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Jackets Return Home to Host UConn

Nov. 8, 2004

ATLANTA–Coming off another impressive road victory, Georgia Tech returns home to host a non-conference battle with Big East member Connecticut Saturday at 1 p.m. at Bobby Dodd Stadium/Grant Field.

The game will not be televised but can be heard on the Georgia Tech ISP Radio network, including Atlanta flagship WXQI-AM 790 The Zone. To purchase tickets, priced at $28, click here.

The Yellow Jackets (5-3, 4-3 ACC) look to build on last Saturday’s 24-14 victory at NC State, their third ACC road win of the season. Tech needs one victory to become eligible for its eighth consecutive bowl berth.

Connecticut (5-3, 2-3 Big East), led by talented quarterback Dan Orlovsky, last played Oct. 23, when the Huskies fell, 42-30, at Syracuse.

Defense was the story in Tech’s win over the Wolfpack, just as it was in road wins at Maryland and Duke, whom Tech held to a combined 265 yards of total offense. The Jackets limited NC State to 72 yards rushing while allowing just one offensive touchdown.

Tech ranks 21st in the nation in total defense, allowing 308.1 yards per game. The Jackets are 27th in rushing defense (117.9), 27th in passing yards allowed (190.3), 28th in pass efficiency defense (110.2) and 30th in scoring defense (19.3 ppg).

All-star free safety James Butler is Tech’s only senior starter on defense and the unquestioned leader of the unit. He is Tech’s second-leading tackler with 57, along with two interceptions, 2.5 tackles for loss, three pass breakups and a forced fumble.

Junior middle linebacker Gerris Wilkinson is Tech’s top tacklers. Wilkinson has 82 hits to rank third in the ACC. Outside linebacker Chris Reis boasts 53 tackles, and he is second in the ACC in sacks (0.89 per game) while ranking third in tackles for loss (1.56 per game).

On the defensive line, the Jackets are led by all-ACC defensive ends Eric Henderson (25 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, two sacks) and Travis Parker (23 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss).

Sophomore quarterback Reggie Ball averages 195.9 yards of total offense per game, including 160.6 yards passing and 35.2 yards rushing. He has thrown 12 touchdown passes but also has 15 interceptions.

Sensational freshman Calvin Johnson is the Jackets’ leading receiver with 30 catches for 493 yards and six touchdowns. The trio of Johnson and seniors Levon Thomas (21-353-3) and Nate Curry (17-209-2) have accounted for better than two-thirds of Tech’s completions and more than 80 percent of the Jackets’ passing yards.

Leading rusher P.J. Daniels, who is seocnd in the ACC with 97.0 yards per game and five touchdowns, remains doubtful this week after missing the NC State game due to injury. After backup Chris Woods also went down against the Wolfpack, redshirt freshman Rashaun Grant stepped in with 122 yards rushing. He has 262 yards on 53 attempts on the season and is likely to make his first career start against UConn.

Not to be overlooked after Grant’s big day was the play of the Tech offensive line, especially the senior trio of center Andy Tidwell-Neal and tackles Kyle Wallace and Leon Robinson.

UConn ranks sixth in the nation in passing offense and 17th in total offense. Expected to be one of the top signal callers selected in next spring’s NFL draft, Orlovsky has completed 65 percent of his passes for 2,363 yards and 17 touchdowns with 12 interceptions.

GEORGIA TECH VS. CONNECTICUT

Georgia Tech and Connecticut are meeting for just the second time. The only other meeting occurred on Sept. 7, 2002 at Storrs, Conn., when the Yellow Jackets won, 31-14. Tony Hollings rushed for 144 yards and tied the Georgia Tech record with four touchdowns, all in the first half.

For the third time this season, Tech is facing a team whose head coach is a former Rambling Wreck assistant. UConn head coach Randy Edsall served as Tech’s defensive coordinator in 1998 before taking over the Huskies’ program. Earlier, Tech recorded back-to-back wins over Maryland’s Ralph Friedgen (Tech offensive coordinator, 1987-91 and 1997-00) and Duke’s Ted Roof (Tech assistant, 1998, and defensive coordinator, 1999-01).

Since 2001, Tech has played nine games against teams coached by former assistants, posting a 5-4 record (Friedgen, 2-2; Roof, 1-1; Edsall, 1-0; Gary Crowton, BYU, 1-1).

ANOTHER STRONG PERFORMANCE FOR THE DEFENSE

The Georgia Tech defense turned in another outstanding performance in the Jackets’ 24-14 victory at NC State, holding the Wolfpack to just 72 yards rushing and allowing just one offensive score. After allowing 175 total yards in the first quarter, Tech limited the Pack to just 131 the rest of the way. The Jackets had three interceptions and six sacks.

Reuben Houston grabbed two interceptions, both setting up Tech touchdowns. With Tech clinging to a three-point lead, NC State drove to the Tech 26-yard line, but redshirt freshman Adamm Oliver corralled quarterback Jay Davis and forced an intentional grounding penalty, forcing the Pack to have to try a 52-yard field goal that went wide right. Kenny Scott sealed the win by returning an interception 49 yards for a touchdown with 1:22 to play.

JOHNSON APPROACHES FRESHMAN MARKS

True freshman Calvin Johnson is Tech’s leading receiver with 30 catches for 293 yards and six touchdowns. His six scoring receptions are tied for the ACC lead. He leads all ACC freshmen in receptions and receiving yards and also ranks among the nation’s top freshmen receivers. The Tyrone, Ga., native is on pace to record one of the top receiving seasons ever by a Tech freshman.

Johnson caught his sixth touchdown pass against Virginia Tech to tie the Rambling Wreck record for touchdown catches by a freshman, equalling Kerry Watkins in 1999. The Tech record for touchdowns scored by a freshman is seven by tailback Robert Lavette in 1981.

