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I will say this about head coach Chan Gailey: he and the Georgia Tech players have been defying expectations all season long.
The "conventional wisdom" of many football pundits would have been that the Jackets should be 0-3 at this point in the season. Tech opened against Auburn, a team from a prestigious conference that was coming off a 13-0 season. No way that a middling school from the ACC could even hope to beat someone from the "mighty SEC," right? Tell it to Brandon Cox.
Next up was North Carolina, a team that drilled Tech last year after the Jackets scored that miracle win over Clemson. Gailey had a history of losing to beatable teams after beating superior teams, so Tech would surely find a way to blow this one. Well, they almost did blow it, but Tech still came away with victory number two.
And then there was Connecticut, undefeated and unscored upon and catching the extraordinary break of playing the Jackets with one of their best defensive players (Eric Henderson) out of commission and the starting quarterback (Reggie Ball) in the hospital with a mystery ailment that turned out to be viral meningitis. Not only that, Tech was putting a freshman quarterback out there who had never taken a snap in a college game. Surely the winning streak would come to an end here. But it didn't.
Substitute quarterback Taylor Bennett put on a performance that was not exactly great, but was just good enough. If Reggie Ball had completed only 11 of 30 passes for 142 yards, many Tech fans would be calling on Gailey to bench him. Bennett posted those modest statistics and became an unlikely hero for the Jackets. The key, of course, is that Bennett kept his poise (for the most part) and didn't throw bunches of interceptions. There were a few times when Bennett thought he had called one play and the other 10 guys on offense thought he had called a completely different play, but fortunately there were no flubs or fumbles. It's all a matter of expectations. Tech fans didn't expect much from Bennett because of his inexperience, and Bennett exceeded those expectations simply by avoiding mistakes.
With the Tech offense having to rely on a freshman at quarterback, the defense stepped up and was able to carry him. Connecticut was held to less than 200 yards overall and only 67 yards passing. The Huskies' only touchdown drive occurred when they got the ball on the five yard line because of a bad snap on a Tech punt. The Jackets picked off three more passes, one of them resulting in a touchdown when Kenny Scott flipped spectacularly into the end zone.
Tech also maintained an effective running game for both halves of the game, with P. J. Daniels and Tashard Choice giving the team a two-headed tailback reminiscent of Auburn's two-headed combo of last year, Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown. And as my friend J. T. would attest, a two-headed tailback is even better than a double-headed dildo.
Reggie Ball is out of the hospital as I write this, but there's a lot of doubt about whether he'll be able to play at Virginia Tech. I'm not sure it would make a difference, because I think the Hokies are perhaps a little too strong for the Jackets this year. If Ball is able to play, Tech might be able to get out with a close loss and stay in the Top 25. With Bennett at quarterback, the chances are greater that Tech may lose big and fall out of the rankings. Either way, I fear the Jackets are headed for a loss in Blacksburg.
Those are my expectations, anyway. But Chan Gailey has proved me wrong so far. I'm counting on him to do it again.
One of the great stories of this college football season continues to be the Vanderbilt Commodores, who are still undefeated at 3-0 and, unbelievably, sit atop the SEC eastern division. Who would have ever thought that back in August? Their next two games are against Richmond and Middle Tennessee, which means the ‘Dores have a chance to be 5-0 when they host LSU on Oct. 8.
They could conceivably pick up another victory against South Carolina, Kentucky, or Georgia (remember that Vandy beat the Chihuahuas twice during the Gerry DiNardo era) and qualify for a bowl game. That would be their first winning season since, when, 1917 or something like that? (Obviously, I kid. The good doctor knows that Vanderbilt had a winning season as recently as 1982, when head coach George MacIntyre utilized the passing wizardry of Whit Taylor to lead the Commodores to an 8-3 record.) But really – who would have thought that Bobby "Enormous" Johnson, a Furman refugee, would be doing this? Four-year starter Jay "Veal" Cutler was very impressive in last Saturday's win over Ole Miss with 314 yards passing and 58 yards rushing. I would guess that Ole Miss's hot-headed coach, Ed "Portland" Orgeron, was mightily upset.
Here's a quick trivia question: who did Jay Cutler play against in his very first game as a freshman quarterback? That's right, it was Georgia Tech in the 2002 season opener (which was also the unveiling of the half-refurbished Bobby Dodd Stadium).
