No team has recently dominated NC State more than the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Not Florida State, not UNC, but Georgia Tech. Since 1995, NC State has beaten Georgia Tech only one measely time. That victory, a 30-23 overtime thriller at home, came in Coach Chuck Amato's first year, but Tech has had his number since then. Last year, the Wolfpack had cruised to a 9-0 start and was garnering national attention when Georgia Tech and its bum-planting mascot walked in to derail the Pack's season. That loss turned the handle on a downward spiral of three straight ACC losses before the Pack could save its season by defeating Florida State.
So, if there was a sense of urgency against the Tarheels last week, the alert code has to be flaring beyond orange for this Saturday. State hasn't beaten Georgia Tech in Bobby Dodd Stadium since 1988. At least during Amato's tenure, the Yellow Jackets haven't embarrassed the Pack the way they used to. Former coach Mike O'Cain liked to pick a team and lose to 'em. After winning in 1993 and 1994 against Tech teams that were a combined 6-16, O'Cain never beat Tech again. Granted, Georgia Tech featured some great teams in the mid-90's, but they outscored State 177- 97 during the rest of the O'Cain years.
The past two years Georgia Tech has finished 4-4 in the league. Not too far from State's 4-4 and 5-3 records in 2001 and 2002, respectively. But despite the apparently even matchup, Tech proved to match up better on the field. It hasn't mattered if its been the pinpoint passing of George Godsey or the erratic throws of A.J. Suggs, Tech has more often than not found ways to finish off the Pack.
This year State will be introduced to Reggie Ball, one of the few quarterbacks in the ACC that is a threat to tuck it and run. Last week, UNC's Darian Durant showed how vulnerable State's defense can be once a QB crosses the line of scrimmage. Durant torched the Pack for 66 yards on 10 runs, often evoking groans from the crowd as he repeatedly ran through tackles. Ball promises to be an even more aggressive runner, having already carried the ball 51 times, compared to Durant's 39. State tailbacks Josh Brown and T.A. McLendon have themselves only rushed 45 and 32 times, respectively.
Clearly, if the Pack's defense intends on stepping up against the Jackets, it will have to find a way to track Ball. Even not necessarily fleet of foot quarterbacks have found running the ball to be a reliable option against State. In the overtime periods against Ohio State, Buckeye QB Craig Krenzel virtually singlehandedly moved the ball, and finished running a season high 13 times. Texas Tech QB B.J. Symons and Wake Forest QB Cory Randolph both compiled roughly half of their season rushing totals against the Pack.
NC State's defense has certainly struggled across the board, but has recently shown itself to be capable of big plays. After not forcing a single turnover in the first two games against Western Carolina and Wake Forest, the Wolfpack defense has since recovered five fumbles and picked four interceptions. Against the lowly Catamounts of Western Carolina, the Pack failed to sack QB Greg Gaither one time and mustered one sack against Wake Forest. Since then State has grabbed nine sacks, including three against the shifty Durant, and has shown more and more penetration and pressure across the line.
Breakdowns in the secondary have continued to plague the Pack, but if the defensive front can force Ball to try to beat the Pack in the air the secondary may be able to have a strong showing. Ball, just a freshmen, has thrown five interceptions compared to just two touchdowns, and Georgia Tech is seventh in the league in total passing offense.
The Pack should always be wary against the Yellow Jackets, however. It was only seven years ago that another short, fast, and relatively unknown freshman earned his team a 28-17 opening season victory over the Pack. Joey Hamilton would go on to deliver some even more punishing defeats to the Pack during his race for the Heisman, but this weekend State fans can hope that its own Heisman contender, Philip Rivers, can help the Pack double up the Jackets this weekend.