Sept. 23, 2003
Georgia Tech travels to Nashville, Tenn., Saturday to face a Vanderbilt team that is vastly improved from the team that Tech faced in last year’s season opener. The Yellow Jackets (1-3) and Commodores (1-3) kick off at 7 p.m. ET in Vanderbilt Stadium, and the game will be televised on pay-per-view via Comcast/Charter Sports Southeast (CSS) in the state of Georgia. Tech head football coach Chan Gailey points towards attitude for this week’s approach.
“By far the biggest part of our game and our team right now is the mindset,” said Gailey. “Obviously you have to do the physical things, but the mindset that you take onto the football field is vital for our football team right now. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday as well as Saturday. They got a hard lesson Saturday, so it will be easier to get their attention this week. It’s an awful lesson to learn, but it’s going to last a long time.”
The mindset that Tech takes into this week is establishing the run. The Jackets are averaging 88.8 yards per game, and Gailey says that Tech is still searching for an identity.
“I would like to be able to run the ball better,” said Gailey. “We’re still feeling our way through with [the offensive line] right now. We’re trying to rotate guards to keep them fresh. We’re making some mistakes that we’ve got to correct. They’re not where we want them to be, by any means. There’s some mental errors involved, there’s a lack of sustaining blocks at times, and we have to do a better job of adjusting to people on the move.”
The Rambling Wreck will face a Vanderbilt team that is playing better than its 1-3 record. The Commodores dropped a tough decision to 19th-ranked TCU last week, 30-14, after turning the ball over four times. In Vandy’s opening game of the season versus Ole Miss, the Commodores surrendered a 21-14 lead in the fourth quarter to fall 24-21. Vanderbilt runs different formations at its opponents, and quarterback Jay Cutler is coming off a career-high 250 yards passing last week.
“They give you a lot to think about,” said Gailey. “The option game, some power game, the bootleg game, the dropback game. They give it all to you, and they have systematically added something each week to the mix. And they’ll have something added for us this week as well.
“They’ve made a great deal of improvement. They are much sounder in all phases of the game. Defensively, in particular, you don’t see guys out of place. They might get outrun to the corner or a guy might miss a tackle, but they’re very seldom out of position. I’ve seen a great deal of improvement.”
Shining for the Georgia Tech offense is wide receiver Jonathan Smith. Smith had a career day against Clemson with nine receptions for 170 yards, his second 100-yard game of the season. That effort propelled him into the top five of career receptions (118) and pushed him up to 10th in school history in total receiving yards (1,455).
Distributing the ball to Smith is true freshman quarterback Reggie Ball. Ball has shown that he can play at a high level at times, but has also made some freshman mistakes. Ball was named ACC Rookie of the Week on Sept. 15, after almost leading Tech past No. 10 Florida State in Tallahassee, Fla., on Sept. 13, ending the game 12 of 25 for 128 yards. On the season, the Tech rookie is 54 of 111 (48.6 percent) for 660 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
“Overall, he’s handling the process of playing quarterback very well,” said Gailey. “Sometimes we forget that this will be his fifth start and he’s 18 years old. You have to keep that in the back of your mind. After the way he played his first three weeks, you start to say, OK, he’s here. But he’s not there yet, and I have to keep reminding myself that we have to go over the basics every week.”
Continuing to headline the defense for the Yellow Jackets are linebacker Keyaron Fox and defensive end Eric Henderson. Fox ranks second in the Atlantic Coast Conference in tackles, averaging 12.5 tackles per game, while Henerson leads the ACC in quarterback sacks with 1.25 per game.