This is a great and natural matchup in an otherwise deflating bowl game, between two of the very top academic schools to field top-level competitive football programs. Many Georgia Tech grads live out in Silicon Valley, and the two schools have been increasingly going head-to-head for some of the academically select blue chip talents in recruiting wars. Looking down the Tech roster, you see LB Gerris Bowers-Wilkerson, CB Jonathan Cox and PK Luke Manget - all of whom had Stanford's interest or were very interest in Stanford. On Stanford's roster, several Tech targets and Georgians standout: J.R. Lemon, Leigh Torrence, Calvin Armstrong, Dustin Stimson. Today, a serious battle is being waged for OL Troy Reddick of Albany, Georgia. Stanford would also like to make a strong impression on other important Georgia talents, like Julian Jenkins, Jeff Edwards and Olaolu Sanni-Osomo.
Of course, there is some history in this matchup, as the Card and Jackets met almost 10 years ago to the day in the infamous 1991 Aloha Bowl. Stanford battered the defending national champions with "Touchdown" Tommy Vardell before he left the game hurt. The Ramblin Wreck rumbled back in the waning moments of the 4th quarter to even up the game and take the final lead on a two-point conversion to win, 18-17. Interestingly, both Dennis Green and Bobby Ross left the schools after that game to become the head coaches of the Minnesota Vikings and San Diego Chargers, respectively. Tyrone Willingham and George O'Leary were both assistants at the schools, and both left with their bosses to be assistants on their NFL staffs. Both returned to their respective schools, with O'Leary first as defensive coordinatory before being promoted to the head coaching position.
Both schools have made great strides in the last few years in an effort to join the ranks of elite football, though they headed in opposite directions this season. Stanford enters the game 9-2 and looking to make a statement after one of their most impressive seasons in modern Stanford football history. Georgia Tech (7-5) has stumbled badly after September hopes of a Rose Bowl run, losing 3 of their last 4 and falling well outside of the nation's top 25. Tech of course lost their leader in the much publicized Notre Dame hiring and firing fiasco, shortly thereafter followed by the loss of their elite running back to academic suspension. All in all, it's been a rough fall for the Ramblin Wreck, though they bring a lot of maturing talent that provide danger in this 2001 Seattle Bowl.
|2001 Georgia Tech Season|
|@ Wake Forest||W||38-33|
|@ Florida State||L||28-17|
* game played at Meadowlands in New Jersey
(For a statistical analysis of the matchups, see Terry's excellent breakdown)
Simply put, the offense has been the core of Georgia Tech football, and the Jackets didn't disappoint with over 5000 yards of total offense this season and 31.8 points per game. The playcalling now comes from a very young and unproven OC in Bill O'Brien, who was still in college when Stanford and Tech last met in the Aloha Bowl. O'Brien has taken heat as the offense hasn't produced the victories that Tech enjoyed under the leadership of current Maryland head man Ralph Friedgen. But I really believe the creativity is still there in the Jacket offense, which can really put a defense on its heals, with a mix of run and pass, option and misdirection. A lot of different running formations are used, and the backs will often slip around the line for an underneath screen pass. Honestly, the entire Tech staff and offensive roster are licking their collective chops at the prospect of throwing on Stanford...
|George Godsey||#11||6'2"||205#||Senior (R)|
"Goose" Godsey may have thrown for an ACC-leading 3085 yards this year, and some 2906 yards last year, but this has been a disappointing season for the senior. The win-loss record and bowl berth in the Pacific Northwest is obvious, but GG has been hampered this season due to a knee injury a year ago in the Peach Bowl. He had his knee scoped in January, but has never returned to 100%. Whether the offense has lacked some of its magic this year due to the departure of OC Ralph Friedgen, or due to the limitations imposed by Godsey's knee. His relative immobility dramatically reduced the role of the familiar option in Tech's offense, and his scrambling and improvisation has been marginalized. He is still a good instinctive runner when he does have to scramble, but is at least a step slower than the 2000 version of GG. What has been puzzling to me is how his accuracy has seemingly waned this season. He's surely not hurting for a lack of receiving targets, and his 64.8% completion clip is quite good. But when you've watched this season, you've seen more balls sail on George than in the past, which has translated into a much less enviable TD-INT ratio. In 2000, Godsey threw 23 scores and just 6 picks, but this fall has found the endzone just 18 times to 11 INTs. Still, this is a very good pocket passer who takes deep drops and likes to throw the short and medium routes. Nothing even close to Fasani's arm strength, but the deep strike isn't a fixture in Tech's offensive arsenal. Honestly, I think he's a QB who could have thrived marvelously in a West Coast offense. Watch to see if Tennessee transfer A.J. Suggs gets in the game. Suggs was granted eligibility to play in this game, as his transfer last January has now given him a full academic year at Tech as of a couple weeks ago. He's been a scout QB all year, but has a world of potential.
