ATLANTA - Ralph Friedgen got most of the credit when the Georgia Tech offense succeeded in the past. Now that he's the head coach at Maryland, the Yellow Jackets are suggesting he got too much of the credit.
"It's not the plays; it's the players," said Tech quarterback George Godsey, who will play against his former offensive coordinator this Thursday night at Bobby Dodd Stadium. "The coaches develop a game plan, but the players have to execute it."
The game is more than a homecoming for Friedgen, who worked at Georgia Tech for five seasons before taking the job at his alma mater in December as the Yellow Jackets prepared for their appearance in the Peach Bowl. It's a chance for the Terrapins to keep a commanding grip on their lead in the Atlantic Coast Conference standings.
Maryland, 5-0 overall and 3-0 in the ACC, is ranked 22nd. Not only is the team off to its best start since 1978, but it also boasts the nation's leading rusher in Bruce Perry (164.2 yards a game).
And yet, the Terps are 10-point underdogs.
"I don't enjoy playing friends," said Yellow Jackets coach George O'Leary. "I never have. We live on the same cove (in the offseason), and I'm sure we'll have a lot of laughs about it. But after the game, I don't think we'll be doing a lot of hugging. One of us will be happy; the other one won't."
Friedgen's return has been a point of interest since he left before the Peach Bowl game against Louisiana State. Georgia Tech struggled in the bowl game, losing 28-14.
Instantly, the focus shifted to newly appointed offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien. It also prompted concern that Friedgen was more responsible for the Yellow Jackets' success than they wanted to admit.
"What happened in the Peach Bowl was the players' fault," Godsey said. "It wasn't coach O'Brien's fault. The players didn't execute."
Although the Yellow Jackets struggled again in the season-opening 13-7 victory over Syracuse, Georgia Tech now is averaging 460 total yards and 39.8 points a game - not far off the Yellow Jackets' record-setting season of 1999, when they averaged 509 yards and 40.7 points a game.
"Good players win games," O'Leary said. "Good coaches help good players win games, but it's still up to the players to make the plays. I've always said, it's not what a coach knows that matters. It's what the players know."
Godsey, who spent much of his first season with Georgia Tech developing the current system of hand signals that allows the sidelines to set the formation and call the play, said it was easy for the offense to adapt to O'Brien.
"Coach Friedgen was pretty matter-of-fact," Godsey said. "He had his way of doing things, and that was that. You might suggest something to him and sometimes he might not even answer you. Coach O'Brien wants input. He's always asking us what we think. We're a lot more involved with what's going on."
While Godsey said there weren't any real problems between him and the man who used to call the plays, he made it clear he doesn't miss his former coach.
"It would be a lot easier if we didn't have to play," Godsey said. "I've lived fine without him. We had good times and bad times when he was here. Win or lose, I don't think we'll embrace. One of us is going to be upset.
"We had a good relationship as a coach and player could have. There was friction at times, but we worked things out."
Since Friedgen is so familiar with the Yellow Jackets personnel and their play book, Godsey and O'Leary said they will make several changes. There will be five or six people on the sidelines signaling in the plays and only one will have the actual play. Also, some of the team's passing routes will be different.
The big picture, not Friedgen's return to Georgia Tech, is the most important story line for Thursday's game. If Maryland wins, it remains the only undefeated team in the ACC and it gives the Yellow Jackets, one of the preseason favorites, two losses.
"There is a greater sense of urgency for us because we already have one (ACC) loss," Godsey said. "We haven't played well as a team yet, and that's been holding us back."
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