins has 66 catches for 968 yards on the year. He needs just four receptions to break Kelly Campbell’s Tech record of 69, set in 1999. Campbell’s season yardage mark of 1,105 is 137 yards away.

Quarterback A.J. Suggs (356) needs 29 pass attempts to break George Godsey’s 2001 mark of 384.

But for the Yellow Jackets, no milestone or record is more important than trying to maintain the nation’s best bowl record. Playing in its 31st bowl, Tech has a 20-10 record for a winning percentage of .667. The Jackets are tied with Penn State, which enters the Capitol One Bowl against Auburn with a 23-11-2 bowl mark for an identical .667 winning percentage. Oklahoma is third with a 22-12-1 record (.643).

The Jackets held their final pre-Christmas practice Sunday. After the workout, players were excused for the holiday, and the team will reassemble Thursday for the charter flight to San Jose.

“First and foremost, we’ve had the opportunity to get a very good look at Fresno State and what we think some of their base offenses and defenses will be,” said Tech head coach Chan Gailey after Sunday’s workout.

“Also, we’ve been able to get a real good look at a lot of our younger players. Some by choice, some not by choice because we’ve had so many injuries in practice and the younger have had to play a lot.”

Gailey said he expects the majority of the players who have been banged up in practice to be available for the game.

“They’ll be ready, but being ready and being 100 percent are two different things,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll be quite 100 percent, but you’ve got to go out there with who you’ve got.”

With so much time to prepare for one game, Gailey and his staff try to keep things interesting.

“You try to make sure that there’s something new every day,” said Gailey. “Short-yardage one day, two-minute one day, so that you’re always introducing something new. There’s enough things to work on; there’s no shortage of that.”

Gailey, who spent the previous eight seasons in the National Football League, was asked to compare being in a college bowl game with the NFL playoffs.

“The length of time to prepare and the lack of familiarity with the opponent really create a totally different situation for me,” said the former Dallas Cowboys’ head coach. “Normally in the pros, your first couple of playoff games are against teams that you’ve played or know something about.

“Plus all the logistics of bowl preparations and travel. Except for the Super Bowl, you never experience that in the pros.”

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