|Kerry Watkins||#9||5'11"||186#||Junior (R)|
This is a deep and talented group, and surely the strength of this entire football team. These top four receivers have each put up 500 or more yards, and the group together has racked up more than 2500 yards. For a reference point, I'd put this group up against Stanford's top 4 on the 1999 team, and argue that this Tech receiving corps might even be better. Kelly Campbell (708 yds, 12.6 yds/catch) is the star of the group, and would have been a Biletnikoff finalist if not for the games he missed in the middle of the season. Still, he put up 708 yards in his senior season, to follow up the 963 yards in 2000, when he also led the nation with an 18.9 yard-per-play average. Campbell, a first team all-ACC WR for the third straight season, stands today as Tech's career leader in yards, receptions and receiving TDs. KC can beat corners deep, run slants for big yards underneath the coverage, and cut his comebacks to perfection. A really talented receiver with the entire package, though occasional bouts of drops. Kerry Watkins can do a lot of the same, and looks to be the next award-winning receiver, to follow in the footsteps of Dez White and Campbell, but the emergence of other receiving talents have spread out the receptions. Though 674 yards and a team-leading 16.4 yd/catch average are nothing to sneeze at. Watkins also racked up a 18.5 yd/catch average last year, and provides a serious deep threat along with Campbell. The surprises this season have been Jonathan Smith (590 yds, 11.1 avg) and Will Glover ( 546 yds, 13.0 avg). Glover was a blue chip running back recruit (and high school teammate of George Godsey's in Tampa, FL) who was moved to receiver his freshman year. He showed some flashes last year, but really broke out in the Virginia and Wake Forest games that Kelly Campbell missed, where he totaled 21 catches. He runs almost exclusively short routes and can be compared to DeRonnie Pitts. Smith was the greatest surprise to me this year, who emerged from complete obscurity to finish second on the team in receptions and receiving TDs. He's a good athlete who can make some great sideline catches. Almost guaranteed to see at least one or two reverses run per game by these receivers.
|Sean Gregory (TB)||#32||6'0"||211#||Senior (R)|
|Johnathan Jackson (FB)||#37||6'2"||225#||Freshman (R)|
|Ross Mitchell (FB/LB)||#45||6'2"||242#||Senior (R)|
This is a position with a huge boldface question mark all over it, now that Joe Burns is out with his academic suspension. To put into context just how much Burns brought to this offense, consider his 1165 yards rushing and 14 TDs on the ground. Yeah, wow. He also caught more than 2 passes per game for 249 yards and a score. I honestly can compare him to DeShaun Foster, though with a little more power and straight-line running, and not quite the precision cutbacks. Extensions of the Foster comparison, unfortunately for Buzz-backers, include an abundance of costly fumbles and a season ending on a suspension. Sean Gregory (30 carries for 101 yards) has been a productive runner at Tech, when he's gotten his chances, but the question mark derives from the abject lack of those chances this season. Burns has been run like a workhorse (more than half of the team's total rushes, and more than nine times as many carries as Gregory), while Gregory has ridden the pine in George O'Leary's doghouse. Ironically, Burns dominated the rushes due to SG's proclivity for the fumble, even as Joe put the pigskin on the carpet in crucial situations. Before Gregory fell out of O'Leary's good graces, he led the team in rushing in 1999 and was second to Burns in 2000, with averages per carry of 4.9 and 4.6 yards, respectively. But both Joe and George are not in the equation in Seattle, so Gregory will get the lead rushing role. Stanford has too often see stars sit out with injuries or suspensions, only to have their unknown backups go for big games. I fear a hungry senior under an interim head coach could break some big things. One notable runner behind Gregory on the depth chart is true freshman Jimmy Dixon, who recruitniks remember as a blue-chip runner with great speed and size out of Texas. Junior Sidney Ford could also see time. The #2 tailback can figure prominently on the field in this offense, even if he doesn't get the carries, as Tech will often run an I-formation with two tailbacks (Burns would be the upback). Additionally, you'll see them run three-back formations in short-yardage situations - either the triple-I or a triangle formation. Fullback Johnathan Jackson is in every sense of the word exclusively a blocking back, as he has yet to touch the football this season, either rushing or receiving. He's a very sound blocker, though Tech likes to bring in converted linebacker Ross Mitchell in short-yardage situations, where he leads the way with a big body. He can really clear out space. Look for the fullback to go in motion also in some short-yardage running situations, with the ball almost always following behind him.
