Oct. 16, 2001
ATLANTA – Georgia Tech, ranked 23rd nationally, continues its three-game homestand this weekend when the Yellow Jackets host NC State for Homecoming.
Saturday’s game, which will kick off at 3:35 p.m., will be regionally televised by ABC (WSB-TV, Channel 2 in Atlanta) and can be heard on the Georgia Tech/ISP radio network (flagship WQXI 790 AM in Atlanta).
The game is an important Atlantic Coast Conference matchup for both Georgia Tech and NC State, as each dropped home contests last week to fall to 1-2 in ACC play. The Yellow Jackets enter the game with a 4-2 overall record after falling to Maryland, 20-17, in overtime, while the Wolfpack stands at 3-2 after a 45-37 loss to Clemson.
“We’ve got a big game this week with North Carolina State, who’s throwing the ball extremely well with a very talented quarterback and receivers,” said Tech head coach George O’Leary, who is looking for his 50th career win on Saturday. “They had a tough game against Clemson and they’ve always given us a tough time. So we have our work cut out for us this week.”
The Wolfpack is led offensively by sophomore quarterback Philip Rivers, who currently leads the ACC with 250.8 passing yards per game while completing a league-high 11 passes in five games. Rivers became the youngest player in ACC history to reach 4,000 career passing yards with his 310 yard effort last week.
“Rivers has a quick release,” said O’Leary. “The difference this year is he’s a little more patient in where he’s throwing the ball and he gets rid of it quickly. For the amount of times they’ve thrown the ball, he’s only been sacked nine times, so it’s hard to get to him. Then when you do get him you better latch on, because he’s a big guy and he breaks a lot of tackles. He has an uncanny way of throwing it, but he gets good results. He has some good receivers who can go with it when they catch it.”
Wide receiver Bryan Peterson (424 yards receiving) and tailback Ray Robinson (300 yards rushing) highlight the rest of the NC State offense, which is averaging 24.8 points and 336.6 yards per game.
“Offensively, Ray Robinson is a good running back,” noted O’Leary. “In the passing game they attack all sides of the field, vertically and horizontally. Last year they were stationary as an offense and this year there’s a lot of movement. They’re causing more confusion for the defense.”
The Wolfpack defense is led by senior linebacker Levar Fisher, the ACC’s leading tackler at 15.4 hits per game, although his status for Saturday’s game is questionable after suffering a sprained knee last weekend against Clemson.
“Defensively, I think they play extremely fast,” said O’Leary. “They give you enough problems with coverage that you’ve got to be pretty sharp in what you’re doing. They tackle very well. Their team speed is very good and they cause turnovers.”
Causing turnovers has been a specialty of the Wolfpack defense under second-year head coach Chuck Amato. NC State has 13 takeaways (nine fumble recoveries, four interceptions) through five games, and the Wolfpack ranks fifth nationally in turnover margin at +9.
“Defensively they’re very stingy,” said O’Leary. “They’ve got some outstanding players and they utilize them very well.”
Conversely, Georgia Tech has been plagued by turnovers the last two weeks, including six turnovers that led to the loss to Maryland, and the Yellow Jackets stand at -1 in turnover margin on the season.
“When you look at the football team, we’re playing better on both sides of the ball,” said O’Leary. “What we’re doing this year that we hadn’t done prior to this point last year is turn the ball over. I’ve said this from day one: turnovers and penalties are the first things that hurt a football team. And obviously they’ve hurt us in two games, in two very tough overtime losses [to Clemson and Maryland]. But I’ve told our team that when you’re down 14-0 to Maryland and comeback to take the lead 17-14, that shows a lot about the character of our football team.”
The Georgia Tech offense is led by senior quarterback George Godsey, who ranks eighth nationally and directs an offense that ranks ninth in the nation in scoring (39.8 points per game) and yardage (460.0 yards per game). Senior wide receiver Kelly Campbell, who holds Tech career records for catches and receiving yards, currently ranks second in the ACC in receptions and yards.
Tech’s defense will be without starting middle linebacker Daryl Smith for the third straight game. Smith suffered a sprained elbow on Sept. 29 against Clemson, and the Tech coaching staff hopes to have him back in the lineup on Nov. 1 against North Carolina. In the meantime senior Ross Mitchell, who played linebacker in 1998 and 1999, will fill his void at the middle linebacker position after starting the year at fullback.