Oct. 27, 2004
SportsLine.com wire reports

ATLANTA -- Georgia Tech wants to avoid being embarrassed by another ACC rookie.

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The Yellow Jackets already lost to Miami, which joined the Atlantic Coast Conference this season. Now, they have a chance to even their mark against the other newcomer, Virginia Tech, in a home game Thursday night.

For the incumbent schools in this basketball-crazy league, it's a matter of pride. They don't want to look like pushovers against two schools that were brought in specifically to beef up the ACC's football reputation.

"That's a big part of it," Yellow Jackets center Andy Tidwell-Neal said. "This is Virginia Tech's first year. I'd like to think we're ready to play them. This was a good conference before they got here. We want to show them, just like every other school in the conference."

So far, Georgia Tech (4-2, 3-2) and the others haven't had much success. No. 4 Miami is unbeaten and leading the conference standings. Virginia Tech (5-2, 2-1) is one of three schools with just one conference loss.

Earlier this month, the Yellow Jackets were thoroughly outclassed by the Hurricanes, losing 27-3. If they beat the Hokies, they'll take a major step toward their eighth consecutive bowl appearance. The hometown Peach Bowl will have scouts at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer is understandably concerned about the Yellow Jackets' defense, which is coming off two stellar performances.

Maryland managed just 81 yards in a 20-7 loss -- the fewest ever allowed by Georgia Tech in an ACC game. Duke didn't do much better, totaling only 184 yards while losing 24-7.

"They bring a lot of pressure and they disguise it well," Beamer said. "We've got our hands full."

Likewise for Georgia Tech.

The Hokies are giving up just 11.6 points per game, including a pair of shutouts. They held their own against top-ranked Southern Cal, losing 24-13 in the season opener, and haven't given up more than 17 points in a game since.

The only blemish on Virginia Tech's ACC record was a one-point loss to North Carolina State. The Hokies were in position to win, but Brandon Pace missed a 43-yard field-goal attempt as time ran out.

The Hokies are solid at quarterback with senior Bryan Randall, who holds the school record with 32 consecutive starts. The running game was solidified by the return of diminutive Mike Imoh, who was suspended for the first three games. Only 5-foot-7, he's rushed for 331 yards since getting back on the field.

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The Yellow Jackets also rely heavily on the running game with P.J. Daniels, who leads the ACC with an average of 105.8 yards per game. For good measure, he also threw a touchdown pass in the Duke game.

"He gets low to the ground and he's quick," Beamer said. "You don't get the number of yards he's gotten unless you're for real. He's for real."

There was talk of a possible quarterback switch after second-year starter Reggie Ball threw six interceptions in two games. He played better in the last two games, though two more interceptions against Duke raised more questions about his decision-making when dropping back to pass.

The Hokies will need to keep an eye on 6-4 freshman Calvin Johnson, who quickly emerged as Georgia Tech's top receiver. He already has 23 catches for 395 yards, including five touchdowns.

"They have the potential to be a very balanced offense, which is the toughest kind of offense," Beamer said.

Cognizant of his team's rookie status in the ACC, Beamer has gone out of his way to praise the league's veteran members. He's not entirely out of line, either, considering the Hokies struggled to beat last-place Wake Forest 17-10.

"We were scared to death," Beamer said. "To get out of there with a win was a sigh of relief. I think this is a very, very competitive conference. It seems to me that everybody is getting better."

Georgia Tech certainly hopes he is right.