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Last Saturday was another of those wonderful days we get once or twice a season when Georgia Tech wins and Georgia loses - which makes for the perfect weekend for diehard Jackets fans.
Tech's 10-9 victory over Clemson was about as evenly matched a game as you'll ever see. Clemson had 325 yards total offense, Tech had 308. Clemson controlled the ball for 30:09, Tech for 29:51. Both teams made dumb mistakes that kept them from scoring field goals or touchdowns.
In the end, Tech's defense played just a little bit better. The menacing Eric Henderson came back, finally, from his ankle injury to make two big sacks, each of which caused Charlie Whitehurst to cough up the ball. Kenny Scott knocked down a pass to prevent a sure touchdown and stopped Clemson on fourth-and-seven late in the game to give Tech the opportunity to run down the clock. Adamm Oliver sacked Whitehurst for a safety, although his play was nullified by yet another of the endless offside penalties the defense had all game. Dawan Landry intercepted Whitehurst's last pass to kill Clemson's last hope.
The big sequence of plays came after P. J. Daniels' three-yard burst for a touchdown that gave the Jackets a 10-6 lead in the fourth quarter. Aaron Kelly returned the ensuing kickoff 81 yards to give Clemson possession on the Georgia Tech 17 - another of the sloppy plays that Tech's special teams have made all season. Reggie Merriweather ran the ball to the six-yard line, but Clemson went no farther with Scott breaking up a pass to Chansi Stuckey. The Tigers settled for a field goal, which turned out to be their last score of the game.
It helped that Tech's defense stepped up and made the big plays when they absolutely had to. It also helped that Clemson keeps hiring head coaches named Tommy who don't know how to manage the clock. When the Tigers were making their last drive with a little over two minutes left in the game, Tommy Bowden burned both of Clemson's remaining timeouts. That ensured that when Tech got the ball with 2:05 remaining, Clemson had no timeouts remaining and the Jackets would be able to work the clock down to 9 seconds before they had to punt.
In the end, Tech had a less-than-average performance from its offense and the same crappiness it has seen all year from its special teams. Thank heavens for the defense.
Down in Jacksonville, Florida smacked down the Trembling Chihuahuas for a 14-10 victory that stopped the woofing and sent Georgia fans tearing into the sainted Mark Richt. Richt is now 0-1 against Steve Spurrier, 1-2 against Ron Zook, and 0-1 against Urban Meyer, which makes him the only coach in Georgia history with the distinction of holding a losing record against no less than three Florida coaches. And he accomplished this in a mere five seasons as head coach.
In the week leading up to the world's largest cocktail party, the obnoxious jerks who infest sports talk radio in the Atlanta market were all bleating the same story line - Georgia would defeat Florida with little trouble. The score might be a little closer than usual because D. J. Shockley couldn't suit up, but hey, Joe Tereshinski is a third-generation Bulldog so that should be more than enough to whip the Gators.
Sorry, guys. Not all dreams come true. The most disappointed person in the whole state of Georgia, however, is Mark Bradley. He had to discard a column he'd written in advance of the game that assumed a Georgia victory and gave him yet another forum to gush about how Coach Richt is a genius who wins no matter what the obstacles and is headed for the Hall of Fame, don't even waste time counting the ballots.
Sorry, Mark. Reality sure does have a way of kicking you in the ass.
There will be no national championship for Georgia. They may not even make it to the SEC title game. Auburn is more than capable of beating them, especially if Shockly is still ailing. If Georgia has two SEC losses, they're tied with Florida in the Eastern Division and Florida goes to Atlanta because it beat Georgia in head-to-head competition.
If your two favorite teams are Georgia Tech and whoever plays Georgia, you've gotta love it.
Now, let's take a couple of questions.
Q. What happened to Tennessee this year?
A. The season is rapidly falling apart for Phil Fulmer and the Vols, who were pre-season picks to finish among the Top 5. They are 3-4, they have effectively fired offensive coordinator Randy Sanders, and they have a likely loss coming up this weekend to Notre Dame. Lucky for Phil, Tennessee closes out the season against Memphis, Kentucky and Vanderbilt, so an Independence Bowl invitation is still a possibility. What went wrong? It looks like the experts greatly overrated the general level of talent in Knoxville this year. The Vols are stout on defense, but there's no dominating presence at wide receiver like a Willie Gault or a Peerless Price. Tennessee's leading receiver, Robert Meachem, has hauled in a mere 21 passes this year. The experts also went way overboard when they predicted a Heisman Trophy-like performance from Gerald Riggs, who gained a grand total of 530 yards before bagging the rest of the season with an injury.
