Oct. 24, 2006
ATLANTA – Twenty-first ranked Georgia Tech hosts Miami in an Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division showdown, Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Bobby Dodd Stadium/Grant Field, with the winner taking control of the division race. The game will be regionally televised on ABC-TV (Channel 2 in Atlanta).
Tech (5-2, 3-1 ACC) returns to the field after falling to Clemson, 31-7, in “Death Valley” last Saturday. James Johnson hauled in a 35-yard reception from Reggie Ball for Tech’s only score on the day.
“You always learn from wins and losses,” said Tech coach Chan Gailey. “You can’t sit around and say `woe is us,’ or feel sorry for yourself. You have to go on. This team, through the years, has been able to handle that fairly well. It would be a lot easier to get over if you weren’t playing such a tough team the next week. You’ve got another tough game this week, so you better get over it in a hurry and get ready.”
Miami (5-2, 2-1 ACC) defeated Duke 20-15 missing 13 players from suspensions stemming from their game against Florida International. The Hurricanes are the only other team in the Coastal Division with less than two losses.
“They (Miami) have a bunch of great athletes,” said Gailey. “Their two safeties are really good players. They play the run well and get involved in the running game. Everybody on their defense can run, defensive linemen, defensive tackles, and linebackers. That’s just the way they play the game. They play very fast on defense. Their one of the top teams in the country in rushing defense, and you can see why. They’re very difficult to run the football on.”
Last season, Tech defeated the third-ranked Hurricanes, 14-10, at the Orange Bowl. The Jackets defense came up with seven sacks, seven pass breakups and a game-saving interception. The win marked the highest ranked team Tech has defeated since knocking off No. 1 Virginia in 1990.
“Last year, I was just very excited,” said linebacker Philip Wheeler. “The emotion was just taking over my body. I was jumping around after the game. We had a lot of support after the game. Not much support before the game, because a lot of people didn’t think we could do it but after the game those people were giving us pats on the back.”
Tech’s All-America wide receiver Calvin Johnson was shut out in Clemson but still leads the ACC in receptions (35, 5.0 pg) and receiving yards (559, 7.9 pg) and his eight touchdown catches are seventh nationally. Ball, the Jackets’ senior quarterback, is averaging 195.6 yards of total offense per game. He currently ranks third in the league in total offense. Ball is tied for the ACC lead with 11 touchdown passes, and also has two rushing touchdowns.
The Jackets will be up against another top 10 run defense this weekend. Miami is ranked third in the NCAA against the rush, giving up just 62.9 yards on the ground per game. The Hurricanes have not given up 100 yards rushing in any of the team’s first seven games.
“They’re fast flowing,” said tight end Mike Matthews. “In the experiences I’ve had with Miami, they’ve been strong and quick. You’ve got to get on them and stay on them. You’ve got to cover the basics, the fundamentals and you can never drag your feet. They’ve always been a good defense, very fast.”
On defense, the Yellow Jackets are led by the linebacker tandem of KaMichael Hall and Wheeler, who have combined for 97 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, including eight sacks, four pass breakups, three fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles. Hall leads the team with 49 tackles, while Wheeler is right behind him with 48. The team will look to get back on the field and improve on the results from the Clemson game.
“I think we can fix everything that we did wrong,” said Wheeler on the loss to Clemson. “There was a lot of it to do with tackling and wrapping up the ball carriers. I think we can fix a lot of things. Anything can happen but I don’t think we’ll let some of those other mistakes happen again.”
The `Canes offense is led by quarterback Kyle Wright. The junior has passed for 1,325 yards and seven touchdowns, with just four interceptions. Wright is completing 62.1 percent of his passes on the season. True freshman Javarris James has amassed 416 yards on the ground on just 72 carries.
“They’re not using the tight ends as much as they have in the past,” said Gailey. “They still use the tight end and throw to him, and they’ve got some good tight ends, but they’ve been a tight-end-oriented team. They were searching for the right back. They may have found him in James. They seem to have settled on the freshman, so their running game is starting to come around and be more consistent.”
A win against Miami will put Tech in a good position to win the Coastal Division and possibly earn a trip to the ACC Championship game.
“Every game in the ACC is a big game and you never know which one is going to the pivotal game of your season,” said center Kevin Tuminello. “You have to go and play each game like it’s the biggest game of the year.”