Aug. 27, 2002
ATLANTA – From a new coaching staff to a freshly renovated and expanded Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field, Saturday’s 6 p.m. tilt between Georgia Tech and Southeastern Conference opponent Vanderbilt offers a world of firsts for the Jackets.
“This is a unique week for us because there are a lot of firsts for our team,” said head coach Chan Gailey, who comes to Tech after spending the last eight seasons in the NFL. “Not only is it the first game of the year, it is the first game for this staff being here. It’s the first game for this senior class and it’s the first game with the new stadium.”
The contest will not be televised in the Atlanta area but will be shown in the middle Tennessee market only on Nashville’s WSMV (NBC-4). Tech fans can catch the action on the Georgia Tech/ISP Sports Network, which includes WQXI (790 AM), “790 the Zone,” the flagship station in Atlanta.
The game also marks the Vandy debut of Commodores’ coach Bobby Johnson, who went 60-36 in eight seasons as head coach at Furman. Ironically, Johnson is facing a Tech coaching debut for the second time in his career. The Paladins dropped a 51-7 decision to the Jackets in George O’Leary’s first game as Tech head coach on Sept. 2, 1995. O’Leary had coached three games in the ’94 season as an interim head coach.
With a new head coach and a new scheme in place at Vandy, Gailey and the Jackets are somewhat leery of what to expect Saturday.
“Even though we don’t know what they’re going to do, we’re not going to sit back and say ‘let’s wait and see,'” said Gailey. “We’re not going to play a cat and mouse game, we’re still going to go out and attack. But, we are going to try and see what they’re doing as we attack.”
Headlining the Commodores’ offensive attack is senior wideout Dan Stricker, the SEC’s active leader with 2,260 receiving yards. He also has 138 career catches. Stricker posted 65 grabs with 1,079 yards and eight scores in 2001.
“They have a great player, and they want to make sure that they get him involved in the ball game, which to me makes sense on their part,” said Gailey.
Redshirt freshman Jay Cutler, who appears to be a solid passer, will make his first collegiate start against the Jackets highly-regarded defensive unit.
Seeing his first action in the Old Gold and White is starting quarterback A.J. Suggs, a transfer from Tennessee. He started four games for the Vols in 2000, completing 58 percent of his passes (81-for-139) for 785 yards and five scores. Redshirt freshman Damarius Bilbo is also expected to see some time under center.
Suggs will have a talented trio of targets as seniors Kerry Watkins and Will Glover and junior Jonathan Smith all return. They combined for 136 receptions, 1,810 yards and 12 touchdowns a year ago. In all, Tech returns 16 starters, including five on offense.
“We have talent at wide receiver, but the problem with that talent is that two of them are standing over there beside me a great deal of the time in Jonathan Smith and Nate Curry,” said Gailey. “That’s one of the issues that we have. It was a strength going into the fall, and as it’s turned out, neither one of them have been healthy. I’ll give credit to Kerry Watkins and Will Glover as they have been excellent leaders and have played well in the preseason. We expect them to continue in both of those roles come Saturday.”
The defense, led by All-American end Greg Gathers, returns nine starters. Directing the defense is new coordinator Jon Tenuta, who comes to The Flats from North Carolina, where he guided the ACC’s top defense a year ago.
Tech and the Commodores are meeting for the first time since a 17-10 win by the Jackets in Nashville in the 1967 season. The Rambling Wreck has won eight of the last nine meetings between the two schools, only interrupted by a 10-10 tie in 1965. The last five times that Vandy has visited Atlanta, Tech has outscored the Commodores, 117-9, including three shutouts.