ACC Coach of the Year George O'Leary Steers Rambling Wreck to Fourth Straight Bowl
It was supposed to be the proverbial rebuilding year, but it has turned into one of college footballs best stories.
Following three straight years of bowl games, 25 wins and high-powered offenses, Georgia Tech headed into the uncharted waters of Life After Joe in its sixth full season under head coach George OLeary. Who would be the successor to Heisman Trophy runner-up Joe Hamilton? How productive would Techs offense be with a new quarterback?
Others wondered how Tech could win following a year in which its defense, playing with only two seniors and several freshmen, ranked near the bottom of the Atlantic Coast Conference in all statistical categories.
Before the season began, O'Leary was telling the media that Tech had a much better supporting class surrounding its new quarterback than Hamilton had when he was a freshman in 1996. He also said Tech would put more athletes on the field than it ever had. As O'Leary foretold, the answers to all the questions have turned up a resounding yes.
The Yellow Jackets exceeded everyone's expectations this season, perhaps everyone except O'Leary, who has been named the ACC's Coach of the Year for the second time in three years.
Tech is going to its fourth consecutive bowl game, the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Dec. 29. The Yellow Jackets have won eight or more games in three straight years, and this year's seniors have 34 wins under their belts. These things have not been accomplished by the Yellow Jackets since 1951-56, the glory years of Bobby Dodd.
Tech defeated two Top 20 teams on the road, No. 4 Clemson and No. 18 Georgia, for the first time since 1956, and enters the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl with a 9-2 record and seven straight victories since a Sept. 21 loss at NC State. That's one win better than last season.
Georgia Tech has won 45 games over the first six full seasons under head coach George O'Leary, three more than the legendary Dodd won in his first six years.
After being picked to finish fifth in the ACC, the Jackets dropped their first two conference games against second-ranked Florida State (26-21) and NC State (30-23, OT) by a total of 12 points. Tech then reeled off wins over North Carolina (42-28), Wake Forest (52-20), Duke (45-10), Clemson (31-28), Virginia (35-0) and Maryland (35-22) to nail down a second-place finish in the conference standings. Then the Jackets finished off their remarkable season by defeating Georgia, 27-15, in Athens.
Tech sneaked into the national rankings following its 31-28 win at previously undefeated Clemson on Oct. 28, and has crept to No. 15 in the Associated Press writers' poll and No. 17 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll. The Jackets, however, are several spots higher in the Bowl Championship Series rankings, coming in at No. 13 following the season-ending win at Georgia.
Tech Storms to Seven Straight Victories
It is appropriate that since Georgia Tech had its season-opening game in the BCA Bowl cancelled by lightning and thunderstorms, the Yellow Jackets caught lightning in a bottle and took the college football landscape by storm.
An hour passed as the downpour continued and lightning continued to strike in the area before the game was cancelled. With the Hokies now 10-1 and the Jackets 9-2, the game that was never played takes on even more intrigue.
Instead, the Yellow Jackets were left to go back to Atlanta and prepare for its second season-opener against Central Florida at Bobby Dodd Stadium/Grant Field, not exactly the high profile of the Tech-Tech contest.
Against the Golden Knights, junior quarterback George Godsey got his first collegiate start. Having thrown just 32 passes as Hamilton's understudy the previous two years, Godsey earned a slim edge in the competition to be the starting QB in spring practice. He put some distance between himself and backups Andy Hall, a red-shirt freshman, and Jermaine Crenshaw, a sophomore, as summer workouts wore on and pre-season practice approached.
Godsey struggled in his debut, but the first indications of his makeup and leadership became apparent. As Tech fell behind UCF 17-7 entering the fourth quarter, Godsey was replaced by Hall, but Tech continued to struggle moving the ball. Godsey re-entered the game for a third down play on the Tech 35, needing 18 yards for a first down, and connected with Jon Muyres for 27 yards to put Tech back in business. Two plays later, Tech scored and closed the gap to 17-14.
Tech got the ball back with little over three minutes to go, and Godsey guided the Jackets to the winning touchdown on a one-yard pass to tight end Brian Lee with 38 seconds remaining.
Amid some concern, Tech faced Florida State at Bobby Dodd Stadium and quickly fell behind 12-0. Marvious' Hester's 50-yard interception return for a touchdown got the Jackets back in the game, and Joe Burns' eight-yard touchdown put Tech ahead 15-12 after three quarters. Meanwhile, Godsey was rotating at quarterback with Crenshaw as the Jackets worked to generate offense. After the Seminoles scored twice in the fourth period to regain the lead at 26-15, Godsey returned to complete 13 consecutive passes, including a 27-yard TD to Jon Muyres that made the score 26-21. Given one final chance, Godsey drove the team to the FSU 40 but lost the ball on downs on an incomplete pass.
For the night, Godsey was 18 of 32 for 189 yards, and O'Leary decided to stick with him full-time. A 40-13 victory over Navy followed as Godsey threw three TD passes, including a 50-yarder to Kelly Campbell that was Tech's first big play of the season in the passing game.
