Aug. 21, 2001
ATLANTA – Georgia Tech, ranked 10th in the nation in the preseason Associated Press football poll, kicks off the 2001 campaign against Syracuse in the Kickoff Classic on Sunday in East Rutherford, N.J.
The game will be nationally televised on ABC (WSB, channel 2 in Atlanta), while live radio coverage will be available on the Georgia Tech/ISP Sports Network (Flagship WQXI 790 AM in Atlanta).
Sunday’s game will mark a homecoming of sorts for seventh-year Tech head coach George O’Leary, who was an assistant coach at Syracuse from 1980 through 1986. Also a native of Central Islip, N.Y., O’Leary expects to have a large contingent on hand for the game.
“They are calling me for an awful lot of tickets. The tickets are $40 each, so I’ve been taking their credit cards,” joked O’Leary. “I would expect 50 or 60 of them to be at the game. All of them will be there to help, but if we lose then they won’t talk to me. I guess it runs in the family.”
O’Leary was the Orangemen’s defensive line coach for seven years and added the responsibilities of Assistant Head Coach in the final two years under Dick MacPherson. While at Syracuse, O’Leary coached five players who went on to the NFL, including Tim Green, the top selection of the Atlanta Falcons, Mike Charles, an all-America chosen in the first round by the Miami Dolphins, and Blaise Winter, a second-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts who later played for O’Leary with the San Diego Chargers.
“I have friends up in Syracuse,” said O’Leary. “But my friends right now are in Atlanta.”
The Yellow Jackets return 18 starters from last year’s team that went 9-3, including All-ACC performers in quarterback George Godsey, wide receiver Kelly Campbell, free safety Jeremy Muyres, placekicker Luke Manget, and defensive ends Greg Gathers and Nick Rogers.
The Orangemen are coming off their 14th consecutive winning season in 2000, the fourth longest such streak in the nation.
“We are looking forward to playing Syracuse,” said O’Leary, the recipient of the 2000 Bobby Dodd National Coach of the Year Award. “I look at their team and see eight seniors and a graduate student starting on offense, and to me that says that they have experience. Defensively, they have some all-American candidates. Anytime you have players like that on the field, it’s contagious to the other players. We will have our work cut out for us on both sides of the ball. I anticipate a game that will probably come down to the fourth quarter, as most good games do.
“We’ve had a good preseason camp. As with any early game, you are always concerned with sustaining blocks and tackling. We’ve worked hard on the areas that we need to improve on, and we’ve seen that improvement on the field.”
O’Leary’s defense, which returns nine starters from 2000 after ranking 12th in the nation in rushing defense (94.5 yards per game), will have its work cut out for it in the season opener. The Orangemen rushed for 2,279 yards (207.2 per game) last season, and despite losing their top rusher to graduation, return James Mungro who accounted for 797 yards on the ground and averaged 6.9 yards per carry.
“Syracuse’s offense is very diversified,” said O’Leary, who owns a 45-28 record at Tech. “They run the ball extremely well. They run option, power, traps, folds. They run the whole gamut. You better be great in your base defense or you are going to be in trouble. They do a good job of mixing it up, adding gadgets that always make you defend the field. You have to be set in your assignments.”
Sunday’s game will mark the return to action of Godsey at the helm of the offense after suffering a torn ACL in the final minutes of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl last December. Godsey missed all of spring practice after undergoing surgery but returned to full speed on the practice field at the beginning of August. In 2000, Godsey enjoyed the second best statistical season in Tech history, passing for 2,906 yards and 23 touchdowns while ranking sixth in the nation in passing efficiency.
“George Godsey has been practicing very well, and he has done a great job with what we have asked him to do,” said O’Leary. “[Offensive coordinator] Bill O’Brien has added some new things that have helped him. There is nothing better than an experienced quarterback that is like having an extra coach on the field. He never tries to do too much, and he stays within the framework of our offense. He is a great competitor, and he anticipates and understands what people are doing.”
One question mark for the Yellow Jackets entering the season opener is the offensive line, where Tech must replace a pair of four-year starters in all-America left tackle Chris Brown and all-ACC guard Brent Key.
“Coach [Mac] McWhorter has done a great job with the offensive line,” remarked O’Leary, “We have more depth across the board this year. The guard position is going to be in good shape, and I think that Hugh Reilly has a chance to be a very good player. [Left tackle] Jason Kemble is practicing and playing better than I thought he would. He is a five-year member of our program, and now it is time for him to step into a role as a starter. But I am going to watch that position very closely because it is the back side of the quarterback.”