Ga. Tech notes: offense tops on third down

EL PASO, Texas — It’s not exactly a bowl victory, but Georgia Tech can claim a top ranking of a sort Saturday with a strong showing on third down.

The Yellow Jackets’ offense leads the country in third-down conversion rate at 54.9 percent. Wisconsin is second at 54.1 percent.

“Oh, really?” guard Omoregie Uzzi asked. “I had no idea.”

The Jackets converted at 40.4 percent last season and 52.3 percent in 2009, good for second in the country. A-backs coach Lamar Owens said that improving third-down efficiency was a goal over the offseason.

A few other records are within reach for three players. Wide receiver Stephen Hill can set an NCAA record with a gigantic receiving game. He averages 30.2 yards per catch, highest in the country. The NCAA single-season record is 31.9 yards per catch, by Tulsa’s Brennan Marion in 2007. He would need four catches for 172 yards against Utah to reach 30 catches to qualify for and break the record. Hill would break the ACC record (Owen Spencer, N.C. State, 25.5 yards) even if he caught four passes for no yards.

Kicker Justin Moore can break Luke Manget’s single-season school records for most point-after tries attempted, made and made consecutively. Manget went 53-for-53 in 1999 (he made all 160 tries in his career), which is Moore’s spotless standing going into the game. With one play from scrimmage, safety Rashaad Reid will tie former kicker Scott Blair’s school record for most career games played at 53.

In the middle

A matchup to watch will pit Tech center Jay Finch against Utah nose tackle Star Lotulelei. The latter was voted the Pac-12’s most outstanding defensive lineman by the league’s offensive linemen. B-backs and quarterbacks coach Brian Bohannon said Thursday that Lotulelei is the Utah defensive player who jumps out most on game video. Finch gives up 42 pounds to the 325-pound Lotulelei, whose intent will be to wreck the Jackets’ interior.

“I’m looking forward for myself to see where I stand, to see how I compare,” Finch said.

In words that likely will tickle the ears of many Tech fans, Finch acknowledged that the Jackets may run some shotgun. An Associated Press photo from a practice this week showed the Jackets working on a shotgun snap, which isn’t entirely unusual.

“I guess we’ve done a little,” Finch said.

In the slot

Defensive coordinator Al Groh said that cornerback Michael Peterson will play the slot cornerback position in place of Louis Young, who did not make the trip for disciplinary reasons. Young started at corner and played the slot, or star, corner, in the nickel package.

“That position requires a lot of versatility,” Groh said.

In the air

Punter Chandler Anderson graduated Dec. 17 with a degree in business administration, but won’t be getting a post-graduation break. After the Sun Bowl, he’ll report Jan. 3 to Naval Air Station Pensacola, where he’ll be stationed for the following 18 months.

Return trip

Team dentist Aaron King is making his 24th bowl trip with the team and his second to El Paso. King, who began volunteering with Tech’s athletic teams in 1965, is the only member of Tech’s traveling party who was with the team for the 1970 Sun Bowl, won by the Jackets 17-9 over Texas Tech.

“The hospitality was excellent then and still is now,” King said.

King remembers Tech players going across the border to Ciudad Juarez, now recognized as Mexico’s murder capital.

Said King, “That’s changed.”