Nov. 7, 2006
ATLANTA – Eighteenth-ranked Georgia Tech returns to Tobacco Road to battle North Carolina in a 12 noon contest Saturday at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill. The game will be regionally televised on the Lincoln-Financial Atlantic Coast Conference network (WUPA in Atlanta).
The Jackets (7-2, 5-1 ACC) are coming off a 31-23 victory at NC State. All-America wide receiver Calvin Johnson had nine catches for a career-high 168 yards and two touchdowns en route to being named the ACC Offensive Back of the Week for the fourth time in 2006. On the season, Johnson is third in the nation with 11 touchdown catches and he leads the ACC in receptions (49, 5.44 pg) and receiving yards (795, 88.3 pg). Tashard Choice had a career-high 164 yards on 34 carries to help put the Wolfpack away. Choice is averaging a league-leading 107.5 yards in ACC games.
“He (Choice) gets stronger as he goes,” said Tech coach Chan Gailey. “Between him, the line and everybody involved in the running game, we keep wearing them down. After awhile when you are chasing Reggie (Ball) on bootlegs and draws, and running him down sideline to sideline, and north and south, by the end of the game, if they haven’t had a steady diet of substitutions, you are wearing down. That’s when our guys start getting on them.”
UNC (1-8, 0-5 ACC) fell to 11th-ranked Notre Dame 45-26 in South Bend last Saturday for its sixth-consecutive loss on the season. Junior quarterback Joe Dailey had his best game as a Tar Heel, completing 14 of 22 passes for 213 yards and three touchdowns. Despite UNC’s record, the Tar Heels are a talented squad.
“When you look at the personnel, especially looking at guys that have been there forever in Jesse Holley, (Ronnie) McGill,” said Gailey. “These are good football players that we’ve seen do it before and all of a sudden it hasn’t come together for them. I think if you had taken a poll in preseason that said, `of all these teams who do you think would be 1-8?’ Well, I don’t believe anybody would have picked Carolina.”
Tech’s offense has been on a roll this season, led by senior captain Reggie Ball, who currently is second in the ACC in total offense with 196.4 yards per game. Ball leads the ACC with 17 touchdown passes, and he also has scored twice on the ground. Everyone knows about the Jackets all-America receiver but they are now getting familiar with the “other” receiver, sophomore James Johnson. He has 28 catches for 409 yards and five touchdowns on the season, giving Ball an exceptional second option.
“Reggie has been one of the guys that talk a lot in the locker room this year,” added Choice. “He’s real vocal and after we won against NC State he let us know that all our focus would have to go to North Carolina and to understand that we had to go back up to North Carolina and get another win.”
The Tech defense held NC State to 68 yards rushing and did not allow the Wolfpack an offensive touchdown. Middle linebacker Philip Wheeler continues play an integral role in the defense. He is second in the ACC in sacks with eight (15th in the nation) and fourth in the league in tackles for loss (12.5). KaMichael Hall leads the team with 64 tackles and two fumble recoveries.
“Each week John Tenuta gives us a menu sheet an on that menu sheet it says `if they get in the red zone, hold them to three points’,” said junior linebacker Gary Guyton. “As we take the field we remind each other to hold them to three points. We know its going to be much tougher to beat us if we only give up three points in the red zone. When we get close to the end zone, we remind each other of that and it motivates us.”
The Tar Heel offense will be led by the quarterback tandem of Dailey and freshman Cam Sexton. Dailey has thrown for 770 yards and five touchdowns while Sexton has passed for 840 yards and four scores. Senior tailback McGill has carried the ball 140 times and 584 yards with six touchdowns for the Tar Heels. He has also made 13 catches out of the backfield for 110 yards and a score.
“It sounds like [Joe] Dailey is going to play a majority of the time” said Gailey. “The freshman [Cam Sexton] has got some talent, but has played like a freshman at times and that happens. I think we’ll see Dailey a majority of the game and he made some big throws the other game against Notre Dame. He made some big plays, so we have to make sure that we don’t let him make those big plays, like he did against Notre Dame.”
Linebacker Durell Mapp headlines the Tar Heel defense and leads the team with 60 tackles. He had a career-high 14 tackles, including 11 primary stops and a two-yard tackle for loss, in the contest at Notre Dame. Safety Karren Taylor has made 53 tackles and two fumble recoveries this season. He has Carolina’s only interception of the season.
The Yellow Jackets special teams unit has played a pivotal role in Tech’s success. Junior punter Durant Brooks is a strong candidate for all-America honors. He leads the nation in net punting at 41.1 yards per kick. Brooks gross average of 44.7 yards per kick lead the ACC and ranks ninth in the nation, while 24 of his 53 punts have been downed inside the 20-yard line.
A Tech win this week will clinch it’s first-ever berth into the ACC Championship game. The team does not want to get ahead of themselves by looking past its next three regular season games and start preparing for Jacksonville.
“It’s a great feeling so far,” said Mansfield Wrotto. “We have two more games left in the ACC and even though people are saying these are two easy games, we still have to be focused for them. We don’t know who will play in the ACC title game, but it’s a great feeling to be in this position after having three seasons finishing 7-5. After losing last season in the Emerald Bowl to Utah, we came together as a team and as a coaching group. We told each other that this is our year. We as seniors and the rest of the team needed to focus to achieve what we want. Our ultimate goal is to win the ACC Championship and go to a BCS bowl game.”