Dec. 20, 2002
The Georgia Tech football team will travel across the country to end up in a place that has become very familiar to the Yellow Jackets – a postseason bowl game.
The Jackets, with a record of 7-5 overall and 4-4 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, have earned a New Year’s Eve date with Fresno State (8-5, 6-2 WAC) in the Silicon Valley Football Classic, Dec. 31 at 3:30 p.m. ET at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, Calif. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN2.
Along the way, first-year head coach Chan Gailey and the Tech seniors have steered the Rambling Wreck through adversity, most notably season-ending injuries to the team’s top offensive and defensive stars as well as numerous other injuries, to a sixth straight year of seven or more wins. Tech’s sixth consecutive bowl berth equals the school record set from 1951-56.
That mark of consistency is notable because Georgia Tech is the only ACC school other than Florida State to play in a bowl game each of the last six years, and only the Seminoles have compiled more overall and conference victories during that time than Tech.
In fact, Georgia Tech is one of just 13 schools in the nation to be playing in a sixth straight bowl game. “Our whole season has been a season of adjustment,” said Gailey, who is just the second coach in Tech history to lead the Jackets to a bowl game in his first season. He joins Bill Fulcher, who guided his 1972 Tech team to the Liberty Bowl.
“What you’d like to do is start at one point and build on that throughout the year, but we’ve not been able to do that this year because of injuries. We’ve been adjusting the whole on year offense. On defense, we’ve been able to build, but on offense we’ve been adjusting.”
The adjustments have been primarily in the backfield, where Tech enters the bowl game without its top two rushers, Tony Hollings and Gordon Clinkscale, both out with season-ending knee injuries. In Hollings (633 yards, 93 attempts, 11 TD) and Clinkscale (468 yards, 75 attempts, 3 TD), the Jackets lost a total of 1,101 yards rushing (6.6 yards per carry) and 14 touchdowns. Tech is expected to use freshmen P.J. Daniels (255 yards, 72 attempts, 2 TD) and Michael Sampson (18 yards, 6 attempts) at tailback, with sophomore Jimmy Dixon and freshman Ajenavi Eziemefe (244 yards, 67 attempts, 2 TD) at fullback.
The most consistent force on offense has been the receiving corps, led by all-ACC senior Kerry Watkins with 66 receptions for 968 yards and four touchdowns. Senior Will Glover adds 47 catches for 434 yards and three TD, while versatile junior Jonathan Smith has come on strong lately and has 35 receptions for 388 and two touchdowns, plus 83 yards rushing on 12 carries.
Junior quarterback A.J. Suggs has completed 57.9 percent of his passes for 2,202 yards and 11 touchdowns but has 13 interceptions.
The Tech defense has performed well and ranks 27th nationally with 19.8 points allowed per game. Tech’s top tacklers are the linebacker trio of all-ACC senior Recardo Wimbush (83 tackles, 6 TFL), and junior Daryl Smith (87 tackles, 14 TFL) and Keyaron Fox (76 tackles, 11 TFL). First-team all-ACC free safety Jeremy Muyres has a team-leading five interceptions and 66 tackles.
Fresno State won its last four regular-season games and seven of its last nine contests. The Bulldogs have the advantage of a recent trip to San Jose, posting a 19-16 win over SJSU at Spartan Stadium on Nov. 23.
“I think our guys have a good idea of what Fresno is about, and by the time we go out there to play them, we will have a very good grasp of what they’re about,” said Gailey. “But you always understand there will be some new wrinkles and unusual things the opponent will do in a ballgame like this because they’ve had three weeks to prepare.
“It’s almost like Fresno’s last home game because it’s three years in a row they’ve been in this bowl, and they’re only about two hours away. So it will be a great challenge for our team to go play Fresno State in this bowl game.”
The Bulldogs feature the WAC Freshman of the Year in quarterback Paul Pinegar, who has thrown for 2,741 yards and 20 touchdowns against just 10 interceptions.
Pinegar can throw to junior wide receiver Marque Davis, who has 64 catches for 956 yards and seven touchdowns, or hand off to junior tailback Rodney Davis, who has rushed for 1,433 yards (110.2 per game) and seven scores on the season.
“I would call them balanced,” said Gailey. “They like to establish the run the first and then beat you with the big play in the passing game somehow.”
