AU Hopes To Avoid Getting Stung By Jacket Defense

Georgia Tech's defense could be one of the best Auburn will face in 2005.

Auburn, Ala.-–Last season Georgia Tech ranked 12th in the country in total defense, allowing just 297.9 yards per game. While some of the faces have changed, by all accounts the unit that rolls into Jordan-Hare Stadium Saturday night will be one of the best the Tigers will face all season.

"They have some very good football players," Auburn's Tommy Tuberville says of the Yellow Jackets. "I always look at the defense first. Their defense is fast, quick and well coached.

"They do a lot of different things against each team they play and you can tell they are well-schooled in what they do. They know what they are doing and it is going to be a big challenge for us.

"They whipped us pretty good a couple of years ago. They whipped our offense and we didn't score a touchdown. We struggled with our consistency and that is going to be a goal for us this week, to improve with our offense and be more consistent against good football teams. This will be as good a defense as we will play all year long."

With nine players back who have starting experience, including four who have started for at least two years, the Yellow Jackets are particularly tough up front against the run under defensive coordinator John Tenuta. Over the last two seasons, Tech has allowed just 102.5 rushng yards per contest and last season held seven of 12 opponents to less than 100 yards on the ground. Two years ago Auburn managed just 40 yards on 38 rushing attempts in a loss to Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

The Yellow Jackets are led by the play of senior defensive end Eric Henderson up front. The 6-3, 265 speedster wreaks havoc off the corner and was a thorn in Auburn's side two seasons ago when he had three sacks and caused a fumble in the upset win at Grant Field. The two-time All-ACC player is third in Georgia Tech history with 51 tackles for a loss and sixth with 19 career sacks. He has had at least one tackle for a loss in 22 of his last 24 games. He is backed up by true freshman Michael Johnson (6-7, 215) from Plantersville, Ala.

Georgia Tech head coach Chan Gailey is expected to bring an aggressive defense to Jordan-Hare Stadium.

The rest of the Yellow Jacket front four is solid anchored by defensive tackles Mansfield Wrotto and Joe Anoai. A two-year starter on defense, the 6-3, 310 Wrotto moved to offense in the spring, but losses on the defensive line forced him to move back to defense. At just 6-3, 275, Anoai makes up for his lack of size in the middle with a mean streak and is tenacious at the point of attack. Opposite from Henderson will be big Adamm Oliver (6-4, 260, So.), who could also see some time in the middle on third downs.

At linebacker Gerris Wilkinson leads an athletic group that can make plays from sideline to sideline. The 6-4, 230 senior was a second-team All-ACC performer last season when he finished with 119 tackles and four and a half sacks. A two-year starter at middle linebacker, he has already graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in management. On the outside Phillip Wheeler (6-2, 225, So.) and Gary Guyton (6-2, 230, So.) are the projected starters with last season's starter KaMichael Hall not expected to play after being bothered by an injury early in camp.

In the secondary the biggest news in the offseason was the loss of returning starter Rueben Houston after he was arrested on drug related charges over the summer. Still, the Yellow Jackets have plenty of experience at cornerback with junior Kenny Scott (6-2, 185) and senior Dennis Davis (6-0, 185) holding down the starting jobs. Scott is the better of the two players and finished 2005 with 43 tackles and one interception.

At safety former linebacker Chris Reis and former quarterback Dawan Landry give Georgia Tech a pair of physical players in the last line of defense. At 6-1, 215, Reis plays the strong side and is equivalent to having an extra linebacker in run situations.

Landry is 6-2, 215 and has the speed to make passing over the middle a real concern for an opposing offense. Last season Landry had 81 total tackles and two sacks while Reis added 70 tackles and led the Yellow Jackets with eight sacks from his linebacker position.

Punter Ben Arndt returns for his senior season after a breakthrough year in 2004 when he won the job in preseason and never gave it up. A walk-on, Arndt averaged 38.5 yards per punt, but had 20 stop inside the 20-yard line.

Kickoff for Saturday game is scheduled for 7:45 p.m. and can be seen nationally on ESPN.

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