Sept. 10, 2002
After a pair of comfortable non-conference wins to open the season, Georgia Tech (2-0, 0-0 ACC) will have to adjust for the intensity of Atlantic Coast Conference play Saturday as the Jackets travel to Clemson (1-1, 0-0 ACC) for a nationally-televised (ESPN) contest that kicks off at 12 noon at Clemson Memorial Stadium.
Tech is coming off a 35-14 win at Connecticut, while Clemson rebounded from a season-opening, 31-28 loss at Georgiawith a 33-13 victory over Louisiana Tech.
“From what I’ve seen, Clemson looks fast,” said Jackets’ head coach Chan Gailey Tuesday at his weekly press conference. “They have very good team speed, including the up front guys on both sides of the line, especially the inside guys on defense. All of the offensive linemen are big and they’re a lot different then what we’ve been looking at the last couple of games.”
While the Jackets have not played ACC-caliber competition to start the season, they have impressed on both sides of the ball. Tailback Tony Hollings has paced the offense with 297 yards on just 33 carries. He also has six rushing touchdowns, including four against Connecticut on September 7. Quarterback A.J. Suggs has been extremely efficient in limited action, completing 19 of 27 passes for 268 yards and three scores. But Gailey knows his offense will face a stiff test against the Tigers.
“They are using an eight-man front and are attacking the run very well,” Gailey said. “Their linebackers can all run and those guys are really active players. They use a lot of disguises in their packages.”
In addition to the action on the field, Gailey is well aware of the raucous reputation of Clemson Memorial Stadium and expects the crowd to be a factor in a series that has seen its last six games decided by three points.
“We can’t say that the crowd won’t bother us,” said Gailey. “It’s an issue. They have lots of fans and it’s loud, especially on third downs. We’ll have to make sure that we can handle the crowd noise situation, and we’ll work on that during practice this week. It may not happen every day, but we’ll try to simulate noise on the practice field.”
Gailey will also look to simulate a potent Clemson offense in order to prepare his defense during practice this week. The Tigers are led by quarterback Willie Simmons, who is averaging 203.5 yards per game on 40 pass attempts per outing. Wideout Kevin Youngblood stands as Simmons’ favorite early-season target with16 catches for 155 yards and a score.
“Offensively they seem to be a little bit more talented up front, but Simmons is a little bit different quarterback than (Woody) Dantzler was,” said Gailey. “They have some changes in their offense because of what Simmons does well, as opposed to what Dantzler did. Their receivers are good, and that will be a big match-up for us with our defensive backs on their receivers.”
The Tech secondary should be up for the challenge as the Jackets have allowed just 150.5 passing yards per game thus far. Senior Marvious Hester and junior Jonathan Cox start at the corners, while seniors Cory Collins and Jeremy Muyres man the safety positions. Senior corner Kelley Rhino has impressed Gailey with his play in nickel situations and on special teams.
“I think he surprises everybody by what he is able to do,” said Gailey. “He has a heart as big as the state of Georgia and he plays with it on every snap. He’s fun to be around and watch him play the game. He brings all 180-whatever pounds he is with every lick. He’s doing a great job in playing the nickel and on punt returns. I don’t know if you’ve watched the tape, but when it’s third-and-eight and they gain seven, look who’s making the tackle. He’s flying around and making some crucial tackles to get our team off the field on third down.”