Nov. 21, 2006
ATLANTA – Fifteenth-ranked Georgia Tech will try and earn its 10th win of the season against in-state rival Georgia, when the two teams square off on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Sanford Stadium in Athens. The game will be nationally televised on CBS (WGCL in Atlanta).
Tech (9-2, 7-1 ACC) is coming off a 49-21, victory over Duke, the schools biggest win in the Atlantic Coast Conference since defeating Wake Forest 52-10, in 2000. The team is currently on a four-game win streak led by senior quarterback Reggie Ball, who tossed three touchdowns in the first half before getting some much needed rest. Junior running back Tashard Choice ran for 118 yards on just 18 carries and topped the 100-yard mark for the sixth-time this season, and fourth consecutive game.
With a 7-1 record in the ACC, Georgia Tech will finish with an ACC record of .500 or better for the 12th straight year, the longest active streak in the league.
“Every game is big and you come out of the game with confidence, or no confidence,” said Tech coach Chan Gailey of the win over Duke. “I think our guys did come out of the game with confidence, just like the Georgia guys came out of the Auburn game with confidence. We came out believing we are who we thought we were and we have to go prove it again this week.”
Georgia (7-4, 4-4 SEC) enjoyed a week off after a huge 37-15, road-win against fifth-ranked Auburn. The Bulldogs enter this rivalry game unranked for the first time since 1996.
“You always want to beat your in-state rival,” said Gailey. “You always finish the season with this game and it’s a big ballgame. If you can’t get ready for this one, there is something wrong with your heart. It’s a big ballgame, always is.”
Georgia Tech’s all-Everything wide receiver Calvin Johnson, a Biletnikoff Award finalist, currently ranks third in the nation with 13 touchdown catches this season. He also leads the ACC in receptions (57, 5.2 pg) and receiving yards (886, 80.5 pg).
The Tech offense is run by Ball, who made his 47th career start against Duke, the school record for starts by a quarterback. He has completed 120-of-253 passes for 1,649 yards with 10 interceptions and a career-high 20 touchdowns. The “other” receiver named Johnson, sophomore James Johnson has 35 catches for 519 yards and six scores this season.
“I think (Reggie Ball) brings toughness to this team,” said Choice. “He is one of the toughest players I’ve ever played with. He plays hard so when you have a teammate that plays with everything they have and puts it all on the line that makes the players around him better. He’ll run a DB or a linebacker over quick and that fires up his teammates. If you jump offsides or commit a dumb penalty, he’ll get in your face and let you know it’s not acceptable.”
The Jackets defense once again came up big, holding the Duke Blue Devils to 41 yards rushing. The team has held 33-of-61 opponents under defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta under 100 yards rushing. Senior linebacker KaMichael Hall leads the team with 71 tackles including eight tackles for a loss and three sacks.
The Bulldogs offense is led by freshman quarterback Matthew Stafford and junior tailback Kregg Lumpkin. Stafford is 4-2 as a starter, completing 110-of-206 passes for 1,449 yards and five touchdowns with 12 interceptions. Lumpkin has rushed for 708 yards on 132 carries with five touchdowns. He has also caught 15 passes out of the backfield for 103 yards and a score.
“He is a very good back,” said Gailey of Lumpkin. “It’s obvious from statistics, but it’s also obvious from watching him play as well. Sometimes statistics lie, but they don’t lie this time. This guy is a really good back, (Danny) Ware is a really good back and (Brannan) Southerland leads the team in scoring, so that’s another weapon you have to deal with. They have a lot of weapons and they use them and spread it around. They’re a physical football team, you better be able to match-up to how physical they are, and that will be the number one key to start the game.”
Linebacker Tony Taylor headlines an intimidating `Dawgs defense. Taylor leads the team with 81 tackles including three sacks. He has also picked-off an unprecedented five passes, running one back for a score. Rover Tra Battle leads the team with six interception including one touchdown and he is fourth on the team with 55 tackles.
“He’s one of the leading linebackers (in interceptions) in America,” said Gailey about Taylor. “He’s a great athlete. If you are an offensive coach, I don’t know which one you hate to see the most, him blitz or drop back in coverage, he’s good at both of them. They have very instinctive football players. They seem to find the ball and get around the ball. They do a good job playing defense this year, and every year for that matter.”
In the last two meetings between the schools, the score has been tight and this game should not be different. The Georgia Tech special teams unit may be the difference in this one. Junior punter Durant Brooks continues to lead the country in net punting at 40.97 yards per kick. His gross average of 45.2 yards per kick leads the ACC and ranks sixth in the nation. Twenty-nine of his 65 punts have been downed inside the 20-yard line, and he has 21 punts of 50 yards or longer.
“The thing that I think has been very good is our coverage unit”, said Gailey. “Coach (Charles) Kelly has done a wonderful job teaching the scheme and getting people in the right spots to go cover, because you can have a great average, but you don’t end up being the number one net team in America without all of it coming together. That’s going to be a big part of the ballgame. You can’t allow big plays in the kicking game, because those plays dramatically change the scoring or field position, and normally a change of field position changes scoring. The kicking game will be a big part of this one this week.”
The Jackets have accomplished many of their goals this season including reaching the ACC Championship game, but beating Georgia can make the difference for a team full of guys that have never experienced the sensation of being the top team in the state.
“I think it would put a big damper on the season to lose, especially for some of the seniors who have never beaten them,” added James Johnson. “But we don’t think about that. We are going to play like we are going to win.”