Nov. 22, 2005
For the first time since the 2001 season, Georgia Tech (7-3, 5-3 ACC) and Georgia (8-2, 6-2 SEC) will meet on the gridiron with national rankings as the 20th-ranked Yellow Jackets host the 13th-ranked Bulldogs on Saturday night at Bobby Dodd Stadium/Grant Field. The game will be televised to a split national audience on ABC (WSB-TV in Atlanta) at 8 p.m. The contest will also air on the radio at 790 The Zone (790 AM) and WREK-FM (91.1).
“You live with it 365 days a year,” said head coach Chan Gailey. “It’s an in-state rivalry and a big game, and there’s really nothing more that needs to be said. They’re always big games and are talked about the rest of the year around the state.”
The Yellow Jackets and Bulldogs will meet for the 100th time this Saturday, with UGA holding a 56-38-5 edge. The Jackets have dropped four straight to their archrival after winning three consecutive games from 1998-2000.
“It’ll be an emotional game, especially for the fifth-year seniors like myself,” said senior linebacker Gerris Wilkinson. “We have a lot of built up emotions for this game because we haven’t beaten Georgia since we’ve been here.”
The Bulldogs captured their second SEC East crown in three seasons with a 45-13 thrashing of the Kentucky Wildcats in Athens last Saturday. The Yellow Jackets are coming off a 14-10 win over then-No. 3 Miami last Saturday night in the Orange Bowl.
“Beating Miami last week was the biggest win I’ve been a part of here,” said Wilkinson. “It’s not going to mean that much if we come in this week and don’t beat Georgia. There’s no real good way to put into words how big this is, especially for fifth-year seniors like myself, who haven’t beaten them yet. We don’t want to be saying that we never beat Georgia.”
“Nobody has beaten Georgia here,” said senior safety Chris Reis. “Beating them would mean the world, for our seniors going out like that.”
Both teams enter this weekend’s match-up with talented defenses. The Bulldogs are eighth in the nation in scoring defense (15.4 points per game) and 13th in total defense (301.6 yards per game). The Jackets are fifth in the nation with 18 interceptions and are 12th in the country in total defense (299.4 ypg).
After losing first round draft picks David Pollack and Thomas Davis, along with second round draft pick Odell Thurman and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder to the National Football League, the `Junkyard’Dawgs have surpassed preseason expectations in 2005. New defensive coordinator Willie Martinez has the Bulldogs nationally-ranked in several defensive categories.
“Their [Georgia’s] defensive staff with coach [Willie] Martinez has done a great job this year to be where they are defensively after the loss of a lot of good football players last year,” said Gailey. “They do things very well and make you beat them, they don’t beat themselves.”
UGA is led by junior defensive end Quentin Moses (nine sacks this season) and senior safety Greg Blue (77 tackles). Blue is a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, while Moses has been the SEC Lineman of the Week twice this year (Mississippi State and Vanderbilt).
“They’ve got good defensive ends that we’ve got to be ready for,” said senior tackle Salih Besirevic. “They play with high intensity and will come ready to play, so we’ve got to come and match that intensity and do what we did this past weekend.”
The Rambling Wreck defense is led by Wilkinson, senior defensive end Eric Henderson, Reis and sophomore linebacker Philip Wheeler. Wilkinson is 15th in the Atlantic Coast Conference in tackles (7.3 per game), while Henderson is seventh in the league with six sacks this season, forcing four fumbles on those sacks. Reis is 17th in the ACC in tackles (7.1 per game) with two interceptions, while Wheeler leads the team and is fourth in the ACC with four picks.
Offensively, the Bulldogs are led by senior quarterback D.J. Shockley. Shockley leads the SEC and is 11th in the nation in passing efficiency (152.2) and is a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. He owns an 8-1 records as starter and currently ranks sixth in UGA history with 18 touchdown passes in a single season.
“There’s obviously confidence but this is a different team,” said Gailey about Tech’s defensive success against Miami. “Kyle Wright [Miami’s quarterback] would stay in the pocket but D.J. Shockley won’t stay in the pocket. Leonard Pope is a giant weapon for them [Georgia]. They both are the same in that you better stop the running game or you’re in for a long day.
“He’s [Shockley] accurate, doesn’t throw a lot of picks, and is smart with the football. That’s the number one thing that he does differently or uniquely than other people we face week in and week out.”
The Bulldogs also feature one of the best running attacks in the SEC. Sophomores Thomas Brown and Danny Ware have the rushing offense ranked third in the conference with 167.8 yards per game. Brown leads the team with 585 yards and three touchdowns, while Ware has gained 461 yards and scored one touchdown this season. Both tailbacks have five 100-yard games in their short careers.
“You can’t just sit back and pass all day,” said Reis. “They are going to have some running game. I don’t know how much a part of their game plan it is, I can’t say that because I don’t know. But they have to take that into consideration.”
Junior tight ends Leonard Pope and Martrez Milner have combined for 42 catches for 701 yards and five touchdowns this season. The have accounted for 26 percent of UGA’s receptions and Pope (6-8, 250 lbs.) ranks second on the team with 28 receptions for 410 yards and three touchdowns.
The Yellow Jackets’ Calvin Johnson remains the ACC’s leading receiver, averaging 85.5 receiving yards per game. The sophomore All-American candidate and semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation’s top wide receiver, has 50 receptions for 855 yards and five touchdowns this year. Johnson made six catches for 89 yards against the No. 1 ranked Miami defense last Saturday night.
Junior quarterback Reggie Ball enters this weekend No. 4 in the ACC in total offense (229.7 ypg). Ball, a Stone Mountain, Ga., native, ranks in the top four in Tech history in career passing yards (5,895), touchdown passes (35), total offense (6,926) and rushing yards by a quarterback (1,031). This season, Ball has nine touchdowns and eight interceptions.
“What he brings to our football team and what’s he’s brought to the success of our team this year won’t be found on any statistical sheet,” said Gailey. “The intangibles of leadership, decision-making, understanding how the game is played, field position, and when to throw certain passes, those are the kind of things where he has come so far.”
Redshirt sophomore tailback Tashard Choice started his first game for the Jackets last Saturday versus the Hurricanes after senior P.J. Daniels missed the game due to an injury. Choice finished the UM game with 84 yards on 29 carries and scored one touchdown. Daniels leads the team and ranks fourth in the ACC, averaging 82.7 yards per game.
Saturday will also be `Senior Day’ for 17 Yellow Jackets. Starting in their final home game at Bobby Dodd Stadium on offense will be Daniels, wide receiver Damarius Bilbo and tackle Brad Honeycutt. On defense, Wilkinson, Henderson, Reis, safety Dawan Landry and cornerback Dennis Davis will start in their final game at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
“I’ve been thinking about it, but it’ll hit me a little bit more when I walk out on the field, or after the game,” said Wilkinson about playing his last home game.
Also playing in their final home game for Tech will be punter Ben Arndt, long-snapper Gavin Tarquino as well as seven backups in offensive lineman Besirevic, defensive tackle Omar Billy, fullback Ajenavi Eziemefe, cornerback Reuben Houston, tight end Jay Reid, receiver Robbie Rollins and running back Chris Woods.