Oct. 25, 2005
Georgia Tech (4-2, 2-2 ACC) will host Atlantic Coast Conference rival Clemson (4-3, 2-3 ACC) for homecoming on Saturday, Oct. 29, in Bobby Dodd Stadium/Grant Field at 3:30 p.m. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN.
The Yellow Jackets had an unexpected bye last week after the Tech-Miami game was postponed due to Hurricane Wilma and rescheduled for Nov. 19 in the Orange Bowl. The off week gave the Jackets a chance to rest some personnel with minor injuries.
“We’ll have a lot more guys on the field today than if we would’ve gone out and played a game this past weekend,” said head coach Chan Gailey. “What you’re hoping is that you’ve healed enough so that you’re healthier for this game and the next game.”
The Tigers cruised to a 37-7 victory over Temple last Saturday in Death Valley. Clemson has lost by a total of 13 points in its three losses, including overtime defeats to No. 9 Miami and No. 11 Boston College.
“They’re pretty different,” said Gailey about the Tigers from last year to this year. “They are moving the ball around a lot more and throwing it to the outside instead of running it up the middle. They’re working hard to try and get the ball to (Aaron) Kelly and (Chansi) Stuckey. Defensively, they were basically an eight-man front last year but they now have a seven-man front and use more secondary blitzes.”
The Jackets and Tigers have not had much separation in the previous nine meetings. Eight of the last nine games between the two schools have been decided by five points or fewer. That includes a streak of six games decided by exactly three points from 1996-2001.
“The reason for that is because most of our recent games have been so close,” said Gailey about Clemson being a big rival. “It seems like our last 10 games have been decided by seven points or less so it becomes a rivalry when all the games are close and hotly contested.”
The Tigers’ offense has mightily improved throughout the season. Clemson ranks third in the ACC in total offense, averaging 396.3 yards per game. The Tigers accumulated 7.7 yards per play against Temple in their last victory and are the only team in Division I-A football to not lose a fumble this year.
Senior quarterback Charlie Whitehurst is having one of his finest seasons as a Tiger. Whitehurst leads the ACC with two 300-yard passing games this season and ranks seventh all-time in career passing yards with 8,839. He ranks third in the league in passing yards per game (236.7) and passing efficiency (136.9).
Freshman running back James Davis emerged for the Tigers with a 143-yard rushing game against NC State in Clemson’s 31-10 win over the Wolfpack. Unfortunately, Davis broke his right wrist in the game, missing the Temple game and remains doubtful for this weekend’s contest. Junior tailback Reggie Merriweather is more than capable of filling the void, rushing for 61 yards per game, seventh best in the ACC.
“Davis was playing very well, but I think that you’re better off if you only have to worry about one player instead of two,” said Gailey. “I hate it for James but it’s one of those situations when someone is banged up and can’t play. I’m sure Merriweather will take advantage of the opportunity.”
Junior wide receiver Chansi Stuckey leads the Tigers with 34 receptions this season and is tied for second in the league with 4.9 catches per game. His top game came against the Wolfpack, catching eight balls for 103 yards. Stuckey accounted for over 100 total yards against Temple last Saturday and is fifth in the ACC with 9.0 yards per punt return.
“He’s a great receiver,” said cornerback Dennis Davis on Stuckey. “I remember him from last year. He’s a playmaker type of guy. They use him a lot for short passes and have him make the defender miss. We’re going to have to tackle well once he gets the ball.”
“He’s a very good football player and very elusive,” said Gailey. “Tackling will be at a premium this week. We can’t afford missed tackles against a team like this, especially against him in particular.”
Clemson’s defense has benefited from the offense not turning the ball over, carrying a turnover ratio of +1.14, 11th best in the nation. The Yellow Jackets are second in the nation with 14 interceptions and rank eighth in the NCAA with a +1.17 turnover margin.
“On defense, they’re a really tough team,” said tailback Tashard Choice. “Their defensive ends [Charles Bennett, Gaines Adams] are very good, and they have a good defensive strategy as far as putting their players in the right positions at the right times. You’ve got to go out and try and control the ball and put ourselves in a good opportunity to score.”
Senior cornerback Tye Hill is the leader in the Clemson defensive back. Hill was a midseason addition to the Jim Thorpe Award list after his solid play this season and leads Clemson with three interceptions.
“I’m not sure,” said Gailey on who he though Clemson would match-up with Calvin Johnson. “I think Sergio Gilliam is a guy that’s 6’3 and matches up pretty well in regards to size. It would be interesting if they tried to do something with him because of the fact that he’s a tall corner.”
The Yellow Jackets’ Calvin Johnson continues to lead the conference in reception yards per game (96.8) and receptions per game (5.33). The 6 foot, 4 inch, sophomore has four touchdown grabs on the season and is trying to become the first Tech player to lead the conference in receiving since Harvey Middleton did so in 1996.
Junior starting quarterback Reggie Ball is third in the ACC in total offense, averaging 243.8 yards per game. Ball is fifth in the league with 212 yards per game through the air and has six touchdowns on the season.
Tailback duo of senior P.J. Daniels and sophomore Tashard Choice lead the Jackets behind Ball. Daniels is second in the conference with 82.3 yards per game, while Choice rushed for a career-high 107 yards and two touchdowns against Duke in Tech’s last game on Oct. 15.
“The fact that we go into each game with everybody prepared to play the game helps us,” said Choice. “[P.J. and I] have two different styles of running, and hopefully if he comes out, I can do something to keep the offense going. We complement each other and help the team in different ways.”
The Rambling Wreck defense has yet to allow a single 100-yard rusher this season and rank 11th in the nation, second in the ACC, allowing just 95.7 yards on the ground per game. Tech is 18th in the country in total defense, limiting its opponents to 301 yards per game.
Sophomore linebacker Philip Wheeler leads the ACC with four interceptions in six games. Wheeler has three tackles for a loss and is fifth on the Tech squad with 25 tackles. Senior linebacker Gerris Wilkinson leads the team with 44 tackles and is 12th in the league with 7.3 tackles per game.