ATLANTA (Oct. 3) – The seventh-ranked Georgia Tech football team takes its highest national ranking since 1991 into Saturday’s Homecoming contest against North Carolina, which kicks off at 3:30 p.m. at Bobby Dodd Stadium/Grant Field and will be regionally televised by ABC-TV.
After last Thursday’s 49-31 win over Maryland, Tech (3-1 overall, 1-1 ACC) climbed to No. 7 in the AP poll and No. 8 in the ESPN/USA Today rankings. The Jackets have won 13 of their last 15 games, with both losses coming at the hands of Florida State, and 16 of their last 20 games, dating back to the 1997 season.
North Carolina fell to 1-3, 0-3 ACC after last Saturday’s 31-20 defeat at Clemson.
Tech quarterback Joe Hamilton leads the nation in passing efficiency with a rating of 202.4, far ahead of second place Ben Leard of Auburn (175.7). In four games he has completed 72 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions. The senior from Alvin, S.C., also ranks fourth nationally in total offense with 329.5 yards per game.
His favorite targets are Tech’s trio of wide receivers, junior Dez White (Orange Park, Fla.), 14 catches, 30.4-yard avg., three TD; sophomore Kelly Campbell (Atlanta, Ga.), 19 catches, 14.2 avg., two TD; and redshirt freshman Kerry Watkins (LaPlace, La.), 11 catches, 15.7 avg., three TD.
Sophomore Sean Gregory (Homewood, Ill.) leads Tech’s balanced rushing attack with 244 yards (6.8 average) and four touchdowns, while senior Phillip Rogers (East Point, Ga.), has 160 yards (4.0 avg.) and a team-leading five touchdowns.
“Joe keeps making plays, but we need to continue to get more people involved in our offense,” said O’Leary. “Kelly Campbell and Kerry Watkins are starting to rise to the top, and they’re getting more confidence as the play more.
“We’ve got to continue to spread the ball around and take what the defense give us.”
Tech’s potent offense leads the nation in scoring (43.5) and total offense (517.3) while ranking seventh in rushing (243.3 yards per game) and 22nd in passing (274.0).
UNC’s offense features athletic quarterback Ronald Curry, who has 669 yards passing and three touchdowns but has thrown 10 interceptions. Curry is also the Tar Heels’ leading rusher with 191 yards and one score, ahead of tailbacks Daniel Davis (159 yards, 4.8 avg., 1 TD) and Anthony Saunders (124 yards, 3.0 avg., 1 TD). Jason Peace and Kory Bailey share the team lead with 13 catches each.
THE SERIES WITH NORTH CAROLINA
North Carolina holds a 16-15-3 lead in the series with Georgia Tech, which dates back to 1915. The Yellow Jackets captured last year’s game, 43-21 in Chapel Hill, but UNC won the last meeting in Atlanta, 16-13 in 1997, and the Tar Heels have won five of the last seven games. Tech leads 10-7 at Bobby Dodd Stadium/Grant Field, and the Jackets’ last home win over UNC was a 27-25 decision in 1995.
LAST MEETING WITH NORTH CAROLINA
Quarterback Joe Hamilton accounted for 362 yards of total offense and three touchdowns, including two scoring passes to Dez White, as Georgia Tech defeated North Carolina, 43-21, at Kenan Stadium. The win was Tech’s first in Chapel Hill since 1945, snapping a nine-game winless streak.
Tech led 30-7 and was attempting a field goal on the final play of the first half, but holder Rodney Williams did not catch the snap cleanly and tried to run with the ball. But Williams fumbled, and UNC’s Antwon Black returned the fumble 81 yards for a touchdown. After the Heels returned the second half kickoff for another score, Tech’s lead was trimmed to 30-21. But Hamilton and the Jackets regained control with a 69-yard touchdown drive.
