Oct. 31, 2006
ATLANTA – No. 20 Georgia Tech travels to Raleigh, N.C. to take on Atlantic Coast Conference foe NC State on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Carter-Finley Stadium. The game will be nationally televised on ESPNU.
Radio coverage is available on WQXI-AM (790), WREK-FM 91.1 and WSTH-FM (107.1).
Georgia Tech (6-2, 4-1 ACC) overcame a 10-point first quarter deficit to defeat the Miami Hurricanes (5-3, 2-2 ACC) 30-23 last Saturday. The Yellow Jackets took control of the ACC Coastal Division with the victory and need to win two of its final three games to reach its first ever ACC Championship. Tashard Choice led the offense topping 100-yards on the ground for the third time this season and the first to accomplish this feat against the `Canes in 2006.
“We talk about getting better every week,” said Tech coach Chan Gailey. “Let’s go get better as a football team. If we want to be where we want to be at the end, we have to continue to get better. As soon as you think you have arrived, you haven’t for sure. The next thing I talk about is it’s a conference game and you go and win conference games. Division games are more important, but conference games are still important because they count in the end and you want to be able to finish strong as a football team. Let’s go win the game and prove what kind of a football team we are.”
The Wolfpack (3-5, 2-3 ACC) return to the field after a disappointing 14-7 loss to Virginia last Saturday in Charlottesville, Va. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Daniel Evans set a career high in the game with 220 yards passing and tied a career high with 21 completions. Junior wide receiver John Dunlap had four catches for 80 yards and a touchdown.
The Jackets fell to the Pack last year, 17-14, on a Thursday night in Atlanta. Tech has had the upper-hand playing in Raleigh recently, winning four of the last five meetings at Carter-Finley Stadium.
Tech’s defense has been the catalyst behind its best record after eight games since 2001. The linebacker tandem of KaMichael Hall and Philip Wheeler has combined for 112 tackles this season. Wheeler currently leads the ACC in tackles for loss (12.5), while ranking second in the league in sacks (8.0). Hall has come up big in the Jackets past two victories, recovering fumbles deep in the opponent’s territory to help set up a touchdown.
“It’s an inter-team competition,” said Hall about teammate Philip Wheeler. “It’s what keeps us going. With Philip, we’re very close in tackles and he always reminds me how many he has each game. I’m trying to beat him and he’s trying to beat me and that makes the game fun. It’s great to have competitions with your teammates. I’m pretty sure the Johnsons (Calvin and James) have one too. It just makes everything better. Going out there and having fun is the only way you should play this game.”
All-America wide receiver Calvin Johnson got back into the mix, catching five passes for 68 yards and a touchdown against Miami. He currently leads the ACC in receptions (40, 5.0 pg) and receiving yards (627, 78.9), and his nine touchdown catches are fifth in the nation. Sophomore wide receiver James Johnson is second on the team with 25 catches for 369 yards and three touchdowns. Senior quarterback Reggie Ball is averaging 192.1 yards of total offense per game and his 13 touchdown passes leads the ACC.
“I think there is no limit to what we can do,” said James Johnson about Calvin and himself. “When we’re able to share the ball among every body, we do very well. When we don’t just focus on one player, we do very well. The ceiling’s high. When Calvin’s double teamed, you’ve got me and Chris Dunlap and the tight end and the full back of course, who can catch balls. If they try to play everybody one on one, Reggie has so many options of who he can go to.”
NC State junior Anthony Hill has been very productive on offense, catching a team-high 25 passes and is second on the team with 261 yards receiving. The Wolfpack will also try and use its one-two punch, sophomore running backs Andre Brown (563 rushing yards) and Toney Baker (385 rushing yards), to try and move the chains.
“There are a lot of concerns,” said Gailey of the N.C. State offense. “The first one is trying to stop those two running backs (Brown and Baker) who can both run the football and are both explosive. At times they both run the ball extremely well, and the thing that is unique is they (NC State) pound and pound and pound you, then they throw it up to [John] Dunlap, or try and get it to [Darrell] Blackman quick and let him make a play. You have to be on your toes at all times because they have every formation and motion in the book, so you have to pay attention to what is going on out there.”
The Pack defense is led by defensive tackle DeMarcus “Tank” Tyler. The senior leads the team with 10 tackles for loss and is second on the team with 64 tackles. Linebacker Pat Lowery leads the Wolfpack and is ranked fourth in the ACC with 66 tackles. The State defense us holding opponents to a 28.4 percent conversion rate on third downs, tops in the conference.
“If you don’t block those two inside guys (Tyler and DeMario Pressley) you will be in trouble,” said Gailey. They have typical NC State linebackers (Pat Lowery and LeRue Rumph) that can run and make plays, the defensive ends have been overshadowed because of the guys they’ve had the last few years and the safeties are good players. This is a very talented football team, and one of the things that is overlooked about this football team is Blackman in the return game. He is in the top three in kickoff and punt returns in the conference, so your coverage team better be good.”
The Tech special teams unit is coming off one its most impressive games of the season. Travis Bell, a junior placekicker, booted three crucial field goals. He hit from 39, 38 and 39 yards. His last field goal came in the fourth quarter and tied the score at 16-16. Junior punter Durant Brooks continues to be an effective weapon. He leads the ACC with a 44.8-yard average (7th in the nation) and his net of 41.2 leads the ACC and ranks second nationally. Against Miami, Brooks averaged 50.8 yards with a net of 45.2 yards on six punts, including three kicks that were downed inside the 20-yard line.
“We have to do a better job at sustaining drives, offensively,” added Gailey. “Early in the year we had hardly any three-and-outs. We need to control the ball better. We still maintain field position, because Durant (Brooks) is kicking the ball so well and the coverage team is doing such a super job. Even if we are not getting first downs, we are still turning the field over and making the other team have a long way to go.