Sept. 24, 2002
Life without the nation’s leading rusher, Tony Hollings, begins Saturday, as Georgia Tech heads to North Carolina for a 3:30 p.m. regionally televised (ABC, WSB Atlanta) meeting at Kenan Memorial Stadium with the Tar Heels.
Hollings, who scored 11 touchdowns in Tech’s first four games, was lost for the season when he tore a ligament in his right knee in Tech’s 28-19 win over Brigham Young on September 21. Without Hollings, Tech head coach Chan Gailey turns to a pair of freshman running backs, Ajenavi Eziemefe (New Orleans, La.) and Michael Sampson (Lewisville, Texas) to help carry the load.
“I’ve said that there are going to be ups and downs and there are going to be good times and bad times,” said Gailey. “You have to learn to handle adversity. It’s not if you’ll have adversity, but it’s how you handle it when you have it. I think we’ve addressed that before, and I think our team understands that at 3:30 on Saturday afternoon, we’re going to kick it off against North Carolina.
“It doesn’t matter who we’ve lost or what the situation is. We all understand that you have to go on. It’s a double-edged sword, because you can brush it aside too quickly and be insensitive, but if you commiserate about it, you let it affect your team preparation. You just do what you think is right and try to get your team prepared as much as possible.”
Eziemefe gained 25 yards on nine carries and scored a touchdown in his first game against BYU, while Sampson will be seeing his first action. Tech also hopes to have senior Gordon Clinkscale (Doraville, Ga.), who is recovering from a slight concussion but is expected to be available Saturday.
“I think that we have some talented guys here, they wouldn’t be here if they weren’t talented,” Gailey said. “We don’t have a lot of experience that we’re drawing upon because we’re probably going to let our two freshmen take the bulk of the load this week, as far as carrying the ball.”
Gailey and his staff will have to prepare for North Carolina’s dynamic quarterback Darian Durant, who leads the ACC in total offense at 279.3 yards per game. His 240.3 passing yards per game rank second in the conference.
“He’s made things happen,” said Gailey. “That’s the best thing that you can say. He’s completed a lot of passes and he’s run the ball. He’s making plays, and that’s a dangerous thing for a quarterback. In a complimentary way, he plays wildly. You don’t what to expect next from him. He does a lot of different things with the football in his hand and he’ll throw it behind his back or whatever he needs to do to get a completion. He really has a great imagination on the football field.”
Durant’s favorite target this season has been wideout Sam Aiken, who has caught 16 passes for 327 yards and two scores. In addition to Aiken, the Tar Heels running game is improving. Jacque Lewis is the team’s leading rusher with 183 yards, including 84 yards against Texas.
“They ran the ball a lot better against Texas and Durant gained some yards, which is better for them. They’re running the ball better than they did in the first two ball games. I think we all realize that they’re trying to get the ball to Sam Aiken, and they should. If you have that and your running game, then they’ve got a good one-two punch. That’s what you see them trying to do, is to throw the ball and move him around and get the ball to him and improve the running game, and they have.”
Tech defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta served in the same position for the Tar Heels a year ago.
“Any time you work with somebody, you’re going to know things about them and they are going to know things about him, having been there,” Gailey said. “He can enlighten us probably more on personnel than he can on any schemes, because their defensive schemes have changed somewhat. Their offense has also changed a little bit with Durant being the guy at quarterback.”