Originally created 12/23/01

What went wrong



First came the postponement of Georgia Tech's much-hyped showdown with Florida State because of Sept. 11. Then came three losses by a combined seven points that essentially ruined a season of grand expectations.

Next was the most jolting loss of all, followed by an astounding revelation: Coach George O'Leary bolts for Notre Dame, only to resign five days later after lies are discovered on his resume.

And did we mention the latest incident that shook a shaken program even more? Junior running back Joe Burns, an all-conference running back who rushed for 1,165 touchdowns and 14 touchdowns this season, flunked out of school and was ruled academically ineligible Thursday.

If this season is some sort of twisted dream, Chris Young would like for the alarm clock to sound sometime soon.

"What else could happen to us?" said Young, a senior cornerback for Georgia Tech. "Everything has happened to us. It's all mental. It wasn't physical. How can you overcome all that?"

Mac McWhorter has an idea. The Yellow Jackets' interim coach says beating No. 11 Stanford in Thursday's Seattle Bowl (4 p.m., ESPN) would go a long way toward removing some of the salt from his team's fresh wounds.

"We had high expectations that we did not meet," said McWhorter, a football journeyman who is using the bowl game as an audition for Georgia Tech's permanent head-coaching position. "What a great opportunity for our football team to finish meeting the expectations that were dealt to us at the first of the season."

With a win, senior defensive end Nick Rogers said, "a lot of people will forget what kind of season we had."

The Yellow Jackets (7-5, 4-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) began the season ranked No. 10 and were a popular pick to win the ACC.

They started 3-0 and, after pinning a 70-7 loss on Navy, seemed to be catching young and vulnerable Florida State at the perfect time. But after the Sept. 11 catastrophe, all Division I-A college football games scheduled for Sept. 15 were canceled.

Their showdown down the drain, the Yellow Jackets had 21 days to find motivation somewhere other than Tallahassee, Fla. Clemson ended the long layoff by handing Georgia Tech a shocking 47-44 overtime loss in Atlanta, then Maryland dealt the second defeat in similar fashion with a come-from-behind overtime triumph.

There's little need for detailed analysis of the Yellow Jackets' most recent disappointments, because they're replayed in the minds of fans on The Flats on an hourly basis - the bitter 31-17 loss to Georgia, the departure of O'Leary and the exposure of O'Leary as a fraud.

And don't forget Burns, who didn't make the trip because he didn't make the grade.

"We've gone through a lot the whole season," said senior quarterback George Godsey, whose team has lost two straight games and three of its past four. "From such high expectations to losing on the last play and having the heartbreakers, this has kind of added to how the season has gone."

The Yellow Jackets can establish at least some sense of stability by beating Stanford. The Cardinal (9-2, 6-2 Pac-10) appears to be as hot as Georgia Tech is cold, having won four straight games and six of its past seven.

"This is the start of a new season," said senior running back Sean Gregory. "It's really like we're starting over. We have this last game as a breath of fresh air."

McWhorter, an assistant for 20 of his 21 years of college coaching, agreed that the air will be much sweeter with a win.

"It's important not to go out there and stink it up and add more blemish to the Georgia Tech community," he said.

Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645.



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