ATLANTA – Georgia Tech’s football team isn’t going to Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom to kick off the 2000 season, but the Yellow Jackets will have to deal with a “magical” character.
“Anytime you go into your first game this early in the pre season you have the anticipation of if you have everything covered with your team,” said Tech head coach George O’Leary. “I like early games because it sets a goal for our players, especially when you play a team like Virginia Tech. They have a magical quarterback in Michael Vick that can do a lot of big things and can hurt you in a lot of different ways.”
Georgia Tech visits 10th-ranked Virginia Tech in the Black Coaches Association Bowl on Sunday, August 27 at 8 p.m. in a game that will be nationally televised on ESPN2. The game will mark the beginning of the Rambling Wreck’s 108th season of football.
Virginia Tech is coming off an 11-1 record a year ago and an appearance in the Sugar Bowl where they played Florida State for the national championship. The Hokies return eight starters on offense, including the Heisman Trophy candidate Vick, and three starters on defense from last year’s Big East Championship squad.
“I thought Vick was outstanding in the Sugar Bowl last year,” said O’Leary. “It says something when you can run away from the Florida State defense like he did. He did more with getting out of the pocket and running than I have seen anybody be able to do against Florida State’s defense.”
Vick, who compiled 322 yards of total offense against the Seminoles in the national championship game, was named the 1999 Big East Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year. He passed for 1,840 yards and 12 touchdowns while running for an additional 585 yards and eight more scores.
“I think the key to defending Vick is to make him throw from the pocket,” said O’Leary. “He is a lot more dangerous roaming around back there either running or looking to throw the ball. I have been very impressed with his delivery and I think he is a very accurate passer. All the notoriety that he is getting right now is richly deserved.
“They are going to run what they need to run and he does a very good job of getting it done. I’ve obviously been impressed with Vick, but I’m equally impressed with their offensive line. They have done an excellent job of protecting Vick as well as establishing the line of scrimmage for their power game. I think Virginia Tech really is a power team that can give the ball to some tailbacks who have the ability to make you miss. They have also have the ability to run some option, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see them add more to their package with Vick now a year older.”
O’Leary’s squad returns 36 letterwinners and 18 starters from 1999 when the Yellow Jackets went 8-4 and made their third straight bowl game appearance.
“We will be well tested by Virginia Tech from a defensive standpoint,” said O’Leary, now in his sixth season on the Flats. “They can play a seven, eight or nine man front on defense and they have the ability to force you to play a little left handed offensively. And they obviously have a great history with their special teams play, so we’ve got to be ready to play in that area.”
The Yellow Jackets welcome back six starters on offense and 10 on defense, but O’Leary will have to replace 1999 Heisman Trophy runner-up Joe Hamilton. Redshirt junior George Godsey (Tampa, Fla.) steps into the starting quarterback spot after two years as Hamilton’s primary backup.
“I’m happy for George,” said O’Leary. “From last spring to now, I’ve seen a marked improvement in his play. He has his limitations, but very few quarterbacks don’t have some limitations. George’s biggest strength is that he knows the offense and he reads opposing defenses very well. We’re going to be in the right play, now we have to execute.
“The team has quietly gotten behind George as their leader,” O’Leary continued. “That’s the way that it should be ” your quarterback should be your leader. He does everything that we need him to do for us to win football games with him at the helm. George is a very smart kid, and he’s going to use his skills and make the right decisions to help us win games.”