Everything's wrong about Georgia Tech—except its 5-1 record
Georgia Tech spent a gorgeous fall afternoon in Bobby Dodd Stadium defiling the sacred truths of college football. You win with defense? Virginia, which came into last Saturday's game against the Yellow Jackets ranked No. 6 in the country, rang up 600 yards. You must control the ball? Tech had possession a little more than 22 minutes. You need to keep your quarterback healthy? The Yellow Jackets' Joe Hamilton played the last 2� quarters with a strained medial collateral ligament in his right knee.
Without such disdain for the game's verities, the Yellow Jackets' comeback from a three-touchdown third-quarter deficit to win 41-38 wouldn't have been nearly so much fun. "Everybody just fought and fought and fought," said Hamilton afterward, his uniform covered in grass clippings and stains and his knee wrapped in ice. His 54-yard touchdown pass with 4:40 to play to sophomore wideout Dez White—Hamilton's second scoring toss to White in the fourth quarter—gave the Yellow Jackets the lead. The victory wasn't secure until a last-gasp, 54-yard field goal attempt by the Cavaliers' Todd Braverman slipped under the crossbar, which quickly came down in the postgame frenzy.
Tech entered the game ranked last in the ACC in total defense, at 375-4 yards per game. Virginia piled up 371 yards by the half, an astonishing 254 of those coming on first down, and led 31-17. Randy Edsall, the Yellow Jackets' first-year defensive coordinator, said last Friday that he doesn't much care about giving up yardage. "We want to keep people out of the end zone, create turnovers and be a real good third-down team," Edsall said. "We're not emphasizing, 'Hold them to this many yards running and passing.' "
No kidding. Against Georgia Tech, Cavaliers quarterback Aaron Brooks threw for 312 yards, and running back Thomas Jones rushed for a career-high 207 yards and two touchdowns. So how have the 20th-ranked Yellow Jackets (5-1, 4-0) risen to the top of the ACC? Turnovers. Linebacker Delaunta Cameron's 34-yard fumble return for a touchdown with 3:09 left in the third quarter not only put Tech back in the game at 38-24 but also extended the defense's streak of games in which it has scored a touchdown to five. Cameron's run gave new life to the depressed homecoming crowd and to Hamilton, a 5'10", 189-pound junior from Alvin, S.C.
After the knee injury, which Hamilton suffered as he threw a 69-yard touchdown to White in the second quarter while being sandwiched by linebacker Byron Thweatt and end Patrick Kerney, he curtailed his running. Offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen had asked Hamilton all last week to pull down the ball and take off more, especially against man coverage. Throughout the second half last Saturday, Friedgen, unaware of the severity of Hamilton's injury, kept on asking him to run with the ball. Hamilton scrambled only on the two-point conversion after Georgia Tech's final touchdown. "I just got scared," said Hamilton, who completed 11 of 23 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns. "I wasn't about to give Coach Friedgen an honest answer. If I told him I was worried about my knee, he may have pulled me. I couldn't afford to even think about coming out of this one."
A 5'10" quarterback, by definition, defies convention—if not his coaches—and Hamilton is no exception. He turned down scholarship offers from Nebraska and Penn State to stay close to home and to help coach George O'Leary turn around the Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech went 1-10 in 1994, the year before Hamilton signed. In the last 11 games, Hamilton has passed for 2,886 yards and 20 touchdowns while throwing just four interceptions. He has also rushed for seven touchdowns. Tech is 8-3 during that stretch.
Last spring O'Leary coined the Yellow Jackets' slogan for 1998: It's Sting Time. "If we're not any good, we can always change the g to a k" he said. The only people sadder than the Cavaliers are Atlanta print shop owners.
Phil Jackson artfully mixed meditation and Zen techniques into his basketball coaching, as he detailed in his book Sacred Hoops. His brother's application of the same teachings to football is a work in progress.