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| Champs Sports Bowl – Syracuse vs. Georgia Tech|
The Syracuse Orange and the Georgia Tech YellowJackets are set to square off in the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando.Syracuse completed the regular season with a 6-5 overall recordand won a share of its fourth Big East championship with a 4-2league mark. Four of the team’s five losses came against opponentsthat were ranked in the top 10 at some point during the season,and eight of the 11 opponents faced have earned bowl bids. TheOrange have played in 21 bowl games in program history, and thismatchup with Georgia Tech marks the ninth bowl appearance forthe Orange under head coach Paul Pasqualoni. The coach, now inhis 14th year, is 6-2 all-time in bowl games, the most bowl victoriesof any coach in school history. As for Georgia Tech, it also wonsix games during the regular season, the minimum number requiredto participate in a bowl game. All five losses suffered by Techcame at the hands of bowl-bound teams, including three defeatsby teams currently ranked in the Top 10. The Yellow Jackets havenow earned a bowl bid in eight consecutive seasons, proof of theprogram’s tremendous consistency. Georgia Tech won the only previousmeeting with Syracuse, a 13-7 triumph at the Meadowlands in the2001 Kickoff Classic.
Through the first seven games of the season, Syracuseowned a 3-4 record and had been held to fewer than 20 points onfive occasions. The team turned things around with victories inthree of the final four outings, and the Orange scored no fewerthan 24 points in those four tilts. Offensively, the squad averageda lacklustre 355.2 ypg during the regular season, but it is importantto remember that Syracuse played its best ball down the stretch.Paul Patterson will be under center against Georgia Tech, andthe Orange signal caller completed 57.6 percent of his passesduring the regular season for 1,632 yards with six touchdownsand nine interceptions. While those numbers aren’t flashy, hefinally appears to be in full control of the offense. Jared Jonesis the top option at the receiver position, as has 37 catchesto his credit for 560 yards and three touchdowns. The runninggame is clearly the strength of the SU attack, as the team possessesa tremendous backfield duo. Damien Rhodes has run for 856 yardsand 10 touchdowns while averaging a gaudy 5.9 ypg, and teammateWalter Reyes has chipped in 800 yards and seven scores while gaining5.6 ypc. The Orange allowed an acceptable total of 19 sacks in11 games during the regular season, and protection up front willbe key against the opportunistic Yellow Jacket defense.
Defensively, Syracuse has its share of problems.The team surrendered 26.6 ppg and 418.9 total ypg during the regularseason, numbers that aren’t typical of a conference co-champion.Stopping the run has proven to be problematic, as the Orange aresurrendering 177.6 ppg on 4.3 ypc. They haven’t been particularlyimpressive against the pass either, as they are allowing 241.3ypg through the air. Also, the 12 interceptions that they havemanaged are overshadowed by 21 passing touchdowns surrendered.Syracuse posted 17 sacks in 11 regular season tilts, a decenttotal that certainly won’t scare the opposition. Leading the wayfor the defense is sensational linebacker Jerry Mackey who has97 total tackles to his credit. Diamond Ferri is second on theteam with 91 stops and tops in interceptions with four. JamesWyche is another big-time performer, as he leads the pack with15.0 TFLs.
Georgia Tech has struggled to move the ball andscore points this season, as it is averaging only 19.4 ppg and331.2 total ypg. While the Yellow Jackets are gaining a solid151.0 rushing ypg, their average of 3.8 ypc is lacklustre at best.P.J. Daniels battled has battled through injuries, and that factis reflected in his numbers. The talented tailback has posted595 yards and six touchdowns to date, but he is certainly capableof huge day. Tech hoped to see plenty of big days from sophomorequarterback Reggie Ball this year, especially considering thathe flashed signs of brilliance last season as a rookie. Ball hasfallen short of expectations, however, as he has completed only48.9 percent of his passes for 1,940 yards with 14 touchdownsand 19 yards. Many of those picks have come at terrible times,costing the Yellow Jackets opportunities to win. The most excitingplayer for the offense is undoubtedly rookie wideout Calvin Johnson,as he has caught 46 balls for 776 yards and six scores.
To offset the lacklustre play of Ball and theoffense, Georgia Tech has been forced to play strong defense.As a result, opponents are averaging only 19.4 ppg and 299.5 totalypg. Running the ball against the Yellow Jackets has proven difficultto say the least, as they are surrendering 109.5 ypg on the groundon an average of 3.2 ypc. Considering that opposing quarterbacksare averaging 10.8 yards per completion, it can be inferred thatTech has done a solid job of defending against big plays. Whilethe Jackets have forced only 14 turnovers in 11 games, they haveregistered an impressive total of 33 sacks. Gerris Wilkinson has113 tackles, including 14.5 for lost yardage, and Chris Reis,who has also made 14.5 TFLs, is tops with eight sacks. Consideringthat 11 players have been in on at least one sack, it is fairto say that Tech has several players on the defensive side ofthe ball capable of making a big play.