Oct. 17, 2006
ATLANTA – Thirteenth-ranked Georgia Tech puts a five-game winning streak on the line as the Yellow Jackets travel to No. 12 Clemson for an Atlantic Coast Conference showdown Saturday at 7:45 p.m. at Clemson Memorial Stadium. The sold-out game will be nationally televised on ESPN.
“It’s going to be a real hostile environment the whole game and they have some of the best fans,” said Calvin Johnson. “I have fun playing there. It’s always a tough game, playing there.”
Tech (5-1, 3-0) returns to the gridiron after an open week, following a 27-23 comeback victory over Maryland. Tashard Choice ran for a career-best 138 yards including a 15-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to put the Jackets ahead for good. Linebacker KaMichael Hall led a ferocious defense with a game-high 11 tackles, including a sack and a fourth-quarter fumble recovery that led to Choice’s touchdown run.
Clemson (6-1, 3-1 ACC) will be back in action after defeating Temple 63-9 last Thursday night. The Tigers scored touchdowns on their first nine possessions and had 559 yards offense in their fifth straight win. Running back James Davis, the leading rusher in the ACC, ran for 138 yards and three touchdowns on nine carries – all in the first half.
This game features two of the best running teams in the ACC. Tech is averaging 183.2 yards a game for second in the conference only behind Clemson. Choice leads the team with 502 yards on the ground and six touchdowns. Senior quarterback Reggie Ball is the team’s second-leading rusher with 315 yards and a 4.7-yard average. The Tigers are averaging 250.6 yards a game and have compiled 1,754 yards rushing on the season.
“They’re a very physical running team,” said Tech coach Chan Gailey of Clemson. “Their offensive line and tight ends are doing an unbelievable job of blocking. They create problems for you because they run the ball so well, and that’s really helped their passing game and a new quarterback (Will Proctor). They’ve got three guys who can run the football. It’s a challenge for our defense to try and stop their running game.”
Tech’s defense, currently ranked third in the ACC and seventh nationally in run defense, is allowing only 72.5 yards a game will try and stop Davis. Linebackers Hall and Philip Wheeler have combined for 83 tackles this season. Wheeler is ranked second in the ACC in both sacks (5) and tackles for loss (9.5). The defense has also been able to create turnovers, with five fumble recoveries and seven interceptions, tied for the lead in the ACC with 0.83 in turnovers per game.
On offense, Johnson, Tech’s all-America wide receiver, leads the ACC in receptions with 35 (5.8 per game) and receiving yards with 559 (93.2 pg) while ranking third in the league in scoring. His eight touchdowns rank third in the nation. Ball has completed 67 of 129 passes for 929 yards and 10 touchdowns with five interceptions.
“I think there are a lot of reasons for Reggie’s (Ball) development,” said Gailey. “It’s not just him being a four-year starter, though that’s part of it. We’ve got experienced players at every other position for the first time in his career. The offense that Coach (Patrick) Nix has put in and done a great job with probably fits him very well and he feels very comfortable doing it. So, I think there are a lot of plusses that are playing into him having the type of year he’s had thus far.”
Tech’s offense will face a tough challenge going up against the Tiger defense. Clemson has the second-ranked defense in the ACC (69.7 yards/g) and they lead the league in total defense. Senior defensive end Gaines Adams leads the ACC in sacks (7.5) and is third in tackles for loss (8.5).
“They play with a lot of speed,” said Gailey of the Clemson defense. “They rotate a lot of defensive linemen through there. Clay has moved into the middle now and is going sideline to sideline. They’re doing an excellent job on defense. They’re a very good defensive football team.”
The Clemson vs. Georgia Tech series has been one of the most competitive in the ACC of the past ten years. Nine of the last 10 games between the two teams have been decided by five points are less, including six straight games from 1996-01 that were decided by exactly three points.
“It’s always a great game,” said Joe Anoai. “It has become a big rivalry. When we went to Death Valley a couple of years ago, that might have been one of the best finishes in college football. Last year when they came up here it was a grind it out type of game, all defense, and we held.”
“It’s been good for us and hopefully we can keep it going,” added Anoai. “But at the same time, when you play a team as lethal as Clemson when they can hurt you in two plays and the game can be totally switched especially at their place with the momentum and the crowd, it’s kind of scary, so we definitely have to come in focused and ready to play.”