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Yellow Jackets Look Forward to Rematch With Notre Dame in Gator Bowl

Posted November 29, 1998

— George O'Leary can't forget any loss, especially one to Notre Dame on national television in a season-opener.

But as consolation, O'Leary also can recall what he said to his team last year, seen as a turning point in the program that now meets the Fighting Irish again - this time in the Gator Bowl on New Year's Day.

``I wanted to make sure our team understood we had an opportunity to win that game and we didn't get it done,'' O'Leary said Monday after 16th-ranked Notre Dame accepted a bid to the Jacksonville, Fla. game. ``That was my focus after the game, and hopefully we've learned something since then.''

The 12th-ranked Jackets (9-2, 7-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) have come a long way since that 17-13 loss on the day Notre Dame dedicated its new stadium expansion.

In O'Leary's fourth full season, Tech turned in its best season since going undefeated and sharing the 1990 national championship with Colorado.

Tech shared the ACC title with Florida State, and pulled some last-minute magic of its own Saturday, beating then-No. 12 Georgia 21-19 with a field goal in Athens.

``I hope they haven't shown too much improvement since last time,'' Irish coach Bob Davie said. ``We barely beat them then. I remember them fondly, though, since that was my first game as a football coach.''

O'Leary said his team has grown up since the last meeting, going 7-5 with a win in the CarQuest Bowl last year.

And O'Leary has been through the wringer himself - recently being interviewed as a candidate for the Auburn job and conducting ongoing negotiations for a contract extention with Tech.

``We're still focused on winning and recruiting, and nothing is going to change that,'' O'Leary said. ``We're going to be ready to play Notre Dame, I can promise you that.''

The game will be the 32nd meeting between the teams, with the Irish holding a 26-4-1 advantage, including a win in the ``Rudy'' game featured in the movie of the same name.

No. 19 Notre Dame (9-2) is coming off a loss to Southern Cal Saturday that ended its hopes of making it to a Bowl Championship Series game. Quarterback Jarius Jackson was out for the 10-0 loss with a sprained right medial collateral ligament, but could make it back for the Gator Bowl.

``I hope they're at full strength,'' O'Leary said. ``We want to prove ourselves.''

O'Leary said the Jackets will concentrate on finals for the next two weeks, and then start back up practicing on Dec. 16, making the trip to Jacksonville the day after Christmas for their first Jan. 1 appearance since 1991.

He added that playing a team of national stature such as the Irish is a bonus after the Jackets have already reached the goals of winning a share of the ACC and making it to a New Year's game.

``Notre Dame is Notre Dame,'' O'Leary said. ``We just want to put in a good showing.''


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