ATLANTA (Nov. 7) – Second place in the Atlantic Coast Conference will be on the line as Georgia Tech’s 13th-ranked football team hosts Clemson Saturday at 12 noon in a regionally televised (ACC/JP Sports network, Fox Sports Net South in Atlanta) contest at Bobby Dodd Stadium Grant Field.
The Yellow Jackets, 6-2 overall and 4-2 in the ACC, must rebound from last Saturday’s 45-38 loss at Virginia. Tech, ranked 13th in this week’s AP poll and 14th by ESPN/USA Today, stands a half game behind the Tigers (5-4, 5-2 ACC) in the ACC standings after Clemson’s 58-7 thrashing of Duke.
“We need to regroup and understand that there’s a lot riding on the rest of the season,” said Tech head coach George O’Leary. “Each and every ball game is important, and we’ve got to play with the same intensity for the whole game.
“Clemson is playing very well right now. They’ve got a wide open offense, and they’ve always been very stingy on defense. Defensively they do a good job of mixing things up and making you play left-handed. Their offense and defense complement each other very well.”
Led by national passing efficiency leader Joe Hamilton (Alvin, S.C.), Tech leads the country in scoring (41.1) and total offense (507.4). The Yellow Jackets are the only team in the nation that has scored at least 30 points in every game this season.
Hamilton has completed 136 of 203 passes for 2,116 yards and 19 touchdowns for an efficiency rating of 179.5. Hamilton’s favorite targets are the trio of junior Dez White (Orange Park, Fla.), sophomore Kelly Campbell (Atlanta, Ga.) and redshirt freshman Kerry Watkins (LaPlace, La.), who have combined for 100 receptions, 1,770 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Campbell leads the Jackets with 50 catches for 829 yards and seven touchdowns, White has 30 receptions for 640 yards (21.3 average) and four scores, while Watkins, who is developing into a clutch, third-down target, adds 20 catches for 301 yards (15.1 average) and five touchdowns.
Tech leads the ACC and ranks 10th nationally in rushing with 235.8 yards per game. Tech’s rebuilt backfield now features sophomore Sean Gregory (Homewood, Ill.) at tailback. He has rushed for a team-leading 585 yards (5.7-yard average) and nine touchdowns. Hamilton is Tech’s second-leading rusher with 516 yards (4.7 average) and six scores.
Tech’s young defense has been victimized by injuries and features as many as eight freshmen and sophomores in the starting eleven.
“Defensively, I’m very concerned about the young players and how much wear and tear they are taking,” said O’Leary. “That’s what seems to be happening; we start off well and then all of sudden we have mental lapses in our assignments.”
THE SERIES WITH CLEMSON
Georgia Tech, which leads the series 41-20-2, has won the last two games against Clemson, following a four-game winning streak by the Tigers.
Seven of the nine meetings in the 1990s have been decided by four points or fewer, including the last three.
Tech has won three of the last four games in Atlanta, including a 23-20 victory in 1997. Clemson’s last victory here was a 24-3 decision in 1995. Tech leads 38-11-2 on its home field.
The last two Georgia Tech-Clemson games have featured dramatic endings by the Yellow Jackets.
In 1998 in an ESPN Thursday night game at Clemson, Joe Burns one-yard touchdown run with 1:00 left lifted the 23rd-ranked Yellow Jackets to a 24-21 victory. Burns touchdown capped a 57-yard, seven-play drive on which quarterback Joe Hamilton completed three passes for 53 yards and then ran three yards to the Clemson one to set up the winning score. Hamilton completed 17 of 32 passes for 190 yards and rushed for 37 yards and one score.
In 1997 in Atlanta, Brad Chambers’ 20-yard field goal with 1:54 left gave Tech a 23-20 victory. With less than four minutes to play, Tech’s Harvey Middleton returned a punt 32 yards to the Clemson 44 and then made a diving, 39-yard reception from Hamilton at the five-yard line to set up the winning kick. Hamilton completed 11 of 22 passes for 177 yards and one touchdown, and defensive back Travares Tillman (Lyons, Ga.) scored on a blocked punt.
HAMILTON RECORD CHASE CONTINUES
With 282 yards against Virginia, quarterback Joe Hamilton became the Atlantic Coast Conference’s all-time leader in total offense. With three games left, Hamilton now has 9,478 yards of rushing and passing as he eclipsed the record of 9,296 yards set by former Tech signal caller Shawn Jones (1989-92).
Hamilton also ranks second in ACC history in career TDR (73), tied for third in touchdown passes (55) and seventh in passing yards (7,938).
The next career milestone for Hamilton is Tech’s career passing yardage mark of 8,441, also held by Jones. Hamilton needs 504 yards.
MORE RECORDS ON THE LINE
With three games to play, flanker Kelly Campbell has a chance at Georgia Tech’s season records for receptions, receiving yards and touchdown receptions. The speedy sophomore has 50 catches for 829 yards and seven TDs. Averaging an ACC-leading 103.6 yards per game, he needs just 145 yards to break the record of 973 yards set last season by Dez White. Campbell, who averages 6.3 catches per game, needs 15 receptions to break Harvey Middleton’s 1996 record of 64, and three touchdowns to erase the record of nine, shared by White and Jimmy Robinson.
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.
SPECIAL TEAMS SPECIAL
Georgia Tech leads the ACC in net punting and punt returns while ranking second in kickoff returns.
Tech’s net of 40.9 yards per punt ranks fourth in the nation. Punter Dan Dyke (Winter Springs, Fla.) (44.8 average) would rank second in the ACC but Tech’s offense does not give him enough punts.
The Jackets rank sixth in the nation in punt returns (14.6). Marvious Hester (Smyrna, Ga.), who has handled every punt return, leads the ACC and is eighth nationally in the individual rankings.
Tech’s kickoff return average of 23.3 is second in the ACC behind Maryland and 19th in the nation. Dez White averages 24.4 yards per return, also second in the ACC.
Placekicker Luke Manget (Conyers, Ga.) has hit seven of 10 field goals, including five in a row. He is a perfect 40-for-40 on PATs, and he needs just seven more extra points to break the Tech single-season record of 46, set last season by Brad Chambers.