No. 2 Yellow Jackets playing for respect, No. 1 No. 19 Cornhuskers stand in their way

January 01, 1991|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Correspondent

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Perhaps the most telling sign about how the Georgia Tech football team and its unbeaten record are perceived around the country is in the point spread for today's Florida Citrus Bowl game against 19th-ranked Nebraska.

Despite their gaudy credentials -- a 10-0-1 record, a No. 2 ranking, a streak of 15 games without a defeat and the only Division 1-A team without a defeat this season -- the Yellow Jackets enter as two-point underdogs. Consider, too, that the 9-2 Cornhuskers are coming into the game without their top quarterback.

It doesn't figure.

"It shows," said Georgia Tech quarterback Shawn Jones, "that we still don't get any respect."

"It doesn't affect anything we'll do," said Nebraska coach Tom Osborne. "But I think that our teams over the years have done pretty well against point spread. The gamblers give us big point spreads in some pretty strange situations."

The spread isn't large, but the fact that the Cornhuskers are favored in a New Year's Day bowl game makes this even more bizarre. Nebraska has lost its last three postseason appearances, and was blown out in the last two.

Maybe the reasoning is that Georgia Tech hasn't played in a bowl game since beating Michigan State in the All-American five years ago and hasn't played in a major bowl game since losing to Florida in the 1967 Orange Bowl.

Or maybe people figure that the Yellow Jackets will fall on their aspirations for a national championship. A victory here for Georgia Tech, coupled with a defeat for top-ranked Colorado at tonight's Orange Bowl, could give the Atlantic Coast Conference school the mythical title.

"I think when you've been down as recently as we have, you're always asked to prove yourself," said Georgia Tech coach Bobby Ross, whose teams didn't win a conference game until last season, his third with the Yellow Jackets since leaving Maryland.

Georgia Tech will try to prove that a defense led by junior safety Ken Swilling can be just as punishing to the Cornhuskers as it was during the regular season, when it sacked opposing quarterbacks 45 times.

"The quickness of Georgia Tech's defense is outstanding, maybe as good as I've seen this season," said Osborne. "Are they are good as Colorado? Ask me on Jan. 2."

If the Yellow Jackets are that good, Nebraska could be in a lot of trouble. On the same afternoon that Georgia Tech was beating No. 1 Virginia to move into the national championship picture, the Cornhuskers held Colorado scoreless for three quarters before being blown out, 27-12.

But that game was played before Nebraska's starting quarterback, Mickey Joseph, went down with a season-ending leg injury early in a 45-10 defeat at Oklahoma Nov. 23. The Cornhuskers committed seven turnovers that day, and have carried that defeat with them ever since.

"It's been tough, but I think we're over it," said linebacker Mike Croel. "We've had a lot of time to get it out of our system. We have a lot of pride and we don't want the season to end on such a sour note."

Osborne expressed some concern about his team's mental state as well as the change in quarterbacks. Junior Mike Grant, who has held and lost the No. 1 job a couple of times, will start in place of Joseph.

"Right now Georgia Tech has some momentum and some enthusiasm, and I don't see that with our players," Osborne said before taking his team here for a week of practice. "The way we finished, our record (9-2) is a step down from what we wanted. I hope we can get it back up for the game."

What kind of game is expected? The kind that could make the armchair quarterbacks take several trips to the fridge, or catch a few post-New Year's Eve zzzzzzzzzs. Or worse: watch the shootout in the Cotton Bowl.

Even Georgia Tech offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen sees the matchup with the Cornhuskers as a defensive struggle, since the Yellow Jackets, too, have been prone to turnovers this

season.

"I don't see a whole lot of points being scored," said Friedgen.

If the line is right, Nebraska should slip past Georgia Tech. But a lot of people have been wrong about the Yellow Jackets all season and today might be just another example.

"I hope that's true," said Ross. "But as long as we have a chance to play for the national championship, that's all that counts."

Citrus Bowl

No. 2 Georgia Tech (10-0-1) vs. No. 19 Nebraska (9-2)

What: The 44th Florida Citrus Bowl matches Atlantic Coast Conference champions Georgia Tech vs. Big Eight Conference runner-up Nebraska for the first time.

Where: Orlando, Fla.

When: 1:30 p.m.

TV: Chs. 13, 7

Georgia Tech outlook: The Yellow Jackets must get to Nebraska QB Mike Grant early, or stop TB Leodis Flowers and make Grant throw. If Georgia Tech can jump out early, it might make for a long afternoon for Nebraska. To do that, sophomore QB Shawn Jones has to play the way he did against Virginia and Georgia, not as he did against North Carolina and Virginia Tech. The Yellow Jackets will certainly have most of the 70,000 crowd in their favor.

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