Aug. 31, 2003
ATLANTA – Georgia Tech opens the new-and-improved, 55,000-seat Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field by hosting nationally-ranked Auburn Saturday at 3:30 p.m. before a sellout crowd and a regional television audience on ABC-TV (WSB Channel 2 in Atlanta).
Both teams are coming off season-opening losses as Tech (0-1) fell at Brigham Young, 24-13, while the Tigers (0-1) were ranked sixth last week but dropped their opener to eighth-ranked Southern California, 23-0.
The silver lining in the Yellow Jackets’ loss to BYU was the play of rookie Reggie Ball in the first start ever by a true freshman quarterback in a Tech season opener. The athletic, 5-11, 192-pounder from Stephenson High School in suburban Atlanta displayed poise and play-making ability as he completed 15 of 24 passes for 147 yards while rushing for 33 yards on five attempts. His most impressive play was a 33-yard run down to the BYU four-yard line to set up a score.
“I was impressed,” Tech head coach Chan Gailey said after the game. “He made two mistakes (interception and delay of game penalty) that I saw, but other than that, he played pretty danged good. He was impressive for a freshman walking out there for the first time.”
The strength of the offense is a veteran offensive line, anchored by Dave Rimington Trophy candidate Hugh Reilly, Tech’s 6-4, 285-pound senior center. The unit also features two-time all-ACC left tackle Nat Dorsey, junior Kyle Wallace at right tackle, junior Andy Tidwell-Neal at left guard and sophomore Brad Honeycutt at right guard. Junior guard Leon Robinson, a starter last year, now comes off the bench.
Senior wide receiver Jonathan Smith and senior tight end John Paul Foschi are Ball’s primary receiving targets. Smith opened the season with a career-best nine catches for 121 yards, while Foschi had three receptions for 14 yards.
Starting tailback P.J. Daniels, a sophomore, rushed for 57 yards on 16 carries against BYU. He is backed up by sophomores Ajenavi Eziemefe and Chris Woods, a transfer from Morris Brown. The heart of the Tech defense is the senior linebacker trio of Keyaron Fox, Daryl Smith and Ather Brown. Fox had 12 tackles with one tackle for loss and a pass breakup against BYU, while Smith had six hits and a pass deflection, and Brown added six tackles and a forced fumble.
Tech’s special teams also feature new faces, with senior Dan Burnett replacing record-setting placekicker Luke Manget, and senior Hal Higgins taking over the punting chores. Burnett was good on two field goals against BYU, while Higgins averaged 41.7 yards a punt.
NEW LOOK FOR BOBBY DODD STADIUM/GRANT FIELD
Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field, first built in 1913 by members of the student body, takes on a new look for the 2003 season.
The two-year expansion and renovation project has raised capacity to 55,000 while adding numerous amenities. The cost of Tech’s building campaign, which also includes the construction of 4,157-seat Russ Chandler Baseball Stadium, is approximately $75 million.
The focal point of the expansion of Bobby Dodd Stadium is the new North end zone structure, which seats 15,678 in two levels and includes 10 suites as well as the Howard Ector Letterwinners’ Lounge. The North end zone also features a new 7,000-square foot locker room, a 3,300-square foot players’ lounge and media area, and coaches’ offices that overlook the playing field.
A new seating structure was installed in the lower East, which also features 20 new suites as well as 2,040 chair-backed club seats between the 25-yard lines and a private, air-conditioned lounge for those patrons.
At the South end of Bobby Dodd Stadium, 2,970 new seats were added in front of the Wardlaw Building, forming a three-sided seating bowl that spans the North, East and South areas of the stadium.
A new natural grass playing surface and drainage system was installed, and the field was shifted approximately 30 feet to the north and 15 feet to the west.
The sellout crowd of 55,000 will be the largest at Bobby Dodd Stadium since Nov. 30, 1985, when a standing-room-only crowd of 59,602 watched Tech defeat Georgia, 20-16. Following that season, the 60-year-old South Stands were razed, reducing capacity to 46,000.
THE SERIES VERSUS AUBURN
Auburn holds a 47-39-4 lead over Georgia Tech in one of the South’s most storied rivalries. The two teams are meeting for the first time since 1987, when the Tigers, then ranked fifth, defeated Tech, 20-10, in Atlanta.
Auburn has won the last nine meetings, including five straight wins at Bobby Dodd Stadium/Grant Field. The Jackets’ last win in the series was a 24-10 victory at Auburn in 1978 that capped a three-year Tech winning streak.