|Nat Dorsey (LT)||#71||6'6"||315#||Freshman|
|Leon Robinson (LG)||#74||6'4"||290#||Freshman (R)|
|David Schmidgall (C)||#61||6'2"||275#||Senior (R)|
|Hugh Reilly (RG)||#67||6'4"||279#||Sophomore (R)|
|Jason Kemble (RT)||#76||6'4"||299#||Senior (R)|
|Raymond Roberts-Blake (LG)||#66||6'2"||273#||Junior|
Not dissimilar to Stanford's own offensive line, Tech has a mixture of talented seniors and incredibly gifted younger players. Center David Schmidgall is a former walk-on who has been the anchor of this line for the last two seasons, during which the line has yielded just 38 sacks in 24 games. By comparison, Stanford has given up 47 sacks in their last 22 games. Fellow senior Jason Kemble earned honorable mention all-ACC honors. But the story on this line is the young talent on the left side of the line. Nat Dorsey is the starter at the left tackle spot as a true freshman, and earned first team all-ACC, the first true frosh at any position to make all-conference in the league since North Carolina's Dre Bly (1996). Perhaps an even stronger testament came in the Carolina game, when Dorsey matched up against soon-to-be #1 NFL draft pick Julius Peppers. Dorsey allowed Peppers no sacks and just two tackles. O'Leary knew just how good Dorsey would be before the season when he publicly stated that Nat was the rare talent on the O-line that you get maybe once in a decade. Good enough that he moved his senior tackle Kemble to the right side and put 2000 freshman all-American tackle John Bennett on the bench. Good enough to move a very talented Leon Robinson inside to guard, where he had a solid debut season. This unit paved the way to Burns' phenomenal season, and gave a gimpy Godsey plenty of time in the pocket this season.
|Russell Matvay||#80||6'4"||225#||Senior (R)|
Russell Matvay is occasionally a third option in the receiving game, and he has pulled down 22 passes for 245 yards this season, but the tight end is built to block in this offense. There is depth-a-plenty in the receiving corps. Matvay compliments a very sound offensive line and picks up linebackers well. Two-TE sets appear in 3rd down rushing situations, where Will Heller comes on the field. Heller is even more strictly used as a blocker than Matvay.
This is an interesting defense for Georgia Tech, with a storyline similar to Stanford's. The last several seasons have seen Tech win with the most imaginative offense in the country, that has piled on yards like chili dogs at The Varsity. But the defense has resembled a course sieve, giving up huge chunks of yardage. Improved recruiting has started to stack better athletes on defense, and signs of that improvement have shown this year. But Tech as given up more then 27 points per game over their last 9 games (even with woeful 0-11 Duke coming in that stretch), and have shown an uncanny inability to tackle any opponent holding the ball. Seriously, the flimsy arm-tackling I've seen from Tech brings back poignant memories of Stanford's pinball defense of '98 and '99. Ballcarriers just bounce off them with great elasticity. This is a young defense, with only 2 seniors, which sets the stage for good things at Grant Field in 2002 - but that doesn't concern Cardinalmaniacs™ today. You'll see most of the talent up front, with some sparks of promise in the back seven. Watch for stunts that put DE Gathers up the middle and into the QB's mug.
|Greg Gathers (DE)||#55||6'1"||260#||Junior|
|Gary Johnson (DT)||#96||6'1"||275#||Junior|
|Alfred Malone (DT)||#92||6'4"||285#||Freshman (R)|
|Nick Rogers (DE)||#38||6'2"||255#||Senior (R)|
|Fred Wright (DT)||#58||6'4"||270#||Junior|
|Merrix Watson (DT)||#98||6'3"||290#||Senior (R)|
The defensive ends are without question the strength of Tech's defense, which will make for some great battles against Stanford's outstanding young tackles, Kwame "Special K" Harris and "Captain" Kirk Chambers. Gathers is a monster pass rusher, with speed and ferocious hitting who has terrorized QBs to the tune of 10 sacks this year. The other bookend on the line, Nick Rogers, is just a step back of Gathers, with 6 sacks and a DL-leading 63 tackles. Gathers was first team all-ACC this year, while Rogers was second team. Defensive Coordinator Ted Roofe has enjoyed rotating the tackles with a wealth of talent. Alfred Malone is an up-and-coming talent, while Merrix Watson has started in each of his four years at Tech. Gary Johnson, a former fullback, is a solid run-stopper to watch.
