Oct. 1, 2002
Georgia Tech’s strong defensive unit, which is limiting opponents to just 14.6 points per game, will be tested Saturday, when the Jackets (4-1, 1-1 ACC) host Wake Forest’s (2-3, 0-2 ACC) vaunted rushing attack in a 3:30 p.m. (ABC Regional, WSB Atlanta) meeting at Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field.
The Demon Deacons lead the ACC and rank sixth nationally in rushing with 254.2 yards per game on the ground but are one of three conference teams that have not had a 100-yard rusher this season. Wake Forest has a stable of backs that have enjoyed success this season. Six rushers average at least 29 yards per game, led by Nick Burney, who has 309 yards (5.5 yards/carry). The Deacs have scored 15 of their 18 touchdowns via the ground, led by senior fullback Ovie Mughelli, who has seven scores, including a school-record tying four against Northern Illinois.
” They do have diversity and that’s the one thing that creates a little bit of a problem,” Tech head coach Chan Gailey said. “You don’t know who’s going to get it and they run the ball inside and they run the ball outside. The big fullback(Mughelli) to me has made the biggest impact on their offense. He has really made a difference because he now makes people pack it down inside more, which creates some creases on the outside.”
In addition to controlling the game on the ground, WFU has excelled at holding on to the ball. The Deacs lead the nation in turnover margin (+13 overall/+2.6 per game). In five games, Wake Forest has forced 17 miscues, while recording just four of their own.
On Saturday, Wake Forest will face a stout run defense in the form of the Jackets. Tech has allowed just 103.0 yards per game on the ground, which ranks second in the league. The Jackets have also given up just two rushing touchdowns, which leads the conference. The veteran linebacking trio of Recardo Wimbush, Daryl Smith and Keyaron Fox has led a Tech defense that has been very impressive in wins over BYU and North Carolina.
On the offensive side of the ball, Tech saw little drop off in its running game in the 21-13 win against the Tar Heels on September 28. True freshman Ajenavi Eziemefe gained 136 yards and a score on 32 carries in his first collegiate start.
“I think that he played about what we thought he would do,” said Gailey. “The best thing about it is, I thought he was very mentally mature going into the situation, and the other thing is that he protected the ball. In your first game, on the road with a hostile crowd, and it was a little hot and muggy, and your uniform gets sweaty, and the ball gets a little wet. He carried it a lot and it would have been easy to put the ball on the ground and he didn’t do that. To me, just the maturity aspect of how he handled it was as impressive, if not more impressive, than the talent he displayed while doing it.
“The yards speak for themselves, and he made some of those on his own and some of it was very well blocked. He did a nice job of picking holes and running, and I think he’ll make another step of improvement this week, just like Michael Sampson will make his biggest jump from last week to this week, from having played a game. Ace made a nice jump from game one to game two and I think Michael will make the same jump.”
Eziemefe is expected to get the start against the Deacs, but classmate Sampson is likely to see more action that he did against the Tar Heels.
Tech’s offense will also be up against a stout run defense. The Deacs have allowed just 124.2 yards per outing to rank fourth in the ACC. Over its last three games, Wake is giving up only 97.7 yards per game. Defensive end Calvin Pace leads the Deacons with 37 tackles this season.
According to Gailey, Wake Forest mixes it up on defense just as they do on the offensive side of the ball.
“There isn’t an offense that is similar to what they (Wake) run, nor is there one similar defensively,” Gailey said. “They are unique in what they do on both sides of the ball.
“Their offense is some option, it’s some power game, and it’s some misdirection. They play hard and are a very physical offensive line. They are an attacking offensive line that comes off the ball and come at you hard and that’s how they make their yards.
“You can be different, but you have to be good and different. You can’t be bad and be different. That’s what they do, they’re unique and yet they do a good job with what they do. You don’t average 400 yards of offense just by being different, you have to be good and different.”