|Georgia Tech defensive end Felipe Claybrooks (97) and Greg Gathers (55) sack Maryland quarterback Shaun Hill (14). (AP Photo/Nick Wass)|
ATLANTA – If you ask Yellow Jacket defensive lineman Felipe Claybrooks, a senior from Decatur, Ga., what it is that has made this year’s Georgia Tech team so successful, he’ll tell you it’s chemistry.
The Yellow Jackets have found success in what many would say has been an improbable 8-2 run throuth the year’s first 10 games entering Saturday’s showdown with in-state rival Georgia in Athens, broadcast nationally at 12 noon on CBS (WGCL-TV, Channel 46 in Atlanta).
Claybrooks has been one of the leaders of a Tech defense that most recently held Maryland to just 20 yards of rushing offense and a game total of 338 yards, as the Jackets claimed a35-22 win in College Park, Md. Along with that effort, Tech’s defense has come into its own in recent weeks as through the first six games, Tech was allowing 401.8 yards per game. For the last four games, the Jackets have held their opponents to 326.0 yards and 15.0 points per game. The Jackets had a shutout string of six consecutive quarters before Maryland managed a touchdown in the third quarter. The Terrapins added two late scores against Tech’s second unit.
Claybrooks says he has enjoyed being a leader on this year’s team and that it has been an experience he will value for many years to come.
“I’ve really enjoyed being a leader on this year’s team,” said Claybrooks. “It has taught me a lot, and I think it will teach me so much more during the rest of my life. I think the biggest thing is that when you’re there for somebody and other guys know that you’re there for them, they will push even harder to play for you and to play for the same cause. That’s why the chemistry of this team is so good. We all interact with each other, and you can make a mistake and someone will look you in the eye and you already know what they are going to say.”
In Tech’s win at Maryland, Claybrooks continued his strong senior campaign by recording his fifth sack of the year. He currently has 36 tackles in nine games, including 24 solo stops. With his sack on Saturday, Claybrooks is tied with teammate Greg Gathers for fourth on Tech’s career sack list with 20 and is fifth on the career charts with 36 tackles for loss. Claybrooks credits much of his own success and that of the team in general to the chemistry that the team has found in 2000.
“I think we have great chemistry all the way up from the freshmen to the seniors,” he said. “We all communicate a lot better than we have in the past. You care about things that other people say.”
Claybrooks says that much of that communication has come as part of work in practice and everyone working for the benefit of the team and not just taking care of their own business.
“The example I think of is Jeremy Phillips, he’s a freshman on the scout team,” said Claybrooks. “When we go up against each other in practice, I know that he’s watched film on that person he is imitating, and we can talk about how that tackle particularly sets or how he reads a screen or a draw set and he does his best to give us those looks.”
That teamwork in practice has shown up in the Jackets’ performance this fall, as the defensive unit currently ranks second in the ACC and 18th nationally in rushing defense (101.3) and third in the ACC and 27th in the nation in scoring defense (19.4). Those numbers are in stark contrast to 1999, when Tech allowed 183.2 yards rushing per contest and 30.3 points per game.
For Claybrooks and the rest of the Yellow Jacket seniors, Saturday’s game at Georgia represents the final regular-season game of their careers, but Claybrooks says he doesn’t think about his Tech career coming to an end.
“I don’t thing about my career ending too much,” he said. “I think the Virginia game hurt because it was my last home game, but I don’t concentrate on the negative stuff, so I don’t have a problem blocking that stuff out.”
Claybrooks doesn’t feel that the team will need any motivation in order to get ready for the matchup with the Bulldogs.
“You really don’t have to say anything about the Georgia game, when you say Georgia-Georgia Tech, you said everything right there,” said Claybrooks. “It will be big for the whole team to go out and play them hard this week. It’s all about rivalries that exist all over the country, but I think Georgia-Georgia Tech is a big one because it goes back so many years.”
With state bragging rights on the line, Tech followers can expect the Jackets’ and Claybrooks’ approach to this week’s contest to be much the same as the year’s previous 10 games, pulling together to get the job done.