Even though the series has been dormant for the last 15 years, Tech has played Auburn 90 times, more than any other opponent except Georgia. The two schools first met in 1892, Tech’s first year of football, and met every year from 1906-87.
Tech head coach Chan Gailey is 0-1 against Auburn. Gailey’s Samford squad fell to the Tigers, 35-7, in 1993.
LAST MEETING WITH THE TIGERS
In 1987 in Atlanta, the fifth-ranked Tigers scored two touchdowns in the final 22 seconds for a 20-10 come-from-behind victory over Georgia Tech. Jeff Burger’s four-yard touchdown pass to Lawyer Tillman capped a 17-play, 91-yard drive and put the Tigers ahead 14-10 with 22 seconds left. Tech quickly drove to the Auburn 39, but Aundray Bruce returned an interception 45 yards for a score on the game’s final play. Bruce, who intercepted three passes and caused two fumbles in the game, also forced a fumble that teammate Kurt Crain recovered in the end zone for Auburn’s first touchdown.
Tech’s last win over the Tigers was a 24-10 decision at Auburn in 1978. Drew Hill scored two touchdowns on a 97-yard kickoff return and a 32-yard reception, and Eddie Lee Ivery rushed for 127 yards while throwing a 17-yard touchdown pass to Bucky Shamburger. True freshman quarterback Mike Kelley completed seven of 15 passes for 126 yards and one TD.
NIX FACES ALMA MATER
Georgia Tech assistant coach Patrick Nix is a 1995 graduate of Auburn and a former quarterback for the Tigers. Nix, who is Tech’s quarterbacks coach and running game coordinator, was Auburn’s team captain and starting quarterback in 1995, when he led the Tigers to an 8-4 record and received the team’s Pat Sullivan Award for Offensive Player of the Year as well as the Cliff Hare Award as Student-Athlete of the Year. As a sophomore, he was a member of Auburn’s undefeated 1993 squad. Nix finished his playing days as Auburn’s career leader in passing efficiency.
FRESHMEN IN THE LINEUP
Cornerback Kenny Scott blocked a punt that teammate Nathan Burton recovered for a touchdown. Scott was one of seven true freshmen on Tech’s special teams units, including linebackers Philip Wheeler, KaMichael Hall and Nick Moore, safety Joe Gaston, cornerback Brian Fleuridor and receiver Chris Dunlap. Defensive end Joe Anoai saw extensive action as a backup.
Several other true freshmen could play in the coming weeks. Tech’s 10 true freshmen are the most to see action for the Jackets since 1995, when 15 played.
BIG PLAY FOR SPECIAL TEAMS
Georgia Tech’s special teams turned in their first big play of the season with a blocked punt for a touchdown in Tech’s season opener against BYU. True freshman Kenny Scott blocked the punt, and junior safety Nathan Burton recovered the ball and returned it 18 yards for the score. That was Tech’s first blocked punt since the 2000 season, when Chris Young blocked a North Carolina punt that Tony Hollings recovered for a touchdown.
SMITH ON THE RECEIVING END
Georgia Tech’s most experienced and versatile skill player on offense is senior wide receiver Jonathan Smith, a preseason all-Atlantic Coast Conference selection by several publications.
Smith opened his senior season with career highs of nine receptions for 121 yards against Brigham Young.
He now has career totals of 105 receptions for 1,221 yards to rank ninth in Tech history in career receptions and 13th in career receiving yards.
Smith also returns punts for the Yellow Jackets. Last year, he lined up at tailback at times and even took a few snaps at quarterback.
TECH CAREER RECEPTIONS Years Rec1. Kelly Campbell 1998-01 1952. Kerry Watkins 1999-02 1713. Harvey Middleton 1994-97 1654. Will Glover 1999-02 1215. Bobby Rodriguez 1989-92 115 Jerry Mays 1985-89 1157. Robert Lavette 1981-84 1148. John Sias 1966-68 1109. Jonathan Smith 2000- 105
TECH CAREER RECEIVING YARDS Years Yds 1. Kelly Campbell 1998-01 2,907 2. Kerry Watkins 1999-02 2,680 3. Harvey Middleton 1994-97 2,291 4. Dez White 1997-99 1,833 5. John Sias 1966-68 1,727 6. Bobby Rodriguez 1989-92 1,681 7. Derrick Steagall 1993-97 1,639 8. Jimmy Robinson 1972-74 1,633 9. Greg Lester 1987-91 1,633 10. Gary Lee 1983-86 1,299 11. Will Glover 1999-02 1,113 12. Ken Whisenhunt 1980-84 1,264 13. Jonathan Smith 2000- 1,221