Sept. 29, 2002
ATLANTA – “The way this team played, and the way they have rallied is tremendous,” said Georgia Tech head coach Chan Gailey, whose Yellow Jackets take a 4-1 record into Saturday’s Atlantic Coast Conference game against Wake Forest at 3:30 p.m. at Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field.
Tech (4-1 overall, 1-1 ACC) and the Demon Deacons (2-3, 0-2 ACC) square off in a regionally televised contest on ABC (WSB Channel 2 in Atlanta). The game can also be heard on the Georgia Tech-ISP Radio Network, including Atlanta flagship station, WQXI-AM “790 The Zone.” Wes Durham calls the play-by-play, while Kim King provides color analysis.
Despite playing without their top offensive player, top defensive player and record-setting placekicker, the Jackets are coming off a 21-13 ACC road win over at North Carolina. Wake Forest fell to Virginia, 38-34, in a game in which the Deacons led 27-10 at the half and gained nearly 500 yards.
“All the so-called adversity has overshadowed everything our players have done the last two weeks,” said Gailey of his team’s back-to-back victories over North Carolina and Brigham Young. “That’s the way it is. The objective is to go out and find ways to win football games, and that’s what our guys have maintained their focus on.”
Stepping in for injured star Tony Hollings, true freshman running back Ajenavi Eziemefe (New Orleans, La.) carried the ball 32 times for 136 yards and a touchdown. For the season, he has 161 yards and two scores on 41 attempts.
Starting quarterback A.J. Suggs (Powder Springs, Ga.) has completed 62 of 111 passes for 752 yards and five touchdowns with five interceptions. Backup Damarius Bilbo (Moss Point, Miss.) provided a spark against the Tar Heels, completing four of six passes including a touchdown.
Kerry Watkins (LaPlace, La.) is Tech’s leading receiver with 25 catches for 426 yards (17.0-yard average) and two touchdowns, while Will Glover (Tampa, Fla.) adds 16 receptions for 170 yards and three scores.
The Tech offensive line, which was outstanding against North Carolina, is led by a pair of all-star candidates in sophomore left tackle Nat Dorsey (New Orleans, La.) and junior center Hugh Reilly (Smyrna, Ga.).
“They really played physical against North Carolina,” said Gailey of his offensive line. “We obviously ran the ball well again, and the pass was excellent. Overall, I thought they played their best game as a unit.”
The Tech defense has been outstanding, especially in the Jackets’ back-to-back wins over North Carolina and Brigham Young. Tech leads the ACC in scoring defense, allowing just 14.6 points per game, and ranks among the league’s top three in total defense, rushing defense and pass efficiency defense.
The Jackets’ leading tacklers are its trio of outstanding linebackers: junior Keyaron Fox (Atlanta, Ga.), 34 tackles, six tackles for loss, senior Recardo Wimbush (Blakely, Ga.) 31 tackles and two fumble recoveries, and junior Daryl Smith (Albany, Ga.), 30 tackles, five tackles for loss and one interception. All-ACC free safety Jeremy Muyres (Stone Mountain, Ga.) has 20 tackles and two interceptions.
Tech’s defense will be tested by a Wake Forest attack that ranks sixth in the nation in rushing, averaging 254.2 yards per game. Wake’s top all-around threat is wideout Fabian Davis, who has 19 catches for 266 yards, along with 270 yards rushing on just 24 carries. He also averages 12.0 yards per punt return.
Adding to Tech’s injury woes is all-ACC placekicker Luke Manget (Conyers, Ga.), who has extended his ACC record streak of consecutive extra points to 146 in a row but missed the North Carolina game with a strained groin. If Manget is unable to kick this week, he will be replaced by junior Dan Burnett (Lilburn, Ga.).
At punter, the Jackets use a combination of seniors Dan Dyke (Winter Springs, Fla.), who is averaging 40.1 yards on 15 punts, and Chris Morehouse (Vernon, Conn.), who is averaging 46.0 yards on 12 punts.
SERIES VS. WAKE FOREST
Georgia Tech has won six of the last seven meetings with Wake Forest and 10 of the last 13 to take an 18-6 lead in the series. Tech first played the Demon Deacons in 1917, when John Heisman’s Golden Tornado rolled up a 33-0 victory en route to a national championship.
Tech holds an 11-3 advantage on its home field, including a 52-20 victory in 2000 in the last meeting at Bobby Dodd Stadium/Grant Field. The Jackets have won the last three games in Atlanta by a combined 145-54 score. Conversely, the last four meetings at Wake Forest have been decided by a total of just 11 points.
Wake’s last win in the series was a 26-23 decision in 1999 in Winston-Salem, while the Deacons last win in Atlanta was in 1994 by a 20-13 margin.
LAST MEETING WITH THE DEMON DEACONS
In 2001 in Winston-Salem, George Godsey passed for 267 yards and three touchdowns and Joe Burns rushed for 145 yards to lead 23rd-ranked Georgia Tech to a 38-33 win over Wake Forest. Will Glover caught eight passes for 155 yards, including touchdown catches of 65 and 47 yards, and Jonathan Smith scored on a 22-yard run.
