Dec. 31, 2011
By Jon Cooper
Georgia Tech hopes to have its day in the sun as it completes its 2011 season, taking on the University of Utah in the Hyundai Sun Bowl. Kickoff at Sun Bowl Stadium is set for 2 p.m. ET.
Today’s game marks the 15th consecutive season, and 40th overall, that the Yellow Jackets are participating in a bowl game and their second visit to El Paso, Texas.
Tech finished 8-4, 5-3 in ACC play, to tie for second in the Coastal Division –they led eventual division champ Virginia Tech in the third quarter, before the Hokies came back to win. Their 6-0 start and eight overall wins exceeded expectations for a team picked to finish fourth in the division in preseason polls while fielding one of the youngest squads in the nation. The Jackets, as usual, led the ACC in rushing offense (316.8 yards per game) and ranked in the top 20 in the nation in 11 different offensive categories.
The Utes come in 7-5, 4-5 in their maiden voyage through the Pac-12, but also are on a roll, having won four of their final five games in conference play. They are led by one of the NCAA’s most ferocious rushing defenses in the nation (they finished No. 7 overall, allowing 97.0 yards per game) and they led the onference in scoring defense (19.67 ppg) and pass efficiency (114.7). Utah also exceeded expectations, having achieved a bowl despite losing eight players to season-ending injuries.
Today’s game is the second appearance in the Sun Bowl for both the Yellow Jackets and the Utes, with both emerging victorious in their previous visits. The Jackets made it in 1970, beating No. 19 Texas Tech, 17-9, as Bob Healy’s first-quarter touchdown run gave Tech the lead for good, and the defense, led by Rock Perdoni, forced six turnovers (three fumble recoveries, three interceptions) and preserved the win. The Utes visit to El Paso dates back a little further, coming on Jan. 2, 1939, in the Bowl’s fifth renewal. Utah, then the champion of the Big Seven Conference, was making the school’s first bowl appearance and routed Border League co-champ New Mexico, 26-0. The Utes didn’t allow the Lobos to cross the Utah 40. It would be their last bowl until 1964.
Today’s game will be televised on CBS, with Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson calling the action. Tracy Wolfson will report from the sidelines. Of course, Jackets fans can listen on the Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network, with Wes Durham and former Tech QB Rick Strom calling the action. The game also can be heard on the Sports USA Radio Network with Eli Gold and Doug Plank on the call. Fans also can log onto RamblinWreck.com to get live stats or get Twitter updates via @gtathletics, @deanbuchan, @mikedegeorge.
Here is some numerical info. that hopefully will help answer the question “What’s a Ute?” and what Tech does well to beat them.
1 – Georgia Tech’s national rank in third-down percentage, converting at 54.9 percent. Tech is one of only eight FBS schools with a conversion rate of over 50 percent. Utah’s opponents convert at 38.5 percent.
1 – The number of team personnel on the 2011 Yellow Jackets that also was with Tech’s 1970 Sun Bowl team. Team dentist Dr. Aaron King holds that distinction.
3 – The number schools that have made more consecutive bowl appearances than Georgia Tech’s 15. They are Florida State (30), Florida (21) and Virginia Tech (19).
3 – The number of wins in three bowl games against Pac-12 teams. Tech knocked off Stanford, 24-14, in the 2001 Seattle Bowl and 18-7 in the 1991 Aloha Bowl, and beat Cal, 8-7, in the 1929 Rose. Tech’s perfect record against the conference does not include the ’05 loss to Utah, which at the time was in the Mountain West Conference.
5 – Junior LB Julian Burnett’s rank in the ACC in tackles. His 113 stops are 32nd in the nation and are 44 more than the nearest Yellow Jacket.
6 – The losing streak in bowl games the Yellow Jackets will attempt to snap today. Paul Johnson has been head coach for three of those. Coincidentally, the streak began against Utah in the 2005 Emerald Bowl.
7 – The number of Georgia Tech drives of 90 yards or longer this season. That’s the most in the nation.
10 – The number of true freshmen the Yellow Jackets have played this season.
10 – The number of scholarship seniors on the roster. They have 11 seniors total.
10 – The number of victories in 17 games by Georgia Tech under Johnson against teams that have had more than seven days to prepare.
11 – The number of different players to have scored a touchdown for Tech this year.
13 – The number of years since Georgia Tech saw a three-win improvement over the previous season. A win today would give the Jackets nine wins, three more than last year’s 6-7 mark. The last team to make the leap was the 1998 team, which improved to 10-2 from 7-5 in ’97.