This is a steady, but not outstanding young trio. But you have to give them most of the credit for a team running defense that gives up just 117 yards on the ground per game. Daryl Smith is likely to be the best of the bunch, though he hasn't been as healthy as desired this year. Last year, Smith was a freshman all-American and has racked up 153 tackles in his first two seasons of college football. Recardo Wimbush and Key Fox have totaled 189 tackles this year. Still, I've seen a lot of weak arm-tackling that has allowed ballcarriers to run free. Just check out the apocalyptic tape of the Georgia game, where Verron Haynes rumbled and stumbled through the Jacket turnstiles for 207 yards in the 31-17 upset of Tech.
|Marvious Hester (CB)||#29||5'11"||180#||Junior (R)|
|Cory Collins (SS)||#4||5'11"||194#||Junior|
|Jeremy Muyres (FS)||#27||6'3"||205#||Junior|
|Chris Young (CB)||#33||6'0"||207#||Senior|
|James Butler (FS/NB)||#22||6'3"||190#||Freshman|
Jeremy Muyres (pronounced like "Myers") is far and away the top talent in the secondary, and by the way this unit plays at times, arguably the only talent. Muyres is a very impressive safety, though his speed might not be enough to play the position in the NFL. But boy is he a sound tackler. When you see runners slip out of other Tech would-be tackles, it's Muyres who is always there to clean up the mess. Cory Collins, in contrast, tackles very low or tries to arm-tackle the ball for a strip. High stepping by receivers and powerful running by the backs is a good recipe to circumvent CC. Chris Young is a fair cover corner, though not excellent. "Marvelous" Marvious Hester earns his name from his overall athletic abilities, though he gets beaten more than the proverbial red-headed stepchild. Must be mental, as Hester has the physical tools, but has been the goat far too often for the Ramblin Wreck. Safety James Butler will come into the game in nickel formations. If Tech digs deeper than these starters, you will likely see true sophomore Jonathan Cox at the corner, who Cardinalmaniacs remember from the recruiting wars. Watch for Cox if/when Luke Powell smokes Hester.
|Dan Dyke (P)||#30||5'11"||185#||Junior (R)|
|Luke Manget (PK)||#87||5'9"||176#||Junior|
|Chris Moorehouse (P)||#20||6'1"||200#||Junior (R)|
I haven't figured out the pattern as to why the two punters flip-flop, but they have each kicked a career long punt in their last two games. Stanford fans like to cling to some improvement from Eric Johnson over the latter part of the season, but Tech can claim the same. Both boot it a little over an average of 41 yards, and Tech has given up just one block this year. That came in the Georgia game. Both can really boom it when they have time, though I think Dyke is a little more consistent and is likely to be the guy in Seattle. The placekicking is handled by Luke Manget, who has a record of some 131 straight PATs at Georgia Tech - without missing a single one in college. With the exception of the NC State game, Manget has been automatic on field goals, hitting 17 of 21 in his other 11 games. Of course, he missed five in that nightmarish game agains the 'Pack. Still, 19 of 28 on the season is very strong, nailing both of his attempts at 50+ yards this season and suffering just one blocked attempt. Strong enough to to be the first team all-ACC placekicker this season. Average on kickoffs, with occasional touchbacks. Tech has given up two returns for TDs this season, including a 100-yarder. Punt returns have been exceptionally well contained this year.