TECH ON HOMECOMING
Georgia Tech has a 36-13-1 record in Homecoming games, including last year’s 41-38 victory over Virginia. Tech has won all three previous Homecoming dates with North Carolina, including victories in 1991 (35-14), 1989, (17-14) and 1974 (29-28). Two of those games featured dramatic endings by the Jackets. In 1989, Shawn Jones scrambled 30 yards for the winning touchdown with 51 seconds left, while in 1974, Adrian Rucker scored on a seven-yard run with 36 seconds left and then Rudy Allen hit Jimmy Robinson for the two-point conversion.
ANOTHER RECORD-SETTING GAME
Quarterback Joe Hamilton set a school record with 474 yards of total offense to lead the Yellow Jackets to a 49-31 win over Maryland last Thursday night on ESPN. Hamilton, who had 387 yards passing, completing 19 of 31 passes, along with 87 yards rushing on 13 carries, shattered the previous mark of 412 yards by Darrell Gast in a 1987 loss to Duke.
Hamilton, who had three touchdown passes and one touchdown rushing on a spectacular 41-yard run, tied his career best of 387 yards passing, set two games earlier against Florida State. He passed for 257 yards before halftime to set a Tech record for passing yards in the first half.
“I can’t say enough about Joe Hamilton’s performance,” said Tech head coach George O’Leary. “He went out and played very confidently and made so many great plays. And he had three passes dropped on him that were very catchable balls.
WHITE IS RIGHT
After catching just nine passes in Georgia Tech’s first three games, split end Dez White had a breakout game in the Yellow Jackets’ victory over Maryland. White caught five passes for 215 yards against the Terrapins, with touchdowns of 80 yards and 29 yards.
White’s 215 yards is the third best receiving effort in school history, behind his own school-record 243 yards last year against Virginia and Derrick Steagall’s 223 yards against the Cavaliers in 1997.
DEZ DOES IT ALL
Biletnikoff Award candidate Dez White leads the Atlantic Coast Conference in receiving yards with 106.5 per game. His average of 30.4 yards per catch leads the nation.
White, who averages 28.8 yards per kickoff return and also lines up in the backfield at times, totals 147.3 all-purpose yards per game to rank third in the league and 18th nationally. White averages 24.5 yards per play.
A MODEL OF EFFICIENCY
Joe Hamilton owns the top pass efficiency rating in school history at 144.18, which is also the second-best mark in ACC history. The current school record is 134.6 by Toppy Vann from 1953-56, while the ACC standard is held by Thad Busby of Florida State at 144.89.
Hamilton’s numbers over the last three seasons are even more impressive. Since the beginning of his sophomore season, the Alvin, S.C., native has an efficiency rating of 152.8. During that time, he has averaged 213.6 yards passing and 252.8 yards of total offense per game while completing 62 percent of his passes. Hamilton has thrown 39 touchdown passes against just 17 interceptions over the last 26 games.
CLIMBING ACC LISTS
With three touchdowns passing and one rushing against Maryland, Joe Hamilton moved into sole possession of third place in Atlantic Coast Conference history in career touchdown responsibility with 63. Only former Tech quarterback Shawn Jones (70) and Virginia’s Shawn Moore (83) have accounted for more touchdowns than Hamilton.
Hamilton climbed into fourth place in ACC annals in career total offense with 8,164 yards, trailing only Jones (9,296), and former Duke quarterbacks Spence Fischer (9,110) and Ben Bennett (9,061). Hamilton also ranks 10th in ACC history in career passing yards (6,896).
O’LEARY CLIMBS COACHING CHART
Georgia Tech’s victory over Maryland improved head coach George O’Leary’s record to 31-22 in his fifth season on the Flats. O’Leary’s win total equals his former boss, Bobby Ross (31-26-1, 5 years) and Bill Curry (31-43-4, 7 years). The only Tech head coaches with more wins are Pepper Rodgers (34-31-2, 6 years) and the Hall of Fame trio of John Heisman (102-29-7, 16 years), William Alexander (134-95-15, 25 years) and Bobby Dodd (165-64-8, 22 years).
O’Leary’s winning percentage of .584 is bettered only by Heisman (.779) and Dodd (.713).