TOP SEASONS BY TECH FRESHMEN

RECEPTIONS Robert Lavette (rb), 1981 45 Greg Lester (wr), 1987 33 Kerry Watkins (wr), 1999 (Fr.-R) 33 Calvin Johnson (wr), 2004 30

RECEIVING YARDS Greg Lester (wr), 1987 593 Calvin Johnson (wr), 2004 493

TOUCHDOWN RECEPTIONS Kerry Watkins, 1999 (Fr.-R) 6 Calvin Johnson, 2004 6

TOUCHDOWNs SCORED Robert Lavette (rb), 1981 7 Kerry Watkins, 1999 (Fr.-R) 6 Calvin Johnson, 2004 6

SPIDER MAN

A quick glance at the game statistics doesn’t do justice to the performance of freshman wide receiver Calvin Johnson in Georgia Tech’s 24-14 victory at NC State.

Johnson had three catches for 47 yards in the game. More importantly, the talented rookie made two spectacular third-down catches and then drew a pass interference penalty to help set up Tech’s go-ahead touchdown.

On 3rd-and-4 from the Wolfpack 43, Johnson cut across the middle and reached back to make a one-handed grab on a ball thrown well behind him. Three plays later, he made a leaping, 27-yard reception for a first down at the 4-yard line. He then drew the penalty to give Tech first-and-goal at the two.

His one-handed snag was tabbed as the No. 1 Top Play of the Day on ESPN. Said NC defensive back Marcus Hudson of the catch, “He reached back with his big hand and pulled it in like Spider Man.”

ANSWERING THE BELL

Entering the season, placekicking was a question mark for Georgia Tech, but redshirt freshmen Travis Bell has stepped forward. After missing his first field goal attempt from 46 yards in the season opener, he has made nine straight three-pointers, including a season-best 47-yard field goal against Duke. He has also been perfect on extra points (19-19).

NATIONAL LEADERS – FIELD GOAL PERCENTAGE

Todd Pegram, Texas A&M 1.000 10-10 Darren McCaleb, Southern Miss 1.000 9-9 Reagan Schneider, UTEP .929 13-14 Alexis Serna, Oregon State .909 10-11 Andrew Wellock, Eastern Michigan .900 18-20 Travis Bell, Georgia Tech .900 9-10

WISH GRANT-ED

With Tech’s top two tailbacks sidelined by injuries, redshirt freshman Rashaun Grant stepped in a rushed for 122 yards on 20 carries to help the Jackets to a 24-14 ACC road win at NC State.

Starter P.J. Daniels, the all-ACC junior, missed the NC State game, and backup Chris Woods sustained an injury midway through the first quarter, so Tech turned to Grant. His effort equalled the 11th-best single-game rushing total by a Tech freshman, and the best since teammate Ajenavi Eziemefe gained 136 in a victory at North Carolina in 2002.

In the first seven games of the season, Grant had gained a total of 140 yards on 33 attempts.

POSITION CHANGES DON’T PHASE WILKINSON

Playing his third position in three seasons is no problem for Georgia Tech’s leading tackler, Gerris Wilkinson. The junior linebacker from Oakland, Calif., is third in the ACC with 10.3 tackles per game. He also has 11 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, one interception and a forced fumble.

After playing as a backup outside linebacker as a redshirt freshman in 2002, Wilkinson moved to defensive end just before the start of the 2003 campaign. He started every game at end and collected 47 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and four sacks. He was named to the 2003 ACC All-Academic team.

Last spring he returned to linebacker but had to learn the middle linebacker position, where he replaced Daryl Smith, now a starter for the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.

COLLECTIVE EFFORT FOR DEFENSIVE LINE

All-ACC defensive end Eric Henderson is the most prominent name, but Georgia Tech’s defensive line has been a collective effort of six players.

Opposite Henderson at defensive end is fellow junior Travis Parker. Henderson, who missed three games due to injury, has 25 tackles, two sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss, while Parker has 23 tackles, two sacks, 3.5 TFL and two pass breakups.

Sophomores Joe Anoai and Mansfield Wrotto start at the defensive tackles. Wrotto has 12 tackles with 2.5 TFL, and Anoai has 26 tackles with three sacks and 9.5 TFL (third on the team), including four in Tech’s win over NC State.

A pair of freshmen are the primary subs in defensive end Adamm Oliver and tackle Darryl Richard, enabling Tech to keep the line fresh. Both played well in Tech’s strong defensive effort against NC State. Oliver harassed quarterback Jay Davis into an intentional grounding penalty that resulted in a missed field goal from 52 yards. Richard had a tackle for loss and a sack.

SACK ATTACK

Georgia Tech ranks third in the ACC with 27 sacks (3.38 per game), led by outside linebacker Chris Reis with seven and middle linebacker Gerris Wilkinson with 3.5. Eleven different defenders have recorded sacks.

After recording just three sacks in the first three games, Tech has had 24 sacks in the last five contests.

HALL OF FAME INDUCTEES

Six Yellow Jackets legends, including former football standout Steve Raible, will be into the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame Friday night and then honored at halftime of Saturday’s game.

Raible was a three-year letterwinner and two-year starter as a wide receiver/tight end, earning All-Southeastern Independent honors in 1975. Although he had modest receiving statistics (career totals of 24 catches for 452 yards and five touchdowns) in Tech’s wishbone offense, he went on to a standout NFL career with the Seattle Seahawks.

Other inductees include major league baseball stars Jason Varitek and Nomar Garciaparra, who led the Jackets to the 1994 College World Series championship game, 1996 Olympic gold medalist and NCAA track champion Derek Mills; NCAA track champion Natasha Alleyne, and Dr. Aaron King, Georgia Tech’s team dentist for more than 40 years.

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