DEFENSE STEPS UP
After outstanding performances in wins over Brigham Young and North Carolina, Georgia Tech leads the ACC and ranks 15th nationally in scoring defense, allowing just 14.6 points per game. The Jackets also rank in the top three in the ACC and among the top 30 nationally in total defense (299.4 ypg), rushing defense (103.0 ypg) and pass efficiency defense (101.9 rating).
The Jackets also lead the ACC in third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert on just 25.7 percent of third down situations, and are second in sacks with 15. In Tech’s 21-13 win over North Carolina, the defense held UNC to 12 first downs and 299 total yards on 52 plays, including just 68 yards rushing.
Against BYU, Tech held the Cougars’ high-powered offense, which entered the game averaging 35 points and 455 yards per game, to 19 points and 353 yards, including just 79 yards rushing. The defensive effort against BYU was highlighted by four forced turnovers (three interceptions and one fumble) and four sacks.
ACE IN THE HOLE
Eziemefe, a 6-1, 225-pounder from New Orleans, La., made his first start against North Carolina and rushed 32 times for 136 yards and one touchdown. He played for the first time one week earlier against Brigham Young and had nine carries for 25 yards, including a one-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
The moniker Ace comes from his initials; his full name is Ajenavi Christopher Eziemefe (pronounced ah-juh-NAH-vee eh-ZEM-uh-fay).
FRESHMEN MAKE IMPACT ON VETERAN DEFENSE
Georgia Tech’s defense is experienced, with five seniors and three juniors in the starting lineup, but three redshirt freshmen have made an impact, especially in the Yellow Jackets’ victories over BYU and North Carolina.
Cornerback Reuben Houston, playing as the nickel back, turned in an outstanding performance in Tech’s win over the Tar Heels. He made the play of the game when he stripped UNC tight end Bobby Blizzard at the one-yard line to prevent a touchdown. He also had a quarterback sack for an 11-yard loss on third down. Against BYU, Houston made eight tackles, a key sack for an 11-yard loss on third down, and a pass breakup.
Redshirt freshman defensive end Eric Henderson sees extensive action, especially in nickel packages. The New Orleans, La., native had five tackles, two sacks, one tackle for loss, a forced fumble and a pass breakup against BYU. In the fourth quarter against UNC, he had a tackle for loss on third down deep in Tech territory, helping to end the Tar Heels’ final threat.
Defensive tackle Travis Parker, who has started four of five games, had five tackles and a pass breakup against BYU.
The heart of the Georgia Tech defense is its talented linebacker corps. The trio of Keyaron Fox, Recardo Wimbush and Daryl Smith rank one-two-three on the team in tackles, combining for 95 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and four sacks.
Wimbush is the elder statesman of the Tech defense with 42 consecutive games started and 312 career tackles, which ranks 14th in Tech history. This season he has 31 tackles, two tackles for loss and two fumble recoveries.
Fox has a team-leading 34 tackles and six tackles for loss. Smith adds 30 tackles with five tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception.
WATKINS WITH THE RECEPTION
Senior wideout Kerry Watkins has started his senior season with a bang. The LaPlace, La., native is Georgia Tech’s leading receiver with 25 catches for 426 yards (17.0-yard average) and two touchdowns. He is second in the ACC in both receptions and receiving yards per game.
Watkins, who had seven catches against Clemson and a season-high eight versus North Carolina, has raised his career totals to 125 receptions, 2,056 yards and 19 touchdowns. He ranks second in Tech history in career touchdown receptions, third in receiving yards and third in receptions.
THREE FORMER STANDOUTS ENTER TECH HALL
Three former Georgia Tech football standouts, including cornerback Willie Clay and defensive tackle Coleman Rudolph of Tech’s 1990 national championship squad, will be inducted into the Georgia Tech Hall of Fame this weekend.
Clay, Rudolph and James “Red” Patton will be inducted Friday at the annual Hall of Fame banquet and then will be honored in halftime ceremonies during Saturday’s game against Wake Forest. Also entering the Georgia Tech Hall of Fame are former baseball standout and current Atlanta Braves outfielder Darren Bragg and former track all-America Shellie O’Neal-Senzer.
Clay, a two-time all-ACC selection in 1990-91, is Tech’s career leader in interceptions with 16. He played eight years in the NFL with the Detroit Lions, New England Patriots-with whom he played in Super Bowl XXXI-and New Orleans Saints.
Rudolph earned all-America honors in 1992 and finished his career as Tech’s all-time sack leader. He played four years in the NFL with the New York Jets and Giants and is now an Atlanta radio personality.
Patton lettered for the Jackets from 1947-50 and caught two touchdown passes in Tech’s 1948 Orange Bowl win over Kansas.
IN A ZONE IN THE RED ZONE
The Georgia Tech offense is a perfect 16-for-16 on red zone possessions, scoring 15 touchdowns and one field goal. On defense, Tech has allowed 10 scores (six touchdowns and four field goals) on 13 red zone possessions.