Nov. 8, 2005
The 24th-ranked Georgia Tech (6-2, 4-2 ACC) football team will hit the road for two pivotal Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division games beginning this Saturday in Charlottesville, Va., against Virginia (5-3, 2-3 ACC) in Scott Stadium. The regionally televised game on ABC (WSB-TV in Atlanta) will kick off at 3:30 p.m. The contest will also air on the radio at 790 The Zone (790 AM).
“Virginia’s a big, physical football team and we’ve faced some of those this year,” said head coach Chan Gailey. “Defensively, they’re finally getting healthy and playing better there as well. Every team is a little different, but it’s a hostile place to play at and we’ve had some experience there too.”
The Yellow Jackets are riding a three-game winning streak heading into this weekend’s match-up with the Cavaliers and are No. 24 in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches polls.
“If you were around these guys every day, you’d have confidence in them too,” said Gailey. “They play and prepare very well week in and week out, and some of our younger players are maturing while others are getting healthy. Our older guys are playing to their potential so that’s a good group of things coming together.”
The Jackets and Cavaliers have played a lot of tight games over the course of the series which is tied at 13 wins apiece (one tie). Tech has dropped three straight games to UVa and dropped a 30-10 decision last season in Atlanta. It was the first time either team had lost at home since the 1995 season.
“We have not won [up there] since 1990,” said safety Chris Reis. “That’s a motivation factor for us, that we can go up there and make history. But it’s not a big factor in doing what we need to do to win the game.”
Virginia remained perfect at home this season with a 4-0 record after a 51-3 defeat over Temple last Saturday afternoon. The Cavaliers posted a 26-21 victory over then-No. 4 Florida State on Oct. 15th in their last ACC home game and have won 20 of their last 22 home games.
This match-up will also pit two former National Football League head coaches against each other. Tech coach Chan Gailey led the Dallas Cowboys to the playoffs in each of the 1998 and ’99 seasons, while UVa head coach Al Groh coached the 2000 New York Jets.
Senior quarterback Marques Hagans leads the Cavaliers offense. Hagans is fourth in the ACC in total offense, averaging 226.1 yards per game and has UVa fourth in the ACC in scoring offense, tallying 28.5 points per game.
“Hagans is one of the most active quarterbacks, if not the most active, that we’ll play,” said Gailey. “He makes a lot of plays with his legs.”
On defense, the Cavaliers use an unconventional 3-4 defense, led by junior inside linebackers Kai Parham and Ahmad Brooks. Parham leads the conference in sacks with 8.5 and ranks fourth with 8.4 tackles per game. Brooks has 13 tackles, four quarterback pressures and one sack this season.
“Your blocking rules are going to change and where people drop in pass coverage is a little bit unique because in a four-man front, you’re limited as to the number of guys that can drop for the most part but in a 3-4, there’s three guys that will drop on almost every snap and that creates challenges for your quarterback,” said Gailey. “Their two inside linebackers are probably the two most physical guys we’ve faced at that position this year.”
Junior wide receiver Deyon Williams stands sixth in the ACC in receptions per game (4.25) and 10th in yards per game (51.2) to lead the UVa wide receivers. Senior tailback Wali Lundy leads the Cavalier rushing attack with 327 yards on 74 carries and four touchdowns.
The Rambling Wreck defense held the ACC’s leading rusher, Wake Forest’s Chris Barclay, to just 24 yards rushing on 15 carries in Tech’s last game. In its win against Clemson two weekends ago, the Tech defense did not allow a touchdown and has only surrendered an average of 12 points during the Jackets’ three-game winning streak.
The Yellow Jackets are tied for third in the nation with 16 interceptions and tied for ninth with 23 turnovers forced. Redshirt sophomore Philip Wheeler continues to lead the ACC with four interceptions, tied for ninth in the country. Senior defensive end Eric Henderson needs just one more tackle for a loss to tie Greg Gathers’ school record of 57 and leads the Jackets with four sacks this season, after missing four games with an injury.
“Our guys have a done good job of that,” said Gailey about the defense creating turnovers. “This year, when those opportunities present themselves, our defense has taken advantage of them. We’re catching the ball and getting on the loose ball, and that’s been a big boost for our football team.
“Turnover ratio has a lot to do and is directly related with success,” said Gailey. “We all know what turnovers can do to hurt you but they can do a great deal to help you as well.”
Sophomore All-America candidate Calvin Johnson maintains his lead in the ACC by averaging 90.6 receiving yards per game. The sophomore wide out ranks second in the league with 5.0 receptions per game and caught four balls for 98 yards and one touchdown last Saturday against the Demon Deacons.
Junior quarterback Reggie Ball and senior running back P.J. Daniels also continue to shine for the Yellow Jackets. Ball stands third in the ACC in total offense with 229.3 yards per game, while Daniels is second in the league with 87.9 yards per game on the ground.
The Tech offensive line is playing with confidence and is providing Daniels and redshirt sophomore tailback Tashard Choice with some running room up front. The Jackets’ Andrew Gardner, Matt Rhodes, Kevin Tuminello, Nate McManus and Brad Honeycutt have found their niche.
“We had the highest average grade for our offensive line as a group that we’ve had all year last week,” said Gailey. “That’s great if you build on it. I think that our guys have continued to grow and some of those young guys aren’t young anymore because they’ve played eight games this season.”
“We’re believing in ourselves again,” said McManus. “We know we have the coaching, we just had to get back in the groove. We went back to practice after we lost a heartbreaker to NC State, and we just put our noses to the grindstone and kept going, and it’s brought us results.”
The Yellow Jackets’ special teams got a boost from new return man Rashaun Grant last Saturday versus Wake Forest. The redshirt sophomore had two kick off returns for 62 yards.
“We all know that it’s not all about the returner, because other guys have to do their jobs well,” said Gailey. “That being said, everyone else did better but he [Rashaun Grant] made good cuts, made a guy miss here and there and made things happen. Let’s see if we can do it two weeks in a row.”