Sept. 26, 2006
ATLANTA – No.24 Georgia Tech will take to the road for the first time in 2006 to play Atlantic Coast Conference rival No. 11/10 Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., on Saturday. The game will kick off at 3:30 p.m. at Lane Stadium and will be regionally televised on ABC (WSB channel 2 in Atlanta).
The Jackets (3-1, 1-0 ACC) are coming off its third straight victory with last Thursday’s 24-7 win over Virginia. Calvin Johnson, Tech’s all-America wide receiver, led the offensive attack with five receptions for a career-high 165 yards and two touchdowns. The Tech defense was outstanding holding the Cavaliers to just nine first downs and 166 yards of total offense.
“Obviously Calvin is a great athlete and you have to recognize the situations where you get him one on one or in the zone by himself, or whatever the situation might be where you can take advantage of a mismatch and we got a couple of opportunities last week where we got those and we had some big plays,” said Tech coach Chan Gailey. “That’s what teams are tying to keep from happening, but Reggie [Ball] made a couple of great throws and Calvin got to the creases and made something happen with the football. If we get one on one, or get in the crease of a zone this week, hopefully the same thing happens.”
The undefeated Hokies (4-0, 2-0 ACC) defeated a well-prepared Cincinnati team for a 29-13 victory at home. Virginia Tech redshirt sophomore running back Branden Ore rushed for 170 yards on 25 carries and a touchdown in the win. Ore is the ACC leading rusher, gaining 99.8 yards per game with six touchdowns. Hokies cornerback Victor Harris picked off two passes including one for 72 yards and a touchdown.
“They (Virginia Tech) are a really good football team, even with all those guys gone [9 drafted last season], and you look at their depth chart and it’s all redshirt junior, redshirt senior and redshirt sophomore,” said Gailey. “They have been in the program for three or four years, so they know how to run the offense and defense. They’ve changed a little bit offensively, with [Sean] Glennon being the quarterback as opposed to [Marcus] Vick, but they are still very good. I wish I could sit here and say that there has been a depreciable drop off, but there hasn’t.”
Virginia Tech will be without two starters for the upcoming game, including redshirt junior defensive end Chris Ellis, who returned an interception for a touchdown last year against Georgia Tech, and junior split end Josh Morgan.
“They rotate quite a few guys through anyway,” said Gailey. “It’s not like they just play one-deep. They’ve been playing quite a few guys. They may lose a receiver and get one back this week. I’m not feeling sorry for them because they are missing a couple of guys. We have our work cut out for us whoever plays in those positions on Saturday.”
Senior quarterback Reggie Ball, who has thrown for 592 yards and seven touchdowns with three interceptions, leads Georgia Tech’s offense. Ball is also the team’s second-leading rusher with 197 yards and a 5.1-yard average. Tailback Tashard Choice leads the ground attack with 259 yards on 23 attempts and two touchdowns. Johnson, the Jackets top receiver, leads all ACC wide receivers with 311 receiving yards and five touchdowns catches.
The Yellow Jackets defense will play an important role in Saturday’s game. Coming in the defense currently ranks in the top three in the ACC and the top 20 in the nation in every defensive category, including first in the league and eighth nationally in pass efficiency defense (87.74 rating). Redshirt junior linebacker Philip Wheeler leads the team with 27 tackles and two sacks. Wheeler also leads the Jackets with six tackles for loss for a total of 23 yards. Senior linebacker KaMichael Hall is second on the team with 20 tackles this season.
“When you have guys like that behind you, you don’t mind taking two,” said defensive tackle Darryl Richard. “I would mind taking two if the guys behind you were not making plays, but me getting another guy off them and watching some of the things that they do on film is pretty amazing. I think Wheeler and Hall are one of the best duos in the conference. They may not have the name recognition of some other players, but those guys produce. So trust me, any day you ask me to take two for them, I will.”
Ball will have his work cut out for him when he faces the Virginia Tech defense. The Hokies have forced 11 turnovers this season including eight interceptions with two being returned for touchdowns.
“If you go in with a mindset of we have to make a big play, or we have to keep them from making a big play, usually you don’t,” said Gailey. “You have to go in there with the mindset of doing what you need to do on each play to win that play, whether it is offense, defense or special teams. It’s when guys get off on tangents where they think they have to do this special or I have to be some kind of superhero on this play that you get in to trouble. If everybody does their assignment to the best of their ability, I can live with that and I think our team can too.”
With a victory the Yellow Jackets will hold sole possession of first place in the Coastal Division. It would go a long way in helping the Jackets move towards there goal of playing in the ACC Championship in Jacksonville, Fla.
“It’s real important,” said wide receiver Calvin Johnson. “Everybody is expecting them to be in the ACC Championship so it would be good for us to go up there and knock them off so that we’d be in the driver’s seat.”