Aug. 20, 2001
ATLANTA– – “We have an opportunity to be a good football team,” said Georgia Tech head coach George O’Leary as his 10th-ranked Yellow Jackets open the 2001 season by facing Syracuse in the Kickoff Classic on Sunday, Aug. 26 at 2 p.m. at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
In addition to a national telecast on ABC-TV, the game can be heard on the Georgia Tech-ISP Sports radio network, including Atlanta flagship WQXI-AM “Sports Talk 790 The Zone,” featuring the call of Wes Durham and Kim King.
“We have a number of returning players, but I don’t think anyone else is sitting still either,” continued O’Leary, the 2000 Bobby Dodd National Coach of the Year who embarks on his seventh season at Tech.
“I think if we play well, we can be very competitive with anybody we face, and that’s all you’re looking for as a coach. But our team understands that we have to play well to give ourselves a chance.”
O’Leary actually began his college coaching career at Syracuse, serving as defensive line coach and assistant head coach for the Orangemen from 1980-86 before moving to Georgia Tech.
“Having been at Syracuse, they haven’t changed,” he said. “They have a lot of good athletes who can run, and they’re very well coached on offense and on defense and in the kicking game.
“In the first game, mistakes are going to be made, it’s how you handle the setbacks and how quickly you can make adjustments,” O’Leary continued. “The only film you have is what they did last year, so game adjustments are critical in first games because there are always new things coming up.”
With its highest preseason ranking since 1991 at 10th by the Associated Press and 13th by the ESPN/USA Today coaches’ poll, Tech is coming off a 9-3 record in 2001 and a fourth consecutive bowl berth. Syracuse did not play in a bowl game but posted its 14th straight winning season with a 6-5 mark.
“They were a good football team last year that had some tough luck, and I don’t think their record was any indication of the team they were,” said O’Leary. “When I look at their season last year, I think they were very unlucky because there were three or four games where the difference was a ball bouncing the wrong way. I’m anticipating a heckuva game.”
Senior quarterback George Godsey, an all-star candidate from Tampa, Fla., returns to direct the Tech offense after passing for 2,906 yards and 23 touchdowns and earning all-conference honors last fall.
Godsey is surrounded by a talented cast of skill players, including all-ACC receiver Kelly Campbell, a senior from Atlanta, Ga., and junior tailback Joe Burns of Thomasville, Ga. Campbell led the Jackets with 59 receptions for 963 yards and 10 touchdowns last season and is within reach of numerous Tech receiving records. Burns paced the Rambling Wreck ground attack with 908 yards and 12 touchdowns. Senior center David Schmidgall (Clearwater, Fla.) is the top returnee on the offensive line.
The Tech defense returns nine starters, including the all-star defensive end tandem of junior Greg Gathers (LaPlace, La.) and senior Nick Roger (East Point, Ga.), who combined for 22 sacks last season.
As for the Orangemen, O’Leary praised defensive end Dwight Freeney as one of the nation’s best.
“Everybody talks about his pass rush skills, but he runs to the ball well and he plays run defense as well as pass defense,” said O’Leary. “He’s a big play guy on defense.”
GETTING AN EARLY START
For the second straight year, Georgia Tech is scheduled to open the season in a preseason game as the Yellow Jackets face Syracuse in the Kickoff Classic on Aug. 26 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
Last year, Tech was scheduled to take on Virginia Tech in the BCA Bowl, but the game in Blacksburg, Va., was cancelled due to lightning.
Tech’s only previous preseason appearance was also in the Kickoff Classic. The Jackets opened defense of their 1990 national title by facing Penn State in the 1991 Kickoff Classic, but the Nittany Lions won, 34-22.
The Aug. 26 date for the Kickoff Classic will mark the earliest that Tech has ever opened its season. In fact, the only other time the Jackets have played in August was the 1991 Kickoff Classic.
GEORGIA TECH VS. SYRACUSE
Georgia Tech and Syracuse are meeting in football for the first time in the Kickoff Classic.
The two schools are scheduled to meet in basketball this season as the Orangemen visit Atlanta for a Dec. 16 game at Philips Arena.
Georgia Tech is ranked 10th in the Associated Press preseason poll, as well as 13th in the preseason ESPN/USA Today coaches’ poll.
Tech’s No. 10 in the AP poll is its highest preseason ranking since 1991, when the Jackets were rated eighth by the media and sixth in the coaches’ poll following their 1990 national title. The Jackets were 11th in both preseason polls prior to the 1999 season.
