ATLANTA (Nov 14) -The 12th-ranked Georgia Tech football team looks to clinch second place in the Atlantic Coast Conference as the Yellow Jackets close out their ACC slate this Saturday against Wake Forest with a non-televised 3:30 p.m. game at Groves Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Both teams are coming off high-scoring contests. Tech (7-2, 5-2 ACC) defeated Clemson, 45-42, last Saturday. Wake Forest (5-5, 2-5), which fell to Duke, 48-35, needs one more win to become bowl eligible and record its first winning season since 1992.
Heisman Trophy candidate Joe Hamilton (Alvin, S.C.) can add to his Tech season-record totals of 2,438 yards passing, 24 touchdown passes, 3,042 yards of total offense and 30 TDR.
The nation’s leading passer, Hamilton has an efficiency rating of 182.2, just behind the NCAA record of 183.3. He is also Tech’s second-leading rusher with 604 yards and six touchdowns.
Hamilton leads a potent Tech attack that leads the nation in scoring (41.6) and total offense (510.7). the Jackets 50 touchdowns tied the Tech season record set last season.
“If he’s not the Heisman favorite, why not,” said O’Leary. “I have trouble justifying why someone who has done as much as has is not the leader. It’s the things he does that the average fan doesn’t see that are really outstanding, but he makes it looks so easy out there.
“Joe’s had an outstanding year, and he’s one of the toughest competitors that I’ve had the opportunity to work with. in all my years in football. I just can’t say enough about him.”
Hamilton’s favorite targets are the trio of Kelly Campbell (Atlanta, Ga.), Dez White (Orange Park, Fla.) and Kerry Watkins (LaPlace, La.), who have combined for 117 catches, 1,999 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Campbell leads the Jackets with 58 receptions for 964 yards (16.6 average) and nine touchdowns. White has 34 catches for 690 yards (20.3 average) and four scores, while Watkins adds 25 receptions for 345 yards (13.8 average) and six TDs.
“Overall, the receiving corps has had a great season,” said O’Leary. “They give us big-play potential, and they’ve been very consistent every game.”
Tech ranks 10th in the nation in rushing behind Hamilton, a dominating offensive line led by tackle Jon Carman (Waldorf, Md.) and sophomore tailback Sean Gregory (Homewood, Ill.), Tech’s leading rusher with 686 yards (5.4 average) and 10 touchdowns. Gregory has made the most of his opportunity, topping the 100-yard mark in each of his four starts, including 101 yards last Saturday against Clemson. He became the first Tech back to rush for 100 yards in three straight games since Jerry Mays in 1989.
“Sean has gotten better each game, and we’re asking him to do a little bit more each game, too,” said O’Leary.
Tech’s young defense, which started four true freshman against Clemson, is led by strong safety Chris Young (Senoia, Ga.) with 67 tackles and cornerback Travares Tillman (Lyons, Ga.) with 44 tackles.
“I like to look at the postive, and when the game was on the line in the fourth quarter, the defense made the stop they had to make,” said O’Leary.
Wake Forest, with 17 senior starters, boasts a vastly improved running game, featuring tailback Morgan Kane, the ACC’s third-leading rusher with 93.7 yards per game.
The Deacons are second to Florida State in the ACC in total defense, allowing 307.8 yards per game, and rushing defense, giving up 117 yards an outing.
THE SERIES WITH WAKE FOREST
Georgia Tech has won four in row and eight of the last 10 meetings with Wake Forest to take a 16-5 lead in the series, which began in 1917. Wake Forest’s last win was a 20-13 victory in Atlanta in 1994.
Tech has won four in a row at Wake Forest’s Groves Stadium for a 6-2 record there. The visiting team has won five of the last seven games in the series.
In 1998 in Atlanta, Georgia Tech piled up 524 yards of total offense, including 319 yards rushing en route to a 63-35 victory over Wake Forest to clinch a share of the Atlantic Coast Conference title. Joe Hamilton completed 14 of 19 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns, and Sean Gregory rushed for a game-high 80 yards as Tech recorded its highest point total against an ACC opponent and its most against any team since 1921.
Georgia Tech also captured the last meeting at Winston-Salem, 28-26 in 1997. Hamilton passed for 208 yards and three touchdowns as Tech overcame a 17-7 halftime deficit. The Deacons pulled within two points on a 30-yard touchdown catch by Morgan Kane with 3:40 left, but the two-point conversion pass that would have tied the score fell was broken up by Tech.
THE HAMILTON RECORD CHASE
Next up in the Joe Hamilton record chase is Georgia Tech career record for passing yards. Hamilton, who has 8,260 yards, needs just 182 yards passing to eclipse Shawn Jones’ standard of 8,441.
Hamilton is already the Atlantic Coast Conference’s all-time leader in total offense with 9,888 yards and touchdown passes with 60.
He also ranks second in ACC history in career TDR (73), and fifth in passing yards.
FOUR STRAIGHT SELLOUTS
Georgia Tech’s game against Clemson last Saturday, which drew a crowd of 46,085 was the third of four consecutive sellouts at Bobby Dodd Stadium/Grant Field this season. Tech’s home games against North Carolina and NC State were also sold out, and the season finale against Georgia on Nov. 27 is a sellout. The last time Georgia Tech had four consecutive sellouts was in 1961 for games against Duke, Auburn, Florida and Georgia.
RECEIVING RECORDS ON THE LINE
Flanker Kelly Campbell has a chance to break all of Georgia Tech’s season receiving records. The speedy sophomore has 58 catches for 964 yards and one touchdown. He needs seven catches, 13 yards and one touchdown to break the Tech single season record in all three categories. Last week against Clemson, Campbell caught two touchdown passes to tie the Tech record of nine, held by Dez White (1998) and Jimmy Robinson (1972). White also set the season yardage record of 973 last season, while Harvey Middleton set the season record for receptions with 64 in 1996.
Although White has fewer catches this season as he draws more double coverage, the Biletnikoff Award candidate needs just one touchdown to tie the Georgia Tech career record. White has 13 career touchdown catches-including eight of 50 yards or more-just one behind record holders Gary Lee and Buck Martin.
Georgia Tech has two Muyres brothers in its lineup with freshman Jeremy and junior Jon. The oldest Muyres brother, Jeffrey, played defensive back at Wake Forest, finishing his career in 1998. All three Muyres hail from Stone Mountain, Ga., and Parkview High.
COOL HAND LUKE
True freshman placekicker Luke Manget has quietly put together an excellent season. The Conyers, Ga., native has made six straight field goals and has hit eight of 11 for the season, with a long of 49 against NC State. His 36-yarder against North Carolina with just five seconds left forced overtime, in which Tech won the game.
Manget has been perfect on 46 PATs, tying the Tech season record set last fall by Brad Chambers. He leads Tech in scoring with 70 points.