ATLANTA (Nov. 2) – The last three games between Georgia Tech and Virginia have been decided by a total of 13 points, and Tech head coach George O’Leary expects another hard-fought contest as his seventh-ranked Yellow Jackets take on the Cavaliers in Saturday’s Atlantic Coast Conference test at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville (3:30 p.m., ABC-TV).
After winning five straight games, Tech is now 6-1 overall and 4-1 in the ACC, while Virginia is 4-4 overall, 3-3 in the ACC.
“I think the big guy upstairs just says, you guys both play well and we’ll just see who wins,” said O’Leary at his weekly press conference. “We’ve had so many close games, it’s ironic that it happens that way.”
Last season, the Jackets trailed 38-17 in the third quarter before rallying for 24 unanswered points and a 41-38 victory over the then sixth-ranked Cavaliers. The previous year in Charlottesville, Virginia prevailed 35-31 in another shootout. In 1996, Tech upset the Cavaliers, 13-7, in Atlanta.
“I think both teams respect each other’s abilities,” continued O’Leary. “It will be a hard-hitting college football game. I think mistakes will tell the difference in the game. They are anxious to see us come to town and we are anxious to go up there. It’s going to be a hard fought game and a great ACC game.”
O’Leary heaped plenty of praise on Virginia’s outstanding running back, Thomas Jones, who leads the nation in rushing this week with 159.1 yards per game.
“We are facing the best back, I think, that I have seen in the last two years in Thomas Jones,” said O’Leary. “I think he can hurt you whether it’s short gains or big gains. He’s extremely quick and has good vision. He’s an extraordinary back. And anytime you have a back like that you have an offensive line that’s doing a great job.
“I think Virginia has had their problems like ourselves with injuries, but they are well coached. They have won seven games for ten or eleven years for a reason. I think they are a lot better than their record right now.”
As for his own team, O’Leary called Tech’s 48-21 win over NC State its best effort in several weeks.
“Really for the first time in last three or four games I was pleased with all three phases of the game, offense, defense and special teams,” said O’Leary. “I thought they showed improvement in what we are trying to accomplish. They took coaching the last week when we were off, and then they went out and executed. They are not where they need to be, but I think they took great strides to start the second half of the season the way you would like to start it. We just seemed a lot sharper and more attentive to more detail than we had been in the last three games. It’s a good way to start the second half and a stretch run.”
One player who has stepped up for the Tech defense is sophomore strong safety Chris Young, who had a strong game against the Wolfpack with 10 tackles and two pass breakups.
“I think Chris Young is going to be an outstanding player before he leaves Georgia Tech,” said O’Leary. “He needs to play under control a little more. His vision has to grow a little more, but I think he can become an outstanding player.”
The Jackets’ leading tackler with 58 hits, Young hails from Senoia, Ga., the same hometown and high school (East Coweta) as another hard-hitting Tech defender, Keith Brooking of the Atlanta Falcons.
“There’s no question you like to have guys who bring it like Chris does,” O’Leary continued. “He enjoys the contact of the game. I think he is a very intense youngster who goes and really enjoys having a good time on the football field. If he is involved in a play, that is a good time to him. I think that’s the emotion he shows on the field. He likes to mix it up.”