ATLANTA (Sept. 14) – After opening the season with a pair of road games, 12th-ranked Georgia Tech (1-1, 0-1 ACC) hosts Central Florida (0-2) in its home opener Saturday 7 p.m. at Bobby Dodd Stadium/Grant Field.
“They’ve played two very good football teams in Purdue and Florida,” said Georgia Tech head coach George O’Leary of the Knights. “The better teams did win, but I think Central Florida presents a lot of problems with the way they spread their offense out. They have some good skill receivers and an excellent special teams game.”
“[UCF quarterback] Vic Penn is a very accurate passer. They’ve got every type of action you could want back from drop back to boot to screen, and I think he throws them all well. He’s very aware of what’s going on in front of him. From what I can see he’s throwing the ball where he needs to throw it.”
If the Tech offense is to continue its impressive numbers (the Jackets are averaging 42 points and 494 yards of total offense per game to rank 11th nationally in both categories) it must overcome the loss of sophomore tailback Joe Burns (Thomasville, Ga.), who has been lost for the season after breaking his right ankle against FSU.
Burns, a co-starter with senior Phillip Rogers (East Point, Ga.), was Tech’s top rusher as a freshman with 474 yards, and he gained 87 yards in two games this season, along with seven receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown.
“It’s a problem losing a guy like Joe Burns because he did a lot of things for us,” said O’Leary. “This is similar to when Charles Wiley went out last year. He played a lot of positions for us, and the intensity he brings to our offense is something we’ll miss. Those things happen in football, and you have to move on, but if you have to lose one back, he’s probably the back you wouldn’t want to lose.”
Rogers, who leads Tech and ranks sixth in the ACC in rushing with 64.5 yards per game and three touchdowns, suffered a shoulder injury in the FSU game but is expected to play this week. Sophomore Sean Gregory (Homewood, Ill.), 39 yards, 7.8 average, 1 TD, becomes the backup, and O’Leary will take a look this week in practice at true freshmen Mike Kitchen (Lebanon, Pa.) and Sidney Ford (Lindale, Ga.).
“Mike Kitchen probably had the best preseason,” said O’Leary. “We have backs that cut before the hole, but Kitchen cuts in the hole, and that’s the sign of a good back. He sees it, has good vision and can find the gaps. His biggest problem is with the passing game and protection and things that young players have trouble with. I thought Sidney Ford was doing a good job, too, but an injury slowed him down in the preseason. He was injured and missed a couple weeks, and that put him behind.”
While Burns will be sorely missed on the offensive side, the Tech defense welcomes the return of two key players in linebacker Matt Uremovich (New Lenox, Ill.) and cornerback Troy Tolbert (Augusta, Ga.), both of whom are coming off suspensions. Uremovich, a 6-1, 227-pound sophomore, started five games last season and made 32 tackles and one interception before his suspension. Tolbert, a 5-1, 195-pound junior, has played primarily on special teams the last two years. He earned a starting berth in the spring but was suspended during the preseason.
“I think we have more speed on defense,” said O’Leary. “What’s been missing is the chemistry of the defense from a leadership standpoint. Matt Uremovich brings that back. I think that’s what’s been missing on defense is the generalship that you need, and Matt brings that to this unit from the huddle, to play calling to the end of the play. I think he’s a pretty headsy player as far as doing things that need to get done on defense. There’s no question he’ll be a great asset to the defense.”
O’Leary said he was pleased with the way that his squad has handled the disappointing loss to Florida State.
“They’re annoyed and they should be,” he said. “Three years ago I couldn’t say that. We went down there with goal of winning. We didn’t come away with that, and we lost to a very good football team. I’m not taking anything away from Florida State. They are very good and they are No. 1. The goal was to go down there and beat them and play well. Parts of our game played well. I think we played a full game.
“That would have been a great win for our program. We came back not getting that, and they understand we went down there for the win. I was happy with the attitude last night. They’re out there annoyed and saying, we can’t let any of these others slip away.’ Every week is a new season and that’s how they’re treating this game against Central Florida.”