18 – The number of Jackets touchdown drives of 80 yards or more. Opponents have three.
20 – The number of TD drives of five-or-fewer plays. That includes eight one-play drives. Opponents have 15, four of those one-play drives.
27 – The number of TD drives of 3:00 or less. Opponents have 21.
34.9 – The number of points Tech averaged in 2011. That ranks 19th nationally and is the school’s highest scoring average in 12 years. Tech is 22-1 under Paul Johnson in games in which they score at least 30 points.
24 – The total number of points by the Yellow Jackets in their last three bowl games.
34 – The number of wins by Tech’s senior class. That’s 8.5 per year. A win today would give the Jackets nine on the season.
53 – The number of successful PATs in 53 attempts by sophomore kicker Justin Moore.
58.85 – Georgia Tech’s increase in passing yards per game in 2011 over 2010. It’s 16 yards more than the previous best year under Johnson (Tech had 126.7 in 2009).
85 – The number of yards Tech needs to produce the school’s single-season total yardage mark. The previous high was 5,599 set in 11 games by the 1999 team, which averaged 509.0 per game. The 2011 squad averages 459.6.
89 – Georgia Tech’s scoring percentage in the Red Zone (47 scores in 53 visits). That leads the ACC and is tied for 12th in the nation.
131 – The number of rushing yards by quarterback Tevin Washington in last year’s Independence Bowl.
153.5 – Washington’s pass efficiency in 2011. That’s the second-best in school history.
200.42 – Washington’s total offense per game. That ranked ninth in the ACC. His 7.0 points per game tied for fifth, while his 74.17 rushing yards per game ranked sixth.
890 – Washington’s career rushing yards. That’s second in school history.
Five Things to Know About Utah (and a reason why an Atlanta Braves legend may be on the fence)
.857 – Utah’s winning percentage in bowl games under Kyle Whittingham. The Utes are 6-1 in Whittingham’s nine years, including a 38-10 win over 24th-ranked Georgia Tech in the 2005 Emerald Bowl, capping Whittingham’s first full season as head coach. The school has won 12 bowl games total, beginning with it’s first in the 1939 Sun Bowl. Whittingham and co. will try and bounce back from last year’s 26-3 loss to Boise State. the school’s first loss in 10 appearances.
29.1 – The number of points the Utes have averaged in the seven bowl games in the Whittingham era (six as head coach, one as co-head coach with Urban Meyer). The average had been 33.5 until last year’s Las Vegas Bowl, when they were held to three points by Boise. Whittingham’s Utes have hit the 30-point mark in five of the seven bowl games. Utah had scored 30 points three times in the school’s nine previous bowl appearances.
5 – The number of wins in seven starts for junior quarterback Jon Hays. For the year, in 10 game, Hays has completed 57.4 percent of this attempts (105-of-183), for 1,266 yards, with nine touchdowns against seven interceptions. But in his last five games, Hays has thrown six TD passes without a pick and Utah is 14-of-15 in the red zone. Hays replaced Jordan Wynn as the starter after Wynn suffered a shoulder injury on Oct. 1 against Washington, requiring surgery. Hays wasn’t even in Utah’s spring plans, as he’d been planning to attend Nebraska-Omaha (FCS). He came to Utah when UNO dropped football.
104 – The number of rushing yards needed by junior running back John White to set the school’s all-time, single-season rushing mark — the current mark of 1,507, was set by Carl Monroe, in 1982. White has 1,404 yards coming in but missed most of the second half of Utah’s last game, a 17-14 loss to Colorado, with an ankle injury. The second-leading rusher in the Pac-12 (117.0 yards per game), White had averaged 166.5 yards in the four games leading up to the Colorado game. White is the 11th 1,000-yard rusher in school history and fourth first-year Ute to do it.
38/1.5/9/.75 – The number of tackles, sacks, tackles for loss and TFLs per game by Star Lotelelei. The junior won the 32n’d annual Morris Trophy awarded to the Pac-12’s best defensive lineman as voted by the conference’s starting offensive linemen. His nine TFLs lead the team. His offensive prowess should be noted, as he caught a 17-yard pass reception on a fake punt.
82 – The number of redshirt freshman Jake Murphy. The 6-4, 255-pound tight end, the son of former Atlanta Braves great Dale Murphy, had five catches for 64 yards on the season, 30 of them coming on a second-quarter scoring pass at BYU on Sept. 17, which provided the winning points in the 54-10 win.