Oct. 3, 2006
ATLANTA – Eighteenth-ranked Georgia Tech returns home to host Maryland in an Atlantic Coast Conference match-up Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field. The game will be nationally televised in ESPNU.
The Yellow Jackets (4-0, 2-0 ACC) are coming off an important 38-27 victory over perennial powerhouse No. 11 Virginia Tech in Blacksburg last Saturday. Senior quarterback Reggie Ball came out throwing, connecting with All-America wide receiver Calvin Johnson twice in the first quarter and the Jackets never looked back. The victory vaulted Tech into first place in the ACC’s Coastal Division.
Johnson, a game-time decision in the last two games with a leg injury, leads the ACC with 426 receiving yards on 25 catches and has caught seven touchdowns. He was named ACC Offensive Back of the Week for the second straight week and third time in the first five weeks.
“Probably will be a game-time decision again this week,” said Tech coach Chan Gailey of Johnson. “First of all, if he was a freshman or sophomore that probably wouldn’t happen. The guy has been a two-year starter, and this is his third year, and that allows you to do that. Plus he is very talented and has a very good tolerance of pain, which is amazing. Thoroughbreds sometimes don’t have that tolerance for pain.”
Maryland (3-1, 0-0 ACC), coming off its lone bye week, will open its ACC schedule on Saturday. The Terrapins, coached by former Georgia Tech assistant coach Ralph Friedgen, beat Florida International in its last outing 14-10 in College Park, Md.
“You look at their skill level on tape,” said Gailey. “They have not put together a whole game yet, you can see where there is potential, it just hasn’t happened. You’re nervous that it’s going to happen this week. They had a week off, they can fix some things that they were not doing well, and you hope it doesn’t all come together this week. They’re potentially a very good football team. When you can win against anybody not playing your best game that means you are a pretty good football team.”
After such an emotionally charged win against Virginia Tech, the Jackets will need to come home and take care of business to preserve their four-game winning streak and their seat atop the Coastal Division.
“You keep up your emotional level by always looking forward to the next game, focusing on the big prize right now,” said linebacker Gary Guyton. “The big prize is going to a game like the ACC Championship and the National Championship. If we stay working hard and stay humble, that’s how we keep our heads down and are able to work hard each and every week.” Linebackers Philip Wheeler and KaMichael Hall anchor Tech’s defense that is currently ranked fifth in the nation in pass efficiency defense (93.37) and 10th in rushing defense (68.6). Wheeler, the ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week, leads the team with 35 tackles. He tops the ACC and ranks eighth in the nation with 8.5 tackles for loss. Wheeler is also tied for the ACC lead with four sacks. Hall has 31 tackles and three tackles for a loss including two sacks this season. He also has a forced fumble and three pass breakups.
Quarterback Sam Hollenbach, who has thrown for 661 yards and four touchdowns, leads the Maryland offense. The tandem of Lance Ball and Keon Latimore has combined for 557 yards on the ground. Ball has gained 290 yards rushing and has scored five touchdowns. Latimore has attempted 49 rushes for 267 yards and a touchdown.
“The two guys (Ball and Lattimore) can run the football and are both strong backs,” said Gailey. “I call them strong backs because they break tackles. They may not be the biggest guys, but they are strong and break tackles. Maryland will play them at any time.”
Tech’s offense has averaged 29 points a game this season. Reggie Ball has completed 54 of 104 passes for 768 yards and nine touchdowns with five interceptions. He is also the team’s second-leading rusher with 231 yards and a 4.4-yard average. Tailback Tashard Choice leads Tech and stands third in the ACC with 364 yards rushing on 75 attempts and four touchdowns. Wide out James Johnson has proved to be a compliment to Tech’s other Johnson, catching 12 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown.
“We have some of the best players in the country and best players in the conference on our team,” said center Kevin Tuminello. “We have a very explosive offense with the type of players we have. Watching them do what they do is incredible. We just give them an opportunity to do what they can do and give them time to get it done.”
The Jackets special teams have continued to get stronger as the season has progressed. Backup placekicker Troy Garside, a member of the teams punt block unit, snaked through the line and blocked a punt in the first quarter of the Virginia Tech game. Punter Durant Brooks, a transfer from Georgia Military College, is averaging 43.3 yards a punt to sit second in the ACC in average yards and has placed 17 punts within the 20-yard line.
“I knew that he (Brooks) was going to be able to turnover the field like he did against Virginia kicking it from the four-yard line to the 44-yard line and things like that,” said Gailey. “What he has been able to do, getting the ball inside the 20, has really been special. A phenomenal number that we have downed inside the 20, and you have to give credit to our gunners as well. Think about the fact that he is second in the conference in punting average, yet he has been trying to pooch it down there and get them inside the 20, that tells you how good the other punts have been when he has been backed up. You don’t get as many yards when you are trying to get the ball inside the 20.”