Georgia Tech has made its opening statement with authority. Now, will the Yellow Jackets follow through or fade?
Tech came into the season with an imposing defense on paper. After imposing its will at then-No. 16 Auburn by intercepting sophomore quarterback Brandon Cox four times, recovering a fumble and holding Auburn to 50 yards rushing en route to a 23-14, season-opening victory, Tech needs to keep it up for a change.
"We've won big ballgames around here before," Yellow Jackets fourth-year coach Chan Gailey said. "The key for us is to go out and be consistent."
That would mark a nice change in Atlanta, where Tech indeed has come up big under Gailey, only to fall back among the mediocre. Two years ago, the Ramblin' Wreck killed any Auburn hopes of national title contention by drilling the Tigers, 17-3. Tech ended up tying for fourth in the ACC and wound up with a 7-6 record.
Tech finished the 2004 season by blowing out Syracuse, 51-14, in the Champs Sports Bowl and was good enough to handle the nation's top-ranked defense on the road by beating N.C. State, 24-14. The Yellow Jackets also were bad enough to lose by 21 at North Carolina, by 24 at Miami and by 20 at home to Virginia. They tied for sixth in the conference and finished 7-5.
If Tech, now ranked No. 17, wobbles again, it probably won't be due to its defense, which pummeled Cox and his offensive line and shut out the Tigers in the second half.
Senior defensive end Eric Henderson, who, according to Gailey, found out during the game that his family was OK back in the New Orleans area, had two sacks. Junior tackle Joe Anoai, back from shoulder surgery, forced an interception with a nasty hit on Cox. Auburn rushed for its fewest number of yards since managing 40 against the Yellow Jackets in 2003.
"We were worried about playing the run against a physical offensive line. We held up to the test," Gailey said. "Championship teams in general start with a championship-caliber defense. This is a physical conference defensively."
Gailey has a point. The ACC is not soft. Last year, eight of its 11 teams ranked among the top 28 in the NCAA in total defense. Four of them - N.C. State, Virginia Tech, Florida State and Georgia Tech - ranked in the top 12.
The dawning of instant replay figured to reveal some kinks, and it happened during Florida State's 10-7 victory over Miami. The replay official needed more than three minutes to overturn an apparent fumble recovery by the Seminoles, who then forced a turnover by intercepting Miami quarterback Kyle Wright and converting that mistake into the game's only touchdown.
Florida State coach Bobby Bowden was thrilled to break a six-game losing streak against his in-state rival, and impressed by the nine sacks his defense produced. As for the replay system, no.
"They're going to have to speed it up or they're going to make people mad," Bowden said. "We already had our offense and Miami had their defense on the field [before the fumble call was challenged]. It must have been three minutes [before the call was changed]. We might have to change it from instant replay to long time [replay]. It was slow, man."
The ACC opened the season by going 5-2 in non-league play, including two victories over ranked opponents, as Clemson knocked off then-No. 17 Texas A&M. ... Wake Forest senior Chris Barclay rushed for 1,010 yards and nine touchdowns a year ago, but has lost his starting tailback job to sophomore Micah Andrews, who rushed for a career-high 254 yards on 34 carries in a 24-20 loss to Vanderbilt. ... Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer is third among active Division I-A coaches with 178 victories.