Fulmer can also take a big part of the blame for not getting his quarterback situation settled - all that switching between Ainge and Clausen did nothing but ensure the offense would never get untracked. Fulmer's lack of ability as a game day coach was vividly illustrated last Saturday when Steve Spurrier once again out-schemed him, just like in the old days at Florida, and directed South Carolina to a 16-15 victory at Neyland Stadium. That's the only time South Carolina has ever won in Knoxville, which really shows you what a lost cause this season has become.
Q. Did Troy Tolbert get drafted? And if he did, what NFL team did he play for?
A. Alas, poor Troy, he came to Tech from Augusta with a sterling reputation as a defensive back but could never quite break into the starting lineup. Someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm not aware that he was either drafted or played in the NFL.
This week's picks -
Wake Forest at Georgia Tech. This is the game that can make Tech eligible for a bowl trip and I think they'll do it with a victory at home (but not by the eight-point spread). The Deacs have once again played credibly if not well this season, but it looks like they'll lose their final two games to Tech and Miami to finish 4-7.
South Florida at Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights are one of several pleasant surprises this season, making themselves bowl-eligible already with a 6-2 record. South Florida is only 3-3 but has played the tough teams close and blew out Louisville by 31 points. It's hard to pick against them.
Boston College at North Carolina. Boston College is only a four and a half point favorite, but I look for them to bounce back from a disappointing loss to Virginia Tech and cover that spread.
Vanderbilt at Florida. Urban "Crier" Meyer seems to have finally gotten the message and cut back a lot of his "spread option" offense, a move that has obviously made quarterback Chris Leak more comfortable. The Gators are now in position to go to the SEC championship game if they take care of business while Auburn takes care of Georgia. I think they'll do it.
Duke at Clemson. The Tigers are picked by the oddsmakers to come off that loss to Tech and blow away Duke by 31 points. I'd take the 31.
South Carolina at Arkansas. The Razorbacks have decided to replace Robert Johnson at quarterback with a freshman named Casey Dick. That move resulted in an Associated Press story on Monday that ran under the headline, "Dick to replace Johnson vs. Gamecocks." For some reason, the AP killed out that headline and replaced it with the more humdrum "Untested freshman gets nod vs. Gamecocks." I can't figure out why they felt it was necessary to make that change. There was certainly nothing lewd or suggestive about the original headline. Anyway, Arkansas is a four-point favorite in this game but I'll pick South Carolina to win straight up. Steve Spurrier is putting the pieces in place for a Gamecock program that figures only to get better. Blake Mitchell is the latest quarterback of modest athletic ability to prosper in Spurrier's offensive system, while Sidney Rice gives Carolina a scoring threat at wide receiver who's nearly as dangerous as Calvin Johnson. I'll leave it to you to make the inevitable jokes about a quarterback named Dick playing for a coach named Nutt.
Tennessee at Notre Dame. Even with Randy Sanders demoted to quarterback coach, it's hard to imagine Tennessee scoring enough to beat the Irish in South Bend, although they may be able to beat an eight-point spread.
Nebraska at Kansas. Let's see now: Frank Solich won 57 games in six years as Nebraska's head coach. He went 9-3 in his last season at Lincoln but was fired. Solich's replacement, Bill Callahan, now has an overall record of 10-9 in nearly two seasons, the famed Nebraska running attack is a shambles, and the Black Shirts on defense don't scare anybody anymore. Even more embarrassing is the fact that Nebraska is only a one-point favorite over Kansas, the perennial skid-mark on the Big 12's underpants. This is an improvement?
Auburn at Kentucky. The War Eagles warm up for the war at Georgia by putting a whipping on the woeful Wildcats.
Alabama at Mississippi State. The powers that be at Alabama endured a lot of criticism two years ago when they hired Mike Shula over Sylvester Croom to be the Tide's head coach. All of a sudden, it doesn't look like such a bad move anymore. The Tide keeps rolling towards the Iron Bowl showdown by flooding the Maroon Bulldogs.
N.C. State at FSU. Bobby Bowden and the 'Noles shove the Wolfpack one game closer to their second straight losing season.
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