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Georgia Tech Prepares to Fight the Irish

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JACKSONVILLE, FLA. — The 1998 Gator Bowl will pit a pair of 9-2 teams -- the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

The Yellow Jackets enter the game winners of four in a row, including a 21-19 decision over in-state rival Georgia in the regular-season finale.

The Fighting Irish ended the regular campaign on the short end of a 10-0 score against their traditional year-end opponent, Southern California. The loss that ended an eight-game Irish win streak came without the services of senior quarterback and team leader Jarious Jackson, who was out with a sprained knee. He remains questionable for the bowl game.

Georgia Tech has a solid offense, especially when it comes to running the ball. Despite losing its leading rusher, Charles Wiley, to a knee injury at midseason, the Yellow Jackets still ranked second in the ACC in rushing with 183.7 yards per game.

Joe Burns, Phillip Rogers and Charlie Rogers have all rushed for more than 400 yards, while quarterback Joe Hamilton has added 298 yards. The junior signal-caller fared better passing the ball. Hamilton has completed 145-of-259 passes for 2,166 yards and 17 touchdowns, while throwing just eight interceptions.

Sophmore split end Dez White is Hamilton's favorite target, as he has hauled in 46 passes for 973 yards and nine touchdowns. Charlie Rogers is second on the team in receptions (21) and receiving yards (233).

The tandem does more than just run and catch. White averages 26.2 yards per kickoff return and has returned one for a touchdown. Rogers is one of the nation's top punt returners, averaging 14.2 yards per return, while bringing a pair back for scores. The Yellow Jackets are averaging 35.5 ppg and have topped the 40-point mark on six occasions this season.

The Jackets defense has allowed just under 400 total yards per game and 24 ppg. Defensive ends Jesse Tarplin (72 tackles, 9 sacks), Nate Stimson (53 tackles, 6.5 sacks) and Felipe Claybrooks (37 tackles, 10 sacks) bring heat on enemy quarterbacks, making cornerbacks Jason Bostic (71 tackles, 2 ints, 11 pbu) and Jamara Clark (3 ints, 14 pbu) more effective. Linebacker Delanunta Cameron is the team leader in tackles with 90, while junior free safety Travares Tillman is second with 82.

Senior punter Rodney Williams helps the defense by consistently pinning the opposition toward their own end zone. Williams and the Jackets are sixth nationally in net punting at 40.0.

If Jackson can't play, Bob Davie will turn to either freshman Arnaz Battle or junior Eric Chappell. Jackson put up 2,181 yards of total offense, leading the Irish offense. Chappell drew the start against USC, but was pulled in favor of Battle after throwing an incompletion and two interceptions on three attempts.

Senior tailback Autry Denson became the school's all-time leading rusher in 1998. Denson has rushed for 1,178 yards on 232 carries and 15 touchdowns in his final collegiate season. Senior wideout Malcom Johnson is the team's top receiver with 43 receptions for 692 yards and six touchdowns. The Irish are averaging 382 yards and 27 points per game.

The Irish sport the 27th-ranked scoring defense in the nation, allowing 19.4 points per game. The linebacking unit leads the team that thrives on keeping their players fresh. Senior inside linebackers Kory Minor (60 tackles, 5 sacks) and Jimmy Friday, along with outside linebacker Bobbie Howard (118 tackles) form the starting group.

The Irish will rotate several players up front and in the secondary. Nose guard Lance LeGree and end Brad Williams anchor the line, while senior safeties Benny Guilbeaux and A'Jani Sanders, who have battled injuries, and junior Deke Cooper head the last line of defense.

The Irish lead the all-time series 26-4-1 and are 5-0-1 over the last six meetings. The last Tech victory came in 1976, a 23-14 decision in Atlanta. Expect a close game if Jackson is under center for the Irish, yet the Jackets will prevail.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Georgia Tech 31, Notre Dame 17.