Oct. 30, 2001
ATLANTA – Georgia Tech, ranked 23rd nationally, hosts 22nd-ranked North Carolina in a pivotal, sold-out Atlantic Coast Conference clash on Thursday night at Bobby Dodd Stadium/Grant Field.
Thursday’s game, which will kick off at 7:35 p.m., will be nationally televised by ESPN and can be heard on the Georgia Tech/ISP radio network (flagship WQXI 790 AM in Atlanta).
The Georgia Tech Athletic Association is reminding ticket holders of its increased security measures for home football games by discouraging fans from bringing bags of any type into the stadium. Backpacks are prohibited while all other bags are subject to search.
The game is a critical Atlantic Coast Conference matchup for both the Yellow Jackets and Tar Heels, as both are battling for position in a wide-open conference race. Tech enters the game with a 5-2 overall record and a 2-2 mark in ACC play while UNC is 5-3 overall but tied for second in the league standings with a 4-1 conference record. Maryland currently leads the conference with a 5-1 record in ACC games, while Florida State (4-1) and Clemson (3-2) are both in the mix.
“This game is a very pivotal game in the ACC and a very important game for both teams,” said Yellow Jacket head coach George O’Leary, who picked up his 50th career win in Tech’s last game against NC State. “You have North Carolina with only one loss in the conference, and if we want a piece of the action we need to go out and win. We need to really tighten up that race as far as who’s going to be the conference champion. As I tell our players, you control your own destiny and not many teams can say that.”
Tech will be facing a Tar Heel team that is one of the hottest in the nation, winners of five straight games after opening the season with three consecutive losses to ranked opponents on the road (Oklahoma, Maryland and Texas). Included in that five-game winning streak is an impressive 41-9 win over then fifth-ranked Florida State and a 38-3 victory at 13th-ranked Clemson.
“It should be a great ballgame,” said O’Leary. “North Carolina is playing very well defensively, which they have done all year. I think what has emerged is their offense. They’re working well with each other. We’re going to have to play very well against a team that is playing as well as anyone else in the conference offensively and defensively.”
North Carolina’s defense, which ranks second in the ACC and 15th nationally allowing 294.6 yards per game, is led by all-America defense end Julius Peppers. Peppers currently ranks second in the ACC with 8.5 sacks, behind only Tech’s Greg Gathers who has nine sacks, while leading all defensive linemen with three interceptions.
“I think Julius Peppers is an outstanding talent,” said O’Leary. “[Defensive tackle] Ryan Sims is a guy that causes more problems than anybody else because of what he does at the line of scrimmage. He’s a power guy that’s better than most of the guards he’s playing. He forces a double team, and that’s when you’ve got guys like Peppers and [defensive end] Joey Evans coming underneath. They’ve got a good front.”
The Tar Heels currently boast the ACC’s best pass defense and rank eighth in the nation in passing efficiency defense (95.6 rating). More impressively, North Carolina is holding opponents to just 29.9% on third down conversions, the best in the league.
“Athletically, they are very good,” said O’Leary. “They’re playing very well and I think that Coach [John] Bunting has done a good job of getting them in position where they are not making mistakes. They’re stingy on the long ball and they are playing the run very well.”
North Carolina’s offense is led by a dual quarterback attack in senior Ronald Curry, the starter, and redshirt freshman Darian Durant, who comes off the bench, and the duo is averaging better than 200 yards per game. Tailback Andr? Williams leads a balanced ground attack that is averaging 136.8 yards per game.
“I think they had some offensive line problems early in the season with some young freshmen playing,” said O’Leary. “But they have gotten better. I think they’ve found themselves a running back in Andr? Williams, and the quarterbacks have gotten a little more confidence in the offense they want to run and where to deliver the ball. You can compare the quarterbacks – they both can run and they both can throw. They don’t run a different offense. More than anything else, it’s a change of pace when they switch.”
Georgia Tech leads the ACC in passing offense (279.0 yards per game) while ranking second in total offense (435.7 per game) and third in scoring offense (34.7 points per game). Tech quarterback George Godsey ranks among the league’s top two in passing efficiency (147.3 rating), yards per game (241.6), completion percentage (63.4%) and touchdown passes (12). Tailback Joe Burns (89.9 yards per game) paces a rushing offense that averages 156.7 yards per game, while wide receiver Kelly Campbell is the ACC leader in receptions (7.0 per game) and yards per game (95.3).
Tech’s defense, which leads the ACC in total defense (290.3 yards per game) and rushing defense (102.6 yards per game), should be bolstered this week by the return of sophomore middle linebacker Daryl Smith. Smith, who was Tech’s leading tackler as a freshman in 2000, has missed the last three games with a dislocated elbow.