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Football: Georgia Tech enters game with unanswered questions

Kate Gales | Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The hype is deafening, and Chan Gailey is trying to stay focused on the questions his team has yet to answer.

Gailey, Georgia Tech’s head coach, is trying to limit the speculation and concentrate on his players – many wet behind the ears – and the game they will bring to Bobby Dodd Stadium Saturday.

“You’ve got some guys who have not played extensively in games before, so you are anxious to see how they will react and handle themselves,” he said Tuesday during his weekly teleconference.

Although the Yellow Jackets – who were 7-5 in 2005 – return 15 starters, only five play on defense. Four of those starters – defensive end Adamm Oliver, defensive tackle Joe Anoai, and linebackers KaMichael Hall and Philip Wheeler – return. The lone veteran in the secondary is Kenny Scott, a cornerback.

A year ago, Georgia Tech’s defense finished No. 13 in the country against the running game, but No. 52 against the pass, allowing 103.9 and 213.6 yards per game, respectively. They finished No. 22 nationally in total defense.

The offense boasts eight veterans – including All-American receiver Calvin Johnson, starting quarterback Reggie Ball and four offensive linemen – but new starters will sprinkle the field. Gailey isn’t sure how they’ll react in their first game under the lights – a game that also happens to be in prime time and against a possible national championship contender.

“There are a lot of things that we are looking for – small things on an individual basis and large areas as far as certain teams, packages and groups,” Gailey said. “You don’t know. You have not seen anything, so you are waiting to see how it works out.”

The Yellow Jacket offense averaged less than 200 yards per game in the air last year – No. 89 in Division I-A. Rushing was 40 spots better at 153.8 yards per game. But the much-maligned numbers of last year’s offense aren’t Gailey’s primary concern.

“I think that’s speculation, and [let’s] wait and see what happens,” he said. “The bottom line is to win the game – it’s not statistics.”

Running back Tashard Choice, in his first year as a starter, said a major offensive problem was mental mistakes and failing to capitalize on red-zone opportunities.

“This year we understand that we want to pick up and improve from last year,” he said during the teleconference. “You have to continue to get better from year to year. This year we’re focused on capitalizing on mistakes made by the defense so we put points on the board, allowing us to rely on our defense and special teams.”

Winning isn’t new to the Yellow Jackets – and highly ranked teams don’t intimidate them, either. Last year, they beat then-No. 3 Miami and then-No. 15 Auburn. The Irish stand at No. 2 in the Associated Press poll and are tied for third in the coaches.

Still, Gailey doesn’t take Weis lightly.

“[Weis] picks and chooses what he thinks his advantages are, and he does a really good job of creating advantages for his people,” Gailey said. “That’s what made them good last year.”

A new wrinkle in the Irish defense will be the addition of Travis Thomas, listed as the starter at weakside linebacker.

“We don’t know a thing about him at linebacker,” Gailey said. “We’ll just have to wait and see how he looks on the field.”

Gailey doesn’t have long to wait.