By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Georgia Tech's defense makes strong opening pitch for top ranking
Placeholder Image

By Charles Odum

ATLANTA - Georgia Tech's players were not impressed when the Yellow Jackets moved into The Associated Press Top 25 at No. 21 on Tuesday.

Another ranking may be of more early-season interest to at least half of the team.

Georgia Tech is No. 5 in the nation in total defense and No. 1 in rushing defense after holding Notre Dame to minus-8 yards rushing and 122 total yards in the Yellow Jackets' impressive 33-3 win.

Statistical rankings have little significance after only one week, but it's a start for the Yellow Jackets, who play Samford on Saturday in their first home game.

Tech's defensive players want to show the dominating performance against Notre Dame was no fluke, and it's clear they intend to pay attention to their ranking among other top defenses through the season.

"I think we can be a top 10 team," said defensive end Michael Johnson, referring to the total defense ranking. "Our goal is to be number one."

Defensive players are watching the weekly statistical rankings, but players were not as interested in seeing if they were included in the Top 25 released on Tuesday.

"To me, it's really not a big concern," said center Kevin Tuminello. "It's not where you start the year, it's where you finish."

Tech rose to No. 13 in The AP poll early last season but fell out of the Top 25 by finishing with three straight losses.

Notre Dame was held without a touchdown in a season opener for the first time since 1985, and it suffered its largest margin of defeat in any opening game.

Even so, Tech is not satisfied.

When listing areas where his team can improve, Tech coach Chan Gailey on Tuesday began by saying, "Our tackling can be better."

Gailey may have difficulty convincing Notre Dame, but he stuck by his claim when asked how the defense could improve on its opening performance.

"We missed some tackles that gave up some yards, that's how," Gailey said. "Sometimes a guy wiggled out of a sack and got back and got a yard gain. Until you make every tackle with the first hit, you can get better in tackling."

Gailey acknowledged he's not displeased.

"Just because I said that first doesn't mean it's some glaring problem," he said.

Johnson, a 6-foot-7 defensive end, had one of Tech's nine sacks. He also forced a fumble and had another tackle for a loss.

"It's the biggest win I think I've been a part of since I've been here," said Johnson, a junior from Selma, Ala.

"Anytime you can create a turnover, that's what we try to go out and do. It's always on the back of your mind. One, secure the tackle and two, get the ball out."

Tech's other starting end, Darrell Robertson, had three tackles for losses.

Tech held Notre Dame to negative yardage on 19 plays and recovered three fumbles. The nine sacks were one away from a school record.

"They just totally dominated the game," said Samford coach Pat Sullivan.

As a member of the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as I-AA, Samford may gain motivation from Appalachian State's upset of then-No. 5 Michigan.

"Our focus is going to be to try to take care of ourselves," Sullivan said. "That's what we'll talk to our guys about. As far as trying to bring up a parallel to Appalachian State, I don't think we're there."

Gailey seized upon the Michigan upset as a lesson for his team. He opened a team meeting on Sunday night by warning his players to avoid a post-Notre Dame letdown.

"The first thing Coach Gailey told us in the meeting was about the Michigan-Appalachian State game and how we needed to stay focused and work hard," said freshman safety Morgan Burnett.

Added Tuminello: "In a college football world, any team can beat any other team on any given day."

When asked if it would be difficult to refocus on Samford after the team spent so long preparing for Notre Dame, freshman receiver D.J. Donley gave a one-word response: "Michigan."

Donley said assistant coaches, including offensive coordinator John Bond, also talked about the Michigan-Appalachian State lesson.

"(Bond) told us not to make a headline out of this game," Donley said.

"That's the big thing now. We've got to focus on the team coming up."