With only four days to prepare, Tech had a Thursday night date on ESPN on the road, facing a resurgent NC State team that was undefeated in three games. Tech was beginning to find its form, building a 13-0 lead at halftime holding the Wolfpack to 130 total yards and a solid rushing game. Sparked by a fumble recovery in the end zone for a TD the Wolfpack rallied to lead 23-16 with under five minutes left in the game. But Godsey again led Tech on a comeback, driving the Jackets 50 yards on 10 plays and a game-tying seven-yard touchdown pass to Kerry Watkins. Tech lost, 30-23, in overtime, however, leaving the Jackets 2-2 overall, 0-2 in the ACC.
Commitment to Play More Players
Godsey had assumed control of the offense at this point, completing 24 of 43 passes for 243 yards, but O'Leary had other issues. Unhappy that Tech had played just 14 players on each side of the ball against the Wolfpack, the coach ordered his assistant coaches to play more players and better utilize Tech's depth and talent pool.
Twelve days later at North Carolina, Tech played all but one player on its defensive two-deep by the end of the first quarter and used more than 50 players in the game. Joe Burns posted his second consecutive 100-yard game, Tech blocked one punt for a touchdown and tackled the punter to set up another as the Jackets defeated the Tar Heels, 42-28, in Chapel Hill. Godsey was 21-of-30 for 238 yards and two TDs, and led the Jackets on two scoring drives in the fourth quarter after Carolina had tied the game at 28-28.
Now 3-2, Tech looked forward to a pair of home games against Wake Forest and Duke in a bid to build a winning streak. The Jackets routed the Demon Deacons, 52-20, and Duke, 45-10, and piled up more than 1,000 yards of offense in the two games, including a season-high 578 against the Deacons. Tech's big-play machine was cranking as Godsey threw TD passes of 53 and 35 yards to Kelly Campbell against Wake, and another of 47 yards to Campbell against the Blue Devils.
Epic Victory in Death Valley
That set up the showdown at Clemson on Oct. 28. The Tigers were rolling at 8-0 overall and 6-0 in the ACC, and rode that momentum to a 14-3 lead.
But this would be Godsey's finest hour. He moved Tech 69 yards for a TD on a 33-yard strike to Kerry Watkins, and Luke Manget kicked three field goals as Tech moved ahead, 16-14, by halftime. The second half was a see-saw affair that included an 88-yard punt return for a touchdown by Clemson and a 48-yard Godsey-to-Campbell pass that left the score 24-21 in favor of Tech.
Clemson scored for a go-ahead touchdown with 1:52 left for a 28-24 lead. Godsey wasn't through, however, driving the Jackets 80 yards on 11 plays and scoring the winning touchdown on Watkins' diving, one-handed catch with just seven seconds left.
Godsey, who completed seven of 11 passes on the winning drive, was 35-of-57 on the night for a school-record 454 yards and three TDs against a defense that was ranked among the nation's top 10. Meanwhile, Tech's defense held the Tigers to 354 total yards, 138 below their average.
The progress that Tech had made through the past four games was now gaining national attention.
Another ESPN Thursday night game gave Tech a chance to showcase its team to a national audience against Virginia. The Jackets responded by recording their first shutout since 1993 and posted their second-highest offensive yardage total in history (627 yards) in a 35-0 rout of the Cavaliers at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Twelve days later, O'Leary's charges rolled up a 28-0 halftime lead at Maryland and defeated the Terrapins, 35-22.
Third Straight Win Over Georgia
On the final weekend, Tech demol- ished arch-rival Georgia in the first half, taking a commanding 27-3 lead en route to a 27-15 victory. It was Tech's third straight win over the Bulldogs, the first time that has happened since 1961-63.
Tech's receiver corps earned recognition as one of the best units in college football. Seven receivers caught 20 or more passes during the season, led by Campbell, who had 59 receptions for 963 yards and 10 touchdowns. His 21 career TD receptions are seven more than the previous Tech record.
Likewise, Tech's offense finished as the second-most explosive in its history with an average of 435.4 yards per game, 271.1 per game passing. Tech averaged 164.1 rushing yards per game, led by Burns' 908 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. Tech's offensive line, which replaced three starters from the 1999 unit, melded into a solid group led by first-team all-America tackle Chris Brown, and all-ACC guard Brent Key.
The defense under coordinator Ted Roof, which has not received nearly enough credit for Tech's success this season, showed remarkable improvement over 1999, setting up the offense for 90 points. Tech, which intercepted 15 passes and recovered 15 fumbles, led the ACC and ranked second in the nation in turnover margin (+1.64 per game). The Jackets also ranked second in the ACC and 13th nationally in rushing defense (94.5 yards per game), holding six opponents under 100 yards this season. Tech has yielded only 19 points per game, which ranks 22nd nationally and is the lowest for the Jackets since 1991.
Brown, Key, kicker Luke Manget and defensive end Greg Gathers gave Tech four players on the all-ACC first team for the first time since 1991. Godsey, Campbell, defensive end Nick Rogers and free safety Jeremy Muyres made the second team. Senior fullback Ed Wilder won the conference's Brian Piccolo Award, which goes to the ACC player who has overcome serious injury to be a major contributor.
Offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen, the architect of Tech's high-powered attack, was rewarded by being named the head coach at Maryland, his alma mater, on Nov. 29, 2000. He is the second O'Leary assistant in the last three years to graduate to a head coaching position. Defensive coordinator Randy Edsall moved to Connecticut following the 1998 season.
Running backs coach Bill O'Brien was then promoted to offensive coordinator, and offensive line coach Mac McWhorter was elevated to assistant head coach.