Nov. 11, 2003
ATLANTA – Georgia Tech returns home to host a potent North Carolina squad in Saturday’s Atlantic Coast Conference matchup at Bobby Dodd Stadium/Grant Field, with kickoff at 12 noon for the regionally televised (Fox Sports Net South in Georgia) contest.
Tech has defeated the Tar Heels five straight years, including last year’s 21-13 victory in Chapel Hill, N.C.
The Tar Heels, averaging 27.1 points per game, come into this weekend’s match-up with a prolific offense, led by junior quarterback Darian Durant. Durant ranks in the top 15 in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s all-time record books in efficiency and yardage. Carolina stands fourth in the ACC in total offense and rushed for a season-best 328 yards against Wake Forest.
“As he (Darian Durant) goes, they go,” said head coach Chan Gailey. “And he’s gone pretty well, because they’ve played well, offensively, this year. They’ve put a lot of points up on the board and they’ve gained a lot of yards. You hope to slow him down a little bit, because he can make plays running and throwing the football.
“He’s got the throwing ability and the accuracy of the better quarterbacks that we’ve played that throw the ball well, and he can run the ball like a Chris Rix (FSU) or somebody like that, so he’s a true double-threat for our football team. That’s tough. Ask people that play us, it’s tough when you have a guy that can run it and throw it.”
Along with the Carolina offense, the Tar Heel special teams have been special thus far. UNC ranks second in the ACC and sixth in the nation, averaging 25.7 yards per kickoff return. Fifth-year senior Michael Waddell is first in the league and second in the country, averaging 30.9 yards per kickoff return. Waddell had a 97-yard kickoff return against Wisconsin earlier this year.
“That’s probably one of our biggest challenges this week, kickoff coverage and slowing him down and making sure that we keep him contained,” said Gailey. “We’ve got to work some good schemes, but kickoff coverage is an attitude. We’ve got to take that kind of proper attitude into that phase of the game.”
The Yellow Jackets will try and bounce back from a disappointing loss for the second time this season. After dropping a 39-3 decision against Clemson on Sept. 20, Tech came back to win four straight games, including two over ACC contenders NC State and Maryland.
“We’ve done it in the past, but that is no guarantee that we’ll go on the field and be focused today,” said Gailey. “I think you continually have to talk to your guys about what it takes each week to win a football game. We talked about the same things last week, about what it would take, but it will just become more of a reality to them after you lose.”
Freshman quarterback Reggie Ball will try to bounce back after a three-interception performance against the Blue Devils. Ball, a leading contender for ACC Rookie of the Year honors, has thrown for 1,621 yards and rushed for another 244 yards. He engineered a comeback win for the Jackets over Vanderbilt back on Sept. 27, in which he became the first Tech quarterback to throw and rush for over 100 yards.
“He looked at the film and saw things that he would like to do differently,” said Gailey. “He’s no different than about 20 other guys on the field though, there are a lot of things that could have gone differently, had people done some different things. I guarantee that he is a lot tougher on himself than anybody else out there. He is a competitor.”
Senior place kicker Dan Burnett is having one of the best single-season performances in Tech history. Burnett is currently 15-for-20 on the year and ranks second in school history, connecting on 80 percent of his kicks.
“I have to give him credit, he kicked well in the spring and he kicked well in pre-fall,” said Gailey. “So he gave everybody a good deal of confidence and a ray of hope that it was going to be a good year, but you never know until you get out there and do it. He’s done a good job handling the pressure, mentally. I think he made the statement right after the first game of the year, going out and making the first one against BYU probably has had as much an impact as anything.”
Continuing to impress for the Yellow Jackets is senior wide out Jonathan Smith. Smith currently ranks 14th in the country, and leads the ACC, in reception yards per game, averaging 96.9. He has caught three touchdown passes on the season and ranks fourth all-time in career receptions (147) and receiving yards (1,972).