Moving along a little further south, Florida also exceeded expectations last weekend with its head-knocking 16-7 victory over Tennessee. Head coach Urban "Oscar" Meyer made his reputation as the offensive genius who invented the "spread option" at Bowling Green and Utah, but his team whipped the Vols by playing a superior defense. It's very impressive to hold a team like Tennessee to only seven points – a lot more impressive than limiting someone like Louisiana-Monroe to seven points. I would guess that the Florida coach is going to conduct some "Urban Renewal" on Mark Richt when Georgia and the Gators meet in Jacksonville.
We'll move on to our questions, and I'll start with something that isn't exactly a question but is an email I received from the mother of a Notre Dame assistant coach.
Q. If you have a problem with my son's name (Jerome "Jappy" Oliver"), bring your complaint to me. I named him Jappy when he was 2 days old. He was not named to insult Asian-Americans or any other race. There was a man in Flint, Michigan, our home town, who had that nickname and I liked it, so I decided to give it to my son. I am appalled to think that anyone for any reason would take issue with his name and try to use it as a racial slur, especially since we are African-American. Dr. Football, I take your comments as a slur against my son's integrity as a man, a professional, and a great coach! Jappy is Jappy because I gave him that name and no other reason.
A. I guess I shouldn't expect any Christmas cards from the Oliver family this year.
Q. This is weird. I noticed that Mark Bradley wrote a column in the Journal-Constitution about Mark Richt that actually criticized Richt and called on him to hire someone else as offensive coordinator. What's up with that?
A. I saw that same column and thought it was very odd. Bradley has been madly in love with Richt for years, so I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw him suggest that Richt was anything less than the second coming of Jesus Christ. There appears to be some squabbling going on here between the loving couple, but I'm sure they will make up before the season is concluded. All Richt has to do is send Bradley a fresh bouquet of flowers (I'd suggest a nice mix of stargazer lilies) and treat him to an intimate dining experience at Athens' swankiest Burger King. That should do the trick.
Q. Is Greg Blue, the Georgia defensive back, related to Buck Blue, the former Georgia quarterback?
A. I don't believe there's any kind of blood relationship here. However, I seem to remember that Ray Goff once theorized that Tennessee quarterback Heath Shuler was the son of Miami Dolphins Coach Don Shuler. But he may have been wrong about that one, too.
Q. Has George O'Leary broken his losing streak at Central Florida yet?
A. I regret to inform you that George is now 0-13 at the helm of the Golden Knights after his team's recent loss to South Florida. It looks like his best shot at breaking that streak will be when Central Florida plays Louisiana-Lafayette on Oct. 1.
Here are the picks for this weekend:
Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech. Danny Sheridan has the Hokies as a 10-point favorite. I know I'll be crucified for saying this, but I would be sorely tempted to take Virginia Tech and lay those points, especially with the Jackets' uncertainty at quarterback.
Boston College at Clemson. Both teams are coming off close losses to Florida-based teams last weekend. Tommy Bowden seems to be doing more things right this year, so I'll pick Clemson to win straight up, but not necessarily to cover the 3.5-point spread.
Maryland at Wake Forest. Ralph Friedgen is looking like less and less of a genius these days, isn't he? If Maryland loses to Wake – and they're three-point underdogs right now – their only other shot at a victory this year might be the Temple game. Let's give Ralph the benefit of the doubt and assume he'll pull out all the stops to win this one.
Georgia at Mississippi State. Yes, there's no way for the Mississippi State version of the Bulldogs to win this one, but they did upset Florida last year. Is it too much to ask them to do it again?
Duke at Virginia. The Cavaliers should win and cover the 24-point spread, while Ted Roof starts calling around to some moving companies.
Arkansas at Alabama. Remember how for all those years SEC fans called the talk radio shows and bleated about what a bunch of wussies those West Coast teams are? So Arkansas went to Southern Cal last weekend and got their bells rung to the tune of 70 points. Who were the wussies here? Arkansas won't lose as badly to Alabama – but the Tide should cover 16 points and prompt Houston Nutt to start checking with some moving companies also.
North Carolina at N. C. State. John Bunting saved his job when UNC pulled out a 6-5 record last year. I don't think that will happen this year, and one of the reasons will be the Wolfpack.
Colorado at Miami. The Hurricanes should win, but I don't feel comfortable about laying 13.5 points on this one.
Tennessee at LSU. The Vols are a 6.5-point dog, but I think they can bounce back from the Florida loss to take this one.
Dr Football's Weekly Column
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