Nov. 23, 2004
ATLANTA–Already bowl eligible for the eighth straight year, Georgia Tech concludes the regular season with a road game at in-state rival and seventh-ranked Georgia Saturday at Sanford Stadium in Athens. The game will be nationally televised at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS (WGCL in Atlanta).
The Yellow Jackets (6-4, 4-4 ACC) and Bulldogs (8-2, 6-2 SEC) have split the last six meetings in this rivalry, with Georgia winning the last three. Tech is seeking its first win in the series since a 27-15 victory in Athens in 2000.
Georgia, ranked seventh in the coaches’ poll and eighth by the Associated Press, represents Georgia Tech’s sixth ranked opponent and seventh bowl-eligible foe of the season. The Bulldogs are also Tech’s fourth opponent this season to have an open date the Saturday before facing the Yellow Jackets.
“We’re beat up, but everybody is beat up this time of year,” said Tech head coach Chan Gailey. “It would have been nice to have an open week, but that’s part of it. There are a lot of variables, but you still have to go play on Saturday.”
The Georgia Tech defense, which ranks 18th in the nation in yards allowed (306.8), faces a stern test this week. Senior quarterback David Greene leads Georgia’s attack, which averages 416.8 yards per game. The Snellville, Ga., native is 10 yards shy of breaking Peyton Manning’s SEC record of 11,201 career passing yards. Greene has 17 touchdown passes with two interceptions on the season.
“He’s a very intelligent football player,” said Gailey. “Their package complements what he does very well, and he’s a smart football player. He knows when to take the risk and when not to take the risk.”
Both teams have used several tailbacks this season. For Tech, redshirt freshman Rashaun Grant is likely to make his third consecutive start. On the season, the Tampa, Fla., native has 400 yards on 88 carries.
Gailey said Tuesday that leading rusher P.J. Daniels (582 yards, 5 TD) is doubtful this week after missing the last three games with a knee injury. However, backup Chris Woods (275 yards on 48 attempts), who has also missed the last two contests, could return this week.
Georgia has used primarily a pair of freshmen tailbacks in Thomas Brown and Danny Ware. Ware leads the duo with 695 rushing yards, while Brown has tallied 623 yards on the ground, ranking them seventh and ninth in the SEC, respectively. They have combined for 11 rushing touchdowns this season.
“There are different guys, and every guy has a different running style,” said Gailey. “We’ve obviously had to make the same changes, going through three tailbacks ourselves. Everybody makes subtle changes. The running plays are somewhat the same, but the way that they’re run and executed changes subtly with different tailbacks running the football. Is he a slash guy, is he a bounce-out guy, is he a power guy, and you have to adjust when you see that guy walk in the ballgame.”
Tech’s defense is anchored by senior free safety James Butler, a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award the last two years. Butler is the Jackets’ second-leading tackler with 78, along with two interceptions. Leading Tech in tackles in junior middle linebacker Gerris Wilkinson, who ranks second in the ACC with 10.7 tackles per game. He is also third in the league with 14.5 tackles for loss.
On the other side, Georgia’s David Pollack is one of the nation’s top defensive linemen. The senior defensive end is sixth on the SEC’s all-time career sacks list with 31. The Georgia defense ranks 16th nationally, allowing 304.3 yards per game.
“First of all you’ve got to find him,” Gailey said of Pollack. “That’s the hard part, because they do a good job of moving him around and getting him in different spots to either rush the passer or play the run. So you’d better know where he is. One of the keys for us will be to see where he is and what we have to do, whether it’s in pass protection or in the run game. You can’t say you’re going to run away from him the whole day, or to him the whole day to keep his pursuit from being a factor. You’ve got to go run your offense but realize the situation is and adjust once you figure out where he is.”
Freshman wide receiver Calvin Johnson becomes a bigger part of Tech’s attack each week. He earned his fourth ACC Rookie of the Week Award after back-to-back 100-yard efforts. Johnson had five catches for 108 yards against No. 18 Virginia and a career-high 131 yards on six receptions against Connecticut. The Tyrone, Ga., native is second in the ACC in touchdown receptions (6) and receiving yards per game (73.2).
But numbers don’t tell the whole story on Johnson, according to his head coach.
“He’s an excellent athlete, but to me, the things that make him a special player are the intangibles, not the tangibles,” said Gailey. “It’s not height, weight, speed, hands. It’s work ethic, it’s attitude, it’s selflessness. He’s a model citizen, and that’s what makes him so valuable to the program. We have a great group of class young men who are good to coach, and he’s certainly one of the top ones.”