When the Yellow Jackets take on Syracuse in the Kickoff Classic, Georgia Tech head coach George O’Leary will be coaching against the only other university at which he has coached.
After a very successful prep coaching career, O’Leary moved to the collegiate ranks in 1980, when he joined Frank Maloney’s staff as defensive line coach. He coached the Orangemen’s defensive line for seven seasons under Maloney and Dick MacPherson, who became head coach in 1981. O’Leary was elevated to assistant head coach for his final two years at Syracuse (1985-86). In 1987, O’Leary moved to Atlanta to become Bobby Ross’ defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech.
While at Syracuse, O’Leary coached five players who went on to the NFL, including Tim Green, the top selection of the Atlanta Falcons, Mike Charles, an all-America chosen in the first round by the Miami Dolphins, and Blaise Winter, a second-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts who later played for O’Leary with the San Diego Chargers.
Tech assistant coach Peter McCarty also coached at Syracuse while O’Leary was there, serving as a graduate assistant in 1980-81.
TECH IN SEASON OPENERS
Georgia Tech has a record of 74-30-4 (.704) in season openers. The Yellow Jackets defeated Central Florida, 21-17, in last year’s opener. Tech is 12-19-1 (.391) when the opener is away from home.
COACHING STAFF CHANGES
Georgia Tech has new faces on its coaching staff, as well as some old faces in new roles.
Bill O’Brien, a member of the Tech staff since 1995, takes over as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, replacing Ralph Friedgen, now the head coach at Maryland. O’Brien spent the last three years as Tech’s running backs coach.
New on the offensive staff is running backs coach Glenn Spencer, a former Tech player who returned to the Flats in 2001 after compiling a 28-7 record the last three years as the head coach at Division II West Georgia. Former graduate assistant Geoff Collins was elevated to tight ends coach, while offensive line coach Mac McWhorter and receivers coach David Kelly remain in place.
On defense, Ted Roof returns for this third season as coordinator. Lance Thompson, a Tech staff member from 1988-98, returns as defensive ends coach and recruiting coordinator after two years at Alabama. Peter McCarty, formerly of Illinois, is Tech’s new defensive tackles coach, while Danny Crossman moves from defensive ends to defensive backs coach.
With 18 starters returning from last year’s 9-3 squad, just three players are in the starting lineup for the first time against Syracuse.
On defense, the only first-time starter is sophomore cornerback Albert Poree, a transfer from Notre Dame who sat out last season.
THE GOOSE IS LOOSE
In his first year as Georgia Tech’s starting quarterback, George Godsey posted the second-best season statistics ever accumulated by a Yellow Jacket signal caller. The Tampa, Fla., native completed 64 percent of his passes and threw for 2,906 yards and 23 touchdowns with just six interceptions for a pass efficiency rating of 151.9.
Godsey’s numbers were better than any Rambling Wreck quarterback except his predecessor, Joe Hamilton, who set Tech standards with 3,060 yards passing, 29 touchdowns, a 67-percent completion rate and an efficiency rating of 175.0 that was the sixth-best season mark in NCAA history. Godsey, a preseason second-team all-America selection by Athlon Sports and a nominee for the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award, enters his senior season with the third-best career pass efficiency rating in Atlantic Coast Conference history, trailing only Hamilton and Florida State’s Chris Weinke.
CAREER PASS EFFICIENCY Rating1. Chris Weinke, Florida State, 1997-00 151.152. Joe Hamilton, Georgia Tech, 1996-99 148.193. George Godsey, Georgia Tech, 1998- 145.224. Thad Busby, Florida State, 1994-97 144.89
COOL HAND LUKE
Junior placekicker Luke Manget is nearing a milestone as he enters the season having made 91 consecutive extra points-every one he has ever attempted. He needs just three more to surpass the Atlantic Coast Conference of record of 93, set by Jess Atkinson of Maryland (1981-84). Manget, a first-team all-ACC selection last year, needed just 17 games to break the previous school record of 70 in a row by career scoring leader Scott Sisson from 1989-91.
The NCAA record for consecutive extra points is 161 by John Becksvoort of Tennessee (1991-94).
Georgia Tech has two players from New Jersey, both defensive backs. Backup strong safety Cory Collins is a junior from Egg Harbor Township, while true freshman cornerback Dennis Davis of Atco has also earned a spot in the two-deep.