ATLANTA (Nov. 23) – Georgia Tech head coach George O’Leary said Tuesday that the Yellow Jackets seemed to have put Saturday’s loss to Wake Forest behind them and turned their full focus to this week’s game, Saturday’s 1 p.m. contest with arch-rival Georgia.
The game, at Bobby Dodd Stadium/Grant Field, will be regionally televised on ABC-TV (WSB-TV, Channel 2 in Atlanta). Both teams come in with identical 7-3 overall records and 5-3 conference marks.
When asked if last week’s loss would affect the team this week, O’Leary said, “I hope to God not. Sometimes it’s a great wake-up call as far as what has to take place. I made the statement after the game, and I still stand by it. We went into the game hungry, but I think they came in starving, and I think that was the difference in the game.
“We didn’t sustain blocks that we had in the past, I think that we didn’t play as well from the standpoint of execution. Some of it had to do with Wake Forest, even though they weren’t any different than we were expecting, we just didn’t execute as well as we probably could have and we probably should have.”
Whatever hopes the Yellow Jackets may have harbored regarding a possible bid to a Bowl Championship Series game were dashed in the 26-23 loss to Wake Forest, which qualified for a post-season game with the win, and therein lay one of the possible reasons for Tech’s defeat.
“I have never said anything to them about bowl situations at all except to say that we need to take care of business each Saturday and see what happens at the end of the season, and that’s all I’ve ever talked about,” said the fifth-year coach. “I think that any time that your fans are upbeat, they’re always in their ear. And sometimes as much time as you spend with players and as much as you counsel them as to what to expect on Wake Forest, for some reason, they sit back and believe some stranger. They worry about the next game, and I don’t know if that took place, but we weren’t in sync. We really weren’t. I did things that game that I don’t normally do. You know, 4th downs and stuff like that. I normally play the field position game. I was trying to create things in the game because I didn’t see our players getting it done. In some cases it worked, in other cases it didn’t work. We go 3rd and 1, 4th and 1, and short yards…that’s been a pretty consistent play for us all year, and we don’t make it. I think that was a big part of the game, right at that spot, because that’s momentum. That time, we make a first down, we go in and get points, and I figured at that time, we need points.”
But the spectre of a game with Georgia looming on the horizon generally overshadows all other concerns, and O’Leary doesn’t have to convince his charges about the talent on the Bulldogs’ side of the field or the importance of the game. Georgia enters this week’s game with momentum following a 20-17 win at Mississippi last Saturday night.
“I see a very talented football team,” said O’Leary. “Obviously Jim has recruited very well. I thought they played very very well the in the last game that I saw against Mississippi. I thought they went out and played with a purpose and came away with a good win. I’m looking forward to a good college football game, two teams with the same record, and two teams that understand the importance of the game.
“The biggest difference I see in Georgia this year from last year really is they lost some key receivers that were outstanding players, and they’ve lost some linemen. They’ve replaced a bunch over there, and they’ve replaced them with pretty good players. Like everybody else, it takes time to learn the system and get things done. I think have a quarterback who makes plays and knows what to do with the ball.
Defensively, they are very talented. That 37, Kendrell Bell, is as good a linebacker as we’ll see this year from a standpoint of a nose for the ball. I really like the way he plays; he plays the way you’d like to have all of your linebackers play. I think he’s a really good football player.
“As I look at our football game, when I first took over, I see that we didn’t have as many Georgia players as we have now. We have I think 58 on the team from the state of Georgia. So obviously the importance to them and the importance to our team has taken shape because of the competitiveness. A lot of these kids have played against each other in their high school careers and I know they’re looking forward to this game. I think last night was a good indication of the tempo in the practice and what we’ll have to do to be successful.”
O’Leary expects the Yellow Jackets to be at full strength Saturday despite a hamstring injury to split end Dez White (Orange Park, Fla.) early in the Wake Forest game. Linebacker Nick Rogers (East Point, Ga.) has missed the last two games with a broken thumb. Both have returned to practice.
“Dez White is practicing today, and he was dressed last night,” said O’Leary. “It wasn’t as serious as we thought. I was talking to him this morning, and I think he’ll be a go. It’s obvious that’s one position as far as the receiver corps, that has probably been our most consistent position with the offensive line as far as stability and production go. I think again, it hurt more last game, having him come out and having to make some changes; but I think he’ll go. Playing football and commitment to football is very important to Dez, and I’m pretty sure that he’ll be playing and playing his usual type game.”
Tech’s receiver group is the deepest position on the offensive side. The primary trio of White, sophomore Kelly Campbell (Atlanta, Ga.) and red-shirt freshman Kerry Watkins (Laplace, La.) have combined for 129 receptions, 2,143 yards and 19 touchdowns. The Jackets have also received contributions from converted quarterback Jermaine Crenshaw (Greenville, Ala.), junior Jon Muyres (Stone Mountain, Ga.), freshman Will Glover (Tampa, Fla.), and junior Brett Basquin (LaBelle, Fla.). Basquin was slated to start in the pre-season before breaking a bone in his foot.
“I think with Brett Basquin it didn’t surprise me that he played well because prior to his foot injury, he was a starter,” said O’Leary. “Nothing beats experience at that position. He’s been here for three years, he understands what’s taking place, and he’s very steady. He knows what to do, he’s been there. And I think having depth at a position like that really helps.”
When asked if he expects Saturday’s game to be high-scoring, O’Leary pointed to the recent past history of the series.
“Well the past ones (vs. Georgia) haven’t been (high-scoring),” he said. “If you look at the history of the games, it’s going to be a fairly close game. I think that, from both teams, you’re going to get their best effort, and if that’s a lot of points, then it’ll be a lot of points. I don’t think that there will be a lot of points on the board.
“I think it comes down to the same things that it has in the past. I think penalties have been a problem, I think that basically field location has been a major factor. I think we’ve has success in our kicking game with Rodney (Williams) against them, and that concerns me as far as field position. But I think that very few in-state games, unless (one team) is completely overmatched, are high-scoring events. I think because emotions are there, the mistakes are there, I think when all the dust settles after the first couple of minutes, I think you’ll see what kind of game it’s going to really be.”
Tech’s 21-19 victory in Athens last year broke a seven-game losing streak for the Jackets in the series. The last four games have been decided by a total of 15 points, and three of them were decided in the final minute.
In 1995, Kanon Parkman kicked a 34-yard field goal with 47 seconds left as Georgia took an 18-17 victory in Atlanta. In 1997, also in Atlanta, Mike Bobo threw an eight-yard TD strike to Corey Allen with just eight seconds remaining for a 27-24 victory after Tech had scored a go-ahead touchdown with 48 seconds left. Last season, Brad Chambers knocked home a 35-yard field goal with two seconds remaining for a 21-19 Tech win in Athens.