Leading the Fresno State defense is senior end Nick Burley, two-time all-WAC choice who leads the team with 10 sacks and ranks fourth with 71 total tackles.
“He’s a very good football player who can run and make plays,” said Gailey. “They move him around, which creates problems for you.”
Senior kicker Asen Asparuhov, another two-time all-WAC selection, anchors a strong special teams unit and has made 20-of-26 field goals, including a long of 52 yards.
Following a very disappointing loss to Georgia in the final regular season game, the Yellow Jackets look forward to the chance to play again.
“We know Fresno State is a very good football team, and it will be a big challenge,” said Muyres, one of four senior captains along with Wimbush, Watkins and guard Raymond Roberts-Blake.
“For the seniors, it’s our last go-around, so we want to make the best of it, and for the younger guys, it’s the start of next season.”
SCHOOL-RECORD SIXTH STRAIGHT BOWL
Georgia Tech is playing in a bowl game for a sixth consecutive year, tying the school record. Tech’s six straight bowls are a first for the program since the 1950s and the halcyon days of legendary coach Bobby Dodd, who guided the Yellow Jackets to a school-record six straight bowl games-winning them all – from 1951-56.
On their current streak, the Jackets have played in the 1997 Carquest Bowl, the 1999 and 2000 Toyota Gator Bowls, the 2000 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and the 2001 Seattle Bowl.
TECH HEADS WEST FOR ANOTHER BOWL
Georgia Tech’s appearance in the Silicon Valley Football Classic marks the second straight year for the Yellow Jackets to travel to the West Coast for a bowl game, following last year’s victory over Stanford in the 2001 Seattle Bowl. The Silicon Valley Football Classic will be Tech’s 16th different bowl game.
Tech will make its first appearance in the state of California since a 1969 game at Southern California, which the Trojans won, 29-18. Tech’s only other bowl game in California was its 8-7 victory over California in the famous 1929 Rose Bowl.
Georgia Tech and Fresno State are meeting for the first time in football, and the Bulldogs become the 95th different opponent that Tech has faced in its 110 years of football. Of the other 94 teams that Tech has played, there are only nine schools that the Yellow Jackets have failed to defeat at least once, including such football powers as Carnegie Tech, St. Albans and Maryville.
Tech has played only three members of the current Western Athletic Conference and none since 1972. The Jackets have posted an 8-2-1 record against SMU, a 2-0-1 mark against Rice and a 1-1 slate versus Tulsa for an 11-3-1 composite record against current WAC teams. Fresno State has never played an ACC team.
NATION’S BEST BOWL RECORD
After defeating Stanford in the 2001 Seattle Bowl, Georgia Tech returned to the top of the national leaders in bowl game winning percentage. Tech’s record now stands at 20-10 for a winning percentage of .667 in postseason play. The Jackets are tied with Penn State (23-11-2, .667) for the highest bowl winning percentage among all teams with at least 15 bowl appearances.
Tech ranks sixth all-time in bowl victories with 20 and 13th in appearances with 30.
In 1955, the Jackets became the first team to win each of the four traditional major bowls-Rose, Orange, Sugar and Cotton.
BEST BOWL WINNING PERCENTAGE1. GEORGIA TECH 20-10 .667 Penn State 23-11-2 .6673. Oklahoma 22-12-1 .6434. Florida State 18-10-2 .6335. Southern California 25-15 .625
MOST BOWL VICTORIES 1. Alabama 29 2. Southern California 25 3. Penn State 23 Tennessee 23 5. Oklahoma 22 6. GEORGIA TECH 20 Nebraska 20
Georgia Tech has two players from California, both redshirt freshmen. Backup linebacker Gerris Wilkinson is from the Bay Area, attending Skyline High School in Oakland. Starting defensive tackle Travis Parker hails from Hacienda Heights in Southern California and attended Los Altos High School.
Among Atlantic Coast Conference schools, Georgia Tech ranks second only to Florida State in both overall wins and ACC wins over the last six seasons. Tech (49 overall wins, 31 ACC wins from 1997-2002) and Florida State (62 overall, 44 ACC) are the only ACC schools to go to a bowl game each of the last six years.
In fact, Georgia Tech is one of just 13 schools in the nation that is playing in its sixth consecutive bowl game. The others are Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Kansas State, Marshall, Michigan, Nebraska, Oregon, Purdue, Tennessee, Virginia Tech and Washington.