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Jackets Try to Cool Off Hot Virginia Team

Oct. 22, 2002

Georgia Tech (4-3, 1-3 ACC) can expect a second half surge Saturday when it faces red-hot Virginia (6-2, 4-1 ACC) at Bobby Dodd Stadium/Grant Field for a regionally-televised 3:30 p.m. (ABC, WSB Atlanta) match-up.

Winners of six in a row overall, the Cavaliers have won four consecutive games after trailing at the break. Virginia is averaging 22.1 points and 214.4 yards of offense in the second half, compared to 9.6 and 148.9 in the opening half.

“It’s better execution, from what I’ve seen,” said Tech head coach Chan Gailey. “They haven’t come out with new plays or new defenses. They have gotten some big plays. Last week, they got the kickoff return to start the half, then the next drive they got a big 50-yard pass. It’s been big plays that have gotten them back in ball games.”

Last time out, Virginia rebounded from a 21-0 halftime deficit to defeat North Carolina, 37-27, marking the second-greatest comeback in school history. The Jackets have lost back-to-back games (Wake Forest, Maryland) for the first time under Gailey.

This series has been one of the ACC’s most entertaining of late, as Tech and Virginia have combined to average nearly 1,000 yards and 70 points over the last five meetings. Tech leads the all-time slate, 12-11-1, and has not lost to the Cavaliers in Atlanta sinc e 1994. That Virginia victory also marked the last time the road team won this matchup. The series has also provided some close games recently, as five of the last six meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less. Last season, Virginia brought home a 39-38 victory on a late hook-and-ladder play.

The Virginia offense is led by freshman tailback Wali Lundy, who leads the squad with 416 yards rushing and 40 receptions. He had 108 yards on the ground against the Tar Heels, the second 100-yard outing of his career.

Cavalier quarterback Matt Schaub has thrown 19 touchdown passes this season, giving him 29 in his career to rank fourth in UVa history. This season, he ranks sixth nationally in passing efficiency. Schaub’s favorite deep target is All-American wide receiver Billy McMullen, who has 33 grabs for 502 yards and three scores this season.

The Virginia defense ranks second in the conference with 20 sacks, including an ACC freshman record eight by Darryl Blackstock. The Cavaliers use a 3-4 alignment on defense, which Gailey saw plenty of in the NFL.

“Anytime you face something new like Wake Forest with the 3-3 front or this week with the 3-4, it creates challenges as far as assignments because it is unique,” said Gailey. “Knowing where they are and who to block with responsibilities in protection is a big thing. Normally you have a four-man front, now with a three-man front everybody has to be on the same page as to who is taking which guy. There are some things that you have to adjust to.”

Despite its success at getting in the backfield, the UVa defensive unit has been somewhat vulnerable on the ground, allowing 209.2 yards per game on the ground, which ranks eighth in the ACC.

Tech freshman tailback Ajenavi Eziemefe has carried the ball 57 times for 234 yards and two touchdowns, but he is slowed by a sprained ankle. Redshirt freshman P.J. Daniels (19 attempts, 49 yards, one TD) and senior Gordon Clinkscale (13 attempts, 127 yards) provide depth at the position for Tech.

“Ace [Eziemefe] runs hard, and we all know that Gordon Clinkscale did an excellent job against Maryland running the football,” said Gailey. “But you don’t see any of the field reversals or any of the 50- and 60-yard runs. That’s what Tony was giving us. For the success that those guys have had, you have to give a great deal of credit to the line as well as to Ace, Gordon and P.J. Daniels.”

Joining this trio of backs is Kerry Watkins, the ACC’s leading receiver with 39 catches for 655 yards (16.8-yard average) and three touchdowns. Classmate Will Glover (24 receptions for 231 yards and three scores) gives the Jackets yet another deep target.

Starting quarterback A.J. Suggs has completed 105 of 180 passes (58.3 percent) for 1,202 yards and seven touchdowns and six interceptions. Backup Damarius Bilbo has provided a spark, hitting 19 of 38 passes for 257 yards and two scores.

-GT-

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