Aug. 23, 2002
ATLANTA – Head coach Chan Gailey makes his debut on the Georgia Tech sideline Aug. 31 at 6 p.m. as the Yellow Jackets open the 2002 season by hosting Vanderbilt at the newly renovated and expanded Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field.
There is no local television for the Tech-Vanderbilt game, but the contest can be heard on the Georgia Tech-ISP Radio Network, including Atlanta flagship station, WQXI-AM “790 The Zone.” Wes Durham calls the play-by-play, while Kim King provides color analysis.
“The first time I run on the field behind the Rambling Wreck will be very exciting for me,” said Gailey, a 28-year coaching veteran who has spent the last eight seasons in the National Football League, including two years (1998-99) as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys.
Among his 12 years in the collegiate ranks, Gailey served two years as the head coach at Troy State, which captured the 1984 NCAA Division II national title, and one season as the head coach at Samford. His record as a college head coach stands at 24-11 for a winning percentage of .686.
On the Vanderbilt sideline, head coach Bobby Johnson will also be making his debut with the Commodores after compiling a 60-36 record (.625) in eight seasons as the head coach at Furman.
“We swapped spring-game film with each other, so we’ll take that and compare it with the Furman film we have,” said Gailey of preparing for the Commodores, who are coming off a 2-9 record in 2001. “You watch the way they played in the spring and you watch what they did at Furman and try to come up with a good idea of what you might see on Saturday night. You don’t know for sure, but they don’t either.”
Tech enters the 2002 season in search of its sixth consecutive bowl berth, which would mark the longest such streak on the Flats since 1951-56. The Jackets posted an 8-5 record in 2001, punctuated by a victory over Stanford in the Seattle Bowl.
Gailey’s club returns 16 starters, including nine on defense and five on offense as well as the punter and placekicker. Five returnees earned all-Atlantic Coast Conference honors in 2001 in defensive end Greg Gathers (LaPlace, La.) free safety Jeremy Muyres (Stone Mountain, Ga.), tackle Nat Dorsey (New Orleans, La.), punt returner Kelley Rhino (Smyrna, Ga.) and placekicker Luke Manget (Conyers, Ga.). However, much attention this preseason has been focused on two positions without returning starters-quarterback and tailback.
Junior A.J. Suggs (Powder Springs, Ga.), a transfer from Tennessee in his first season of eligibility at Tech, takes over the reigns at quarterback, edging redshirt freshman Damarius Bilbo (Moss Point, Miss.), who is also expected to play.
“A.J. has come out this fall and played very well,” said Gailey. “He has established himself as the starter, but I think we’re going to keep our same thought process at that position. Bilbo is too good an athlete to stand on the sideline for the entire season, so we’ll get him into the game somehow, some way.”
Suggs played in seven games for the Volunteers in 2000, including four starts. He completed 58 percent of his passes (81-for-139) for 785 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions.
Senior Sidney Ford (Lindale, Ga.) is Tech’s top returning rusher with 290 yards last season. He, junior Tony Hollings (Jeffersonville, Ga.), a converted safety, and junior Jermaine Hatch (Baton Rouge, La.), returning from a 2001 knee injury, are expected to carry the load at tailback.
Suggs will throw to a veteran receiving corps, led by the trio of seniors Kerry Watkins (LaPlace, La.) and Will Glover (Tampa, Fla.) and junior Jonathan Smith (Argyle, Ga.), who combined for 136 receptions, 1,810 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2001.
The Tech offensive line is led by a pair of all-star candidates in Dorsey and junior center Hugh Reilly (Smyrna, Ga.).
Gathers, Muyres and linebacker Recardo Wimbush (Blakely, Ga.)-all three-year starters-are the senior leaders of the defense. Gathers is Tech’s career leader with 30 quarterback sacks and 56 tackles for loss. Wimbush is the Jackets’ active leader in tackles with 281, while Muyres has a team-high seven career interceptions.
Tech’s kicking game is very solid with Manget, a two-time all-ACC placekicker who set a Tech season record with 97 points last fall, and senior punter Dan Dyke (Winter Springs, Fla.), a three-time Verizon Academic All-America. who averaged 41.2 yards per kick in 2001.
THE SERIES WITH VANDERBILT
Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt, former Southeastern Conference rivals, are meeting for the first time since 1967, when Tech defeated the Commodores, 17-10 in Nashville. The Yellow Jackets hold a 16-15-3 lead in the series, which began in 1892, Tech’s first year of football.
The Yellow Jackets have won eight of the last nine meetings. In fact, Tech has a nine-game unbeaten streak in the series, interrupted only by a 10-10 tie in 1965. Vanderbilt has not defeated Tech since a 14-7 victory in 1941, and the Commodores’ last win in Atlanta was a 14-13 decision in 1935.
Vanderbilt’s most recent trips to Atlanta have not been productive. The Jackets won the last meeting at Grant Field by a 42-0 margin in 1966 and have a combined 117-9 margin of victory in the last five meetings in Atlanta, including three shutouts.
Just four players in Georgia Tech’s projected starting lineup have never started a collegiate game before. The remaining 20 projected starters have started a total of 348 games in their careers.
Three of the new starters are on offense in sophomore right tackle Kyle Wallace (Lawrenceville, Ga.), fullback Jimmy Dixon (Arlington, Texas) and tailback Tony Hollings. The only first-time starter on defense is sophomore defensive end Tony Hargrove (Punta Gorde, Fla.).
Starting quarterback A.J. Suggs will be making his Tech debut, but the Tennessee transfer started four games for the Volunteers in 2000.
Georgia Tech is one of just six schools in the nation that have been ranked in the Top 25 of the final Associated Press each of the last five years.
Tech was ranked 24th in last year’s final AP poll. The Jackets were 17th in 2000, 21st in 1999, 9th in 1998 and 25th in 1997.
The only other teams to finish in the AP Top 25 the last five years are Florida State, Florida, Georgia, Nebraska and Michigan.
GATHERS GATHERS SACKS
Defensive end Greg Gathers is Georgia Tech’s career leader in sacks (30) and tackles for loss (56). The senior all-America led the ACC with 10 sacks last season and ranks sixth in ACC history in career sacks.
Gathers broke the previous Tech records of 28.5 sacks and 52 tackles for loss set by all-America Coleman Rudolph from 1989-92.
ACC CAREER SACK LEADERS1. Chris Slade, UVa 1989-92 35.52. Reinard Wilson, FSU 1993-96 35.53. Peter Boulware, FSU 1994-96 34.04. Greg Ellis, UNC 1994-97 32.55. Mike McCrary, WF 1989-92 31.06. Greg Gathers, GT Active 30.0
JUST FOR KICKS
Placekicker Luke Manget continues his climb on Georgia Tech’s career scoring lists. The senior all-America candidate is 42-for-60 on field goals-the best percentage in school history at .700-and 131-for-131 on extra points in his career for a total of 257 points.
On the Tech career scoring list, Manget trails only placekicker Scott Sisson (299 points, 1989-92) and running back Robert Lavette (276 poins, 1981-84).
Manget’s point total ranks 15th in ACC history, ninth among kickers. He leads all active ACC kickers in scoring, field goals and extra points.
131 IN A ROW AND COUNTING
Senior placekicker Luke Manget has made 131 consecutive PAT in his career, every one he has ever attempted. The two-time all-ACC honoree from Conyers, Ga., has already surpassed the previous ACC record of 93 in a row by Jess Atkinson of Maryland. This year Manget takes aim at the NCAA record of 161 in a row by Tennessee’s John Becksvoort (1991-94).