Nov. 4, 2003
ATLANTA – After a bye week, Georgia Tech (5-3, 3-2 ACC) will hit the road to face an improved Duke (2-7, 0-5 ACC) squad Saturday, Nov. 8, at 1 p.m. in Wallace Wade Stadium. The game will be just the second for the Yellow Jackets in 27 days.
“Well, since we had to do it, it’s good,” said head coach Chan Gailey of the long layoff. “There’s no choice, it was here and that was part of it. We’ve hopefully been able to recover a little bit, we weren’t that beat up anyway. It came at a good time, academically, as well. Now it’s time to get back into it, and we have a four-week push. We’ve got a four-week hard push right now.”
The Blue Devils made a coaching change two weeks ago, naming former Tech player and assistant coach, Ted Roof, interim head coach and he has Duke playing better football as of late. Roof guided Duke to impressive efforts in losses to NC State, 28-21, in Durham, N.C., and No. 19 Tennessee, 23-6, in Knoxville, Tenn.
“They’ve changed more on offense than they did on defense, and that’s natural because Ted (Roof) was running the defense before, and they’re not going to change drastically,” said Gailey. “But they’ve changed offensively, and are doing some things that are a little bit different, and yes, they have changed some tendencies. We were fortunate that we could at least get two weeks to look at some of those things, but they’ll have something new this week too. They’ve had something new for every game on both sides of the ball, so they’ll have something new this week as well.”
Duke also has one of the most dangerous tailbacks in the Atlantic Coast Conference in Chris Douglas. Douglas currently ranks fifth in the ACC for career all-purpose yardage with 5,311 and is averaging 82.1 yards per game on the ground, third in the ACC. Along with Douglas, the Blue Devils pose a special teams threat with junior Senterrio Landrum. Landrum ranks second in the league and third nationally, averaging 30.76 yards per kickoff return.
The Georgia Tech defense has been the main reason the Yellow Jackets stand a half game out of second place. The Tech defense currently leads the ACC in rush defense allowing 94.8 yards per game. The Jackets rank 12th in the country in scoring defense (16.0 points per game) and 22nd in total defense (312.5 yards per game).
Leading the Georgia Tech defense continues to be linebackers Keyaron Fox and Daryl Smith. Fox leads Tech in tackles (101) and the ACC with 12.6 per game. Smith ranks second on the Jacket squad in tackles, tallying 10.5 per contest, seventh in the conference.
“Well, if you don’t figure out where Smith and Fox are, you’re making a big mistake,” said Gailey. “If you don’t get a hat on them, they’re going to make every tackle. If you try to slip a lineman up or slip a tight end up to get onto those guys too quickly, that’s where our defensive linemen are able to make some plays. The other good thing, I think, is that the disguise factor is a big plus for us. Our guys are always moving around, and lining up in different spots. You think that Fox is coming off the edge, and he backs out, but here comes Smith off the other side. Or we show blitz from one side, and here it comes off the other side…those things really help our defensive line be effective.”
Free safety James Butler has been leading the Tech secondary. Butler made two interceptions in the last game versus Maryland and leads the conference with five on the season. Why has he been so productive? “Preparation,” says Gailey. “You have to have a certain amount of ability, you have to have an understanding of the game, but preparation is one of the things that he does best, in my opinion.
“He understands formations and tendencies and I think he goes into the game with a knowledge of what needs to be done. He does have a natural feel for the game, and that comes with studying. You get a better feel and it’s amazing how much better it is when you study the game.”
Along with individuals, the Rambling Wreck defensive line is playing its best football of the season. Freshmen Mansfield Wrotto and Joe Anoai have been solid contributors, along with starters Eric Henderson and converted linebacker, Gerris Wilkinson. Henderson leads the league in sacks with seven.
“First of all, we’ve been able to stay healthy, with Eric (Henderson) and Travis (Parker) both staying healthy, and then of course Gerris (Wilkinson) moved from linebacker to defensive end. He has really been an excellent pass rusher off the corner, and surprisingly for his size, plays the run very well because of his quickness. The one thing that we have on the defensive line is speed. We’ve got so much more speed than the offensive lines that we’re playing against. We’re not as big, but we can get into the creases and stop the run game and create problems in pass protection with that speed.
“He’s (Joe Anoai) really added some punch to our defensive line. He’s a strong young man. I think he came here a little over 230 and he’s almost 260 (pounds) now. He’s really gotten bigger and stronger during the course of a season, which doesn’t often happen during the course of the season, by the way. He’s added some punch because of his speed and quickness, especially to our nickel pass rush schemes, which is where he’s playing most of the time.”
The Yellow Jackets have been plus-five in turnover margin during the winning streak and have outgained their opponents 343-305.3, including 164.5-100.8 on the ground. Starting running back P.J. Daniels has made the most of his first season as the starter, gaining an ACC best 85.8 yards per game.
Senior wide receiver Jonathan Smith has been a difference maker for the Yellow Jackets so far this season. Smith gained ACC Offensive Back of the Week in two consecutive weeks and has moved up to fourth on the Georgia Tech career reception list (141) and career receiving yards list (1,868). Smith currently ranks 17th in the nation averaging 96.0 receiving yards per game.
“We’re fortunate to have a couple this year, with Nate Curry finally getting well, it’s a good complement,” said Gailey. “And then, I think early in the fall, in practices, he earned Reggie’s (Ball) trust, somewhat, and I think that’s probably helped both of them a great deal.
“I know, at times, Reggie has been accused of just throwing to Jonathan, and that’s not the case. He throws it to the guy that we think has a chance to be open, after looking at the coverage. But Jonathan is a really, really good football player with the ball in his hands. A lot of his yards, and I haven’t tallied it, come after he’s caught the ball. But there is a ton of yardage there, so you are trying to find a way to get the ball in his hands. When he gets the ball in his hands, he makes things happen. All of that together, is why, he has, this year, emerged as the guy that is making the most yardage, making the most catches, and having an all-conference year. And he really is.”