Nov. 14, 2006
ATLANTA – Eighteenth-ranked Georgia Tech hosts Duke Saturday at 1:30 p.m. in a non-televised contest that is the Yellow Jackets’ final home game of the season at Bobby Dodd Stadium/Grant Field.
Tech (8-2, 6-1 ACC) escaped Chapel Hill with a 7-0 win over a 1-9 North Carolina team last Saturday, clinching the Coastal Division title and a spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship game on December 2nd. Junior tailback Tashard Choice ran for 119 yards on 32 carries and the teams only score. Choice has topped the 100-yard mark in three consecutive games and a total of five this season.
Duke (0-10, 0-6 ACC) is coming off a 28-7 loss at 22nd-ranked Boston College. Freshman quarterback Thaddeus Lewis completed 20-of-40 passes for 131 yards. His top receiving target was Raphael Chestnut, who finished the night with five catches for 46 yards.
The Jackets offense is led by Calvin Johnson, Tech’s All-America wide receiver. He currently leads the ACC in receptions with 52 (5.2 per game) and receiving yards with 808 (80.8 pg). His 11 touchdown receptions, a new Tech season record, ranks fourth in the nation.
“He’s a huge part of this program,” said linebacker KaMichael Hall of Calvin Johnson. “There are a lot of plays that he has made throughout his career at Tech that if he did not make them, I don’t think we would have won the game. Everyone knows that he is the key factor on our team and you just can’t say anymore about him.”
Sophomore James Johnson, Calvin’s running mate at wide receiver, has stepped up with 33 catches for 442 yards and five scores in 2006. Senior quarterback Reggie Ball has completed 113-of-240 passes for 1,527 yards and 17 touchdowns with nine interceptions. He is also the team’s second-leading rusher with 316 yards and two scores, while his 17 touchdown passes lead the ACC. Choice leads Tech and stands third in the ACC with 940 yards rushing on 208 attempts and eight touchdowns.
Tech’s defense has allowed just one offensive touchdown in the last three games in leading the Jackets to victories over Miami, NC State and North Carolina. The shutout of UNC marked Tech’s first against an ACC opponent since a 35-0 blanking of Virginia in 2000 and first on the road since defeating Duke, 9-0 in 1985.
“There’s a confidence level,” said Tech coach Chan Gailey. “You always hope for that, and I think our guys are starting to get that now. That seems to really gear up the closer to the end zone somebody gets. Our third-down defense has really helped us, too. [North Carolina] was 2-of-13 last week, and when you can keep somebody from continuing drives like that, it really helps you.”
Linebackers Hall and Philip Wheeler lead the Tech defense with 67 tackles each. Wheeler is third in the ACC in sacks (8.0, 20th nationally) and tackles for loss (12.5). Safeties Djay Jones and Jamal Lewis lead Tech with three interceptions apiece.
The Blue Devils offense is run by Lewis, who has completed 141-of-273 passes this season for 1,612 yards and five touchdowns with 13 interceptions. His leading target is junior wide out Jamar Wright, who leads the team with 37 catches for 488 yards and two touchdowns.
“You look at (his) statistics, and you don’t get too bent out of shape,” said Gailey about Lewis. “But you watch him on film, and they’ve got something for the future in him. He’s going to be a very good football player before it’s over with. He reminds me a lot of Reggie when Reggie was a freshman. He does some great things and some bad things, but you see the potential there.”
Senior cornerback John Talley leads a talented Duke defense. Talley, a Preseason First Team All-America, is the NCAA’s active leader in interceptions (17) and return yardage (375). This season, he has totaled 35 tackles including 3.5 tackles for loss, six interceptions, five PBU’s, two caused fumbles and one fumble recovery.
Tech’s special teams continues to play an important role in the Jackets success. Punter Durant Brooks leads the nation in net punting at 40.83 yards per kick. His gross average of 44.9 yards per kick leads the ACC and ranks ninth in the nation. Twenty-seven of his 60 punts have been downed inside the 20-yard line, and he has 18 punts of 50 yards or longer.
“Durant (Brooks) has great hang-time as well as kicking it a long way,” said Gailey. “He’s put it right on the sideline a lot of times where there’s not a lot of room to run the football. We ask him to do it (punt in a specific direction) sometimes, but it’s not something we go out and work on hard every day. We talk about having a general direction so you know where to send your coverage team.”
This week’s game against Duke marks the final home game for 11 Georgia Tech seniors. Six are starters, including Ball, tight end Michael Matthews and tackle Mansfield Wrotto on offense and tackle Joe Anoai, Hall and cornerback Kenny Scott on defense. Also being honored today are tight end George Cooper, wide receiver Chris Dunlap, wide receiver Xavier McGuire, defensive back Sam Williams and offensive lineman Travis Kelly.
“We said that when we all came in we were going to do something big our senior year,” added Hall. “The only thing I can think about is that everybody still had the same mindset coming into our senior year, we have been here together, most everyone hangs out together, so that bond and chemistry that we have built up over the years has allowed us to do what we’ve done this year and lead our team.”
“These guys have been through a lot of ups and downs,” added Gailey. “I’m proud of them, because they’re mentally tough. Not only are they physically tough, they’re mentally tough.”