Ga. Tech takes defensive stand

Resilience pays off against then-No. 3 Miami

Acc Notebook


Georgia Tech knew it had the goods to stuff Miami's offense, even if the oddsmakers, the Hurricanes and a whole lot of Yellow Jackets fans disagreed.

It has been the year of the defense in the Atlantic Coast Conference, where a host of young quarterbacks have been knocked around and the punters have been kept busy, as teams have battled for field position. Virginia Tech and Miami have been two of the nation's stingiest all year, but few ACC teams have been pushed around with any regularity.

The Yellow Jackets have been more resilient than dominant. They rank in the top 15 nationally in six defensive categories. As an 18-point underdog at Miami, Georgia Tech blitzed endlessly and smothered the then-No. 3 Hurricanes, 14-10.

"We were never around the top five or top 10 [in defense], so nobody ever paid attention," Tech coach Chan Gailey said. "I don't think there's one of our guys who didn't think we could go in there and win."

What a satisfying victory it was for Gailey.

During the week leading up to what has been called the program's biggest victory in 15 years, Gailey got a five-year contract extension, for which he was criticized. Suspended cornerback Reuben Houston was reinstated by a Fulton County judge, despite pending felony drug charges. And the NCAA put Tech on probation for the first time, for using 11 ineligible players over six years.

No wonder Gailey, who also was missing injured senior tailback P.J. Daniels, yelled to a group of reporters after the upset, "Not one of you thought this could happen. Not one of you!"

Many happy returns

He has only one game left in an outstanding career, but if he breaks off a big return or two, Boston College senior receiver/kick return specialist Will Blackmon could own a place in the record books.

Blackmon leads all active Division I-A players in kickoff return yardage with 2,772 yards and ranks third all-time in that category. He needs 151 yards to break the record held by Tulane's Jeff Liggon (1993-96).

In addition, Blackmon is going out on a strong note as a wide-out. Ten of his league-best 21 plays that have gained at least 20 yards have been on receptions. Nine have come on kick returns and two on punt returns. This season, he ranks seventh in the conference in receptions per game (4.18) and receiving yards per game (56.3).

Boston College (8-3) has concluded its regular season and will represent the ACC in a bowl game, possibly the MPC Computer Bowl on Dec. 28.

Duke still on short end

It lost three games by seven points or fewer, and Saturday's 24-21, season-ending defeat at North Carolina was a bitter one for Duke. The Blue Devils watched as a controversial spot and measurement kept alive the Tar Heels' game-winning touchdown drive.

Duke played 14 true freshmen and found its quarterback of the future in Zach Asack, but the Blue Devils (1-10, 0-8) are still doormats in a league that keeps getting stronger. And they still barely elicit a reaction in Durham, where their average attendance of 17,486 is less than twice what the basketball team draws at always-sold-out Cameron Indoor Stadium.

"Not to say we underestimated Duke, but it was a tougher game than we thought and a tougher game than it should be," North Carolina quarterback Matt Baker told the (Durham) Herald Sun. "We have more talent than that."

So does everybody else in the ACC.

Cavs run hot and cold

Has any team been as inconsistent as Virginia? The Cavaliers (6-4, 3-4) have been good enough to beat Florida State and Georgia Tech, both of which have beaten Miami. Virginia has been bad enough to give up 45 points in a loss at Maryland, score five points in a loss at North Carolina and get annihilated at home, 52-14, by Virginia Tech.

"The team's pulse has been very consistent. What obviously has been less than consistent is our performance," Virginia coach Al Groh said. "It's not a players' issue. Maybe it's a coach's issue."

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