Humanitarian Bowl Preview
Georgia Tech takes on Fresno State
Dec. 14, 2007
Georgia Tech expects new coach Paul Johnson to help take its football program to the next level, but need to wait until 2008 for that to happen.
Before Johnson mans the sidelines, defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta will try to lead the Yellow Jackets to their second Humanitarian Bowl victory in five seasons when they meet Fresno State on Dec. 31 in Boise, Idaho.
Tenuta replaces Chan Gailey, who earned six bowl invitations during his six-year tenure with the Yellow Jackets -- but went 0-6 against archrival Georgia.
Gailey was fired Nov. 26, two days after his latest defeat against to Georgia - a 31-17 loss in the regular-season finale that capped a disappointing 7-5 season. The Yellow Jackets were ranked as high as No. 15 on in the AP Top 25 poll on Sept. 9, but lost to then-No. 24 Boston College and were never ranked again while splitting their last 10 games.
Gailey's dismissal paved the way for Tenuta's first head coaching assignment and Johnson's arrival in Atlanta.
Tenuta, who has consistently produced one of the nation's top defenses since he arrived as part of Gailey's original staff in 2002, is looking forward to the opportunity.
"Every guy who becomes an assistant coach wants a chance to sit in that big chair," he said. "I've been auditioning my defense the last six years. You can see how they've performed."
It's uncertain if Tenuta will remain with the team when Johnson installs his own staff.
Johnson arrives after a six-year stint with Navy, during which he led the Midshipmen to bowl games in his last five seasons. He also went 6-0 against archrival Army in that stretch.
Johnson says the decision to leave Navy was a difficult one, but thinks the possibilities at Georgia Tech made the move worthwhile.
"We just felt like the opportunity was too great here to come to a great institution and have a chance to compete on the national level," he said. "If I thought there was a ceiling here and we couldn't compete for championships, I wouldn't be standing here."
Johnson's long-term goals will take a backseat in Boise, where the Yellow Jackets will try to win for the second time in five seasons. Georgia tech routed Tulsa 52-10 on Jan. 3, 2004 in the Humanitarian Bowl.
Fresno State (8-4) is more familiar with the blue turf, having visited Bronco Stadium to face WAC rival Boise State three times in the last six seasons. The Bulldogs, though, were outscored 145-58 in losing all three of those contests.
Like the Yellow Jackets, the Bulldogs won their previous Humanitarian Bowl appearance in Boise, defeating then-No. 18 Virginia 37-34 in overtime on Dec. 27, 2004.
"We are thrilled to be going back to Boise," Bulldogs coach Pat Hill said after Fresno State accepted the invitation. "We had a great experience there in 2004. Not only did we have a thrilling overtime win over a nationally-ranked Virginia team, but we enjoyed a warm reception by the people of Idaho that our players and staff have not forgotten."
That victory was part of a string of seven straight bowl games between 1999-2005, but the Bulldogs had their run snapped with a 4-8 record last season - their worst finish in Hill's 11-year tenure. The Bulldogs are looking to cap their comeback season with their fourth bowl win in six seasons.
Fresno State's run of postseason success began with a 30-21 victory over Georgia Tech in the Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose, Calif., on Dec. 31, 2002 - the only meeting between the teams.
Fresno State and Georgia Tech both rank in the Football Bowl Subdivision's top 20 in rushing, averaging 204.7 yards (17th) and 202.5 yards (19th), respectively.
Georgia Tech running back Tashard Choice dominated in the Atlantic Coast Conference -- he finished with 1,310 rushing yards, while no other player in ran for more than 992.
Choice ran for at least 100 yards eight times this season, tied for second-most in school history. He averaged 141.6 yards in the wins, but just 79.8 in losses.
Freshman running back Ryan Matthews led Fresno State's ground game, accumulating 866 yards and 14 touchdowns with 12 coming in his last seven games.
Matthews could struggle to continue his late-season surge. The Yellow Jackets are 11th in the FBS in total defense, allowing just 310.3 yards per game and they give up just 100.2 yards per game on the ground, 12th-fewest in the FBS.