|Kelly Campbell (KR)||#6||5'11"||170#||Senior|
|Kerry Watkins (KR)||#9||5'11"||186#||Junior (R)|
|Kelley Rhino (PR/KR)||#41||5'7"||179#||Junior|
Kelly Campbell (23.2 yds/return) has been the primary kick return man this season, though his partner Joe Burns is now out, and that might stir things up. We'll see in Seattle if Watkins or Rhino becomes the second guy on the goalline, and it will be interesting to see how Stanford chooses to the kick the ball, based on who Tech does put back there. You have to imagine Biselli will kick to either Watkins or Rhino in an effort to keep the ball out of Campbell's hands. Tech has yet to run back a kick for 50 or more yards this season, much less a score. Kelley Rhino (10.7 yds/return) is, believe it or not, a third-generation punt returner at Tech in his family. My dad saw both of the prior two generations run returns at Tech, and speaks fondly of them. Though the genes are promising, it is a head-scratcher to see how this slow, small kid can create some of the exciting runs he does. His conference mates were impressed enough to name him first team all-ACC as a special teams return man. He's a smart runner in finding gaps and following his blockers, but I just can't attach the label of "threat" to him. If he does wind up on kick returns, Stanford has to kick to him. I think he's far better suited to punt returns than kick returns.
When you look at the position matchups, Stanford appears to have a moderate edge. The Cardinal offensive line will be one of the very best Tech's strong pass rush has seen this year, which helps to netralize the Jackets' one real defensive strength. The Stanford running game is at full strength for the first time since the middle of the season, and the one-two punch of Kerry Carter and Brian Allen could do things UGA-style to the middle of the GT defense. The threat that a running QB like Randy Fasani can provide has been proven against the Yellow Jackets, as evidenced by losses to Woody Dantzler (Clemson) and even the young, but mobile Chris Rix (Florida State). Tech had an awful time containing either of those scramblers, and I'm sure Bill Diedrick has seen that on film. There is zero height on the depth chart at cornerback, and that positions Teyo Johnson prominently. Moreover, this is a group where I think Stanford's receivers can get open, particularly on Marvious Hester. When he loses Luke Powell or Ryan Wells, look for Fasani to bomb the Jackets deep. I think even guys like Nick Sebes and Greg Camarillo can get open for some gains. I expect Stanford's tight ends to have plenty of good looks as well.
On the other side of the ball, Tech brings a senior and prolific QB with an awesome arsenal of receivers. Ruben Carter will do his best to stay with Kerry Campbell, but I don't see the likes of Brian Taylor and Garry Cobb staying with the rest in nickel situations. Ryan Fernandez may be the x-factor. But Tank Williams has proven to be a huge playmaker all season long, and should provide help. I see Tank with a pick or two as Godsey sails a few balls down the middle of the field, as well. The good news is that Tech doesn't hardly throw deep on fly patterns, which is why I see Tech moving the ball but unable to break as many big plays as Stanford will when they have the ball. As I said above, the Jackets' running game is a big unknown, and Stanford's run defense has been the strength of the entire unit. Coy Wire is as healthy as he's been since September, and should close in on Gregory and company. I don't imagine Stanford can stop Tech, but I see Tech having to work harder to move the ball down the field than Stanford will. One big question is whether an increasingly healthy Matt Leonard can get past David Schmidgall to put a modicum of pressure on "Goose" Godsey. Cardinalmaniacs™ had better hope so, since I can't see Lee, Hoover and Hobson getting any regular pressure past Tech's tackles. The only hopeful advantage there is the matchup of a fifth-year senior against a true freshman...
On special teams, Tech provides some strong kickers and decent return men, though I think Stanford has a small advantage. Tech has yet to block a punt this year, which is good news for Eric Johnson and friends, and has yet to return a kick or punt for a score. Luke Powell and Ryan Wells provide better return threats than their Tech counterparts, and Mike Biselli was finally putting kicks deep at the end of the season. I actually don't see either team making a gamebreaking play on special teams, but see trends barely in Stanford's favor.
Above and beyond the matchups, Stanford has a large emotional and psychological edge. Seattle is a familiar destination to the Card, and they are riding a wave of four straight wins and a very successful regular season campaign. Georgia Tech has lost 3 of their last 4, fallen well below expectations, lost their head coach and lost their star running back. They're playing as far from home as any possible bowl game, and have to be looking ahead to next season, with 16 of 24 projected starters underclassmen. There could be some wrinkles they can provide, given that George Godsey has rested for three weeks for the first time since the summer, and that interim head coach Mac McWhorter may call the game differently than this fall's game film has shown. Nothing is a certainty in this schoolboy's game, but all signs point to a Cardinal victory and tenth win. 38-27. We smoke these guys.