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Tech's running game gains momentum

ATLANTA - Chan Gailey's obvious preseason concern about his Georgia Tech team was a young offensive line.

The line was rebuilt with starters including a freshman and three sophomores, making it the team's biggest unknown and largest potential roadblock to a winning season. Gailey always emphasizes the running game, and with such a young line there was no guarantee of running room for tailbacks P.J. Daniels and Tashard Choice.

The young unit had to regroup after losses to Virginia Tech and North Carolina State. Three straight wins - powered by the Yellow Jackets' three best running totals of the season - are encouraging signs for the line.

''We finally are just clicking,'' said right guard Nate McManus, one of the sophomores on the line. ''We found our groove in the first few games and felt like we lost it in the Virginia Tech game. We lost our foothold as an offensive line. Then we finally got it back and hopefully we'll hold onto it.''

Three straight wins over Duke, Clemson and Wake Forest have moved No. 24 Tech back into the Top 25 and made the Yellow Jackets (6-2) bowl-eligible for the ninth straight year.

The wins also provided proof that Gailey's run-first offense is gaining momentum as the young line matures.

Including a season-high 257 yards rushing against Duke, Tech has averaged 209 yards rushing in the three-game winning streak as it prepares to visit Virginia Saturday.

Tech still has a dangerous passing attack. Calvin Johnson leads the Atlantic Coast Conference leader with his average of 91 yards receiving yards per game and is second with his average of five catches per game. Also, quarterback Reggie Ball is sixth in the league with his average of 198 yards passing per game.

Even so, Tech's offense may be at its best when the run game is used to set up Ball's passes instead of as the focus of the offense.

''Being able to move the ball on the ground is always a confidence-builder,'' McManus said Tuesday.

''We love the bombs to Calvin and the catches he makes, but being able to move the ball on the ground and open holes for our running backs to gain five or 10 yards at a time, it helps to build confidence.''

Which came first - the increased production in the running game or the increased confidence and improved play by the line?

''I don't know. That's a good question,'' Gailey said. ''I don't know which one comes first. They happen simultaneously, I'm sure. The more you run it, the more confidence you gain. The more confidence you gain, the better you run it. It just works together. I can't tell you which one comes first. I know you can't gain confidence without success.''

The line has been able to avoid major injuries, giving the young starters a chance to learn together.

''They are starting to get a feel for each other and starting to get the calls down,'' Gailey said. ''That unit has to play with continuity more than any other group. And we've stayed, for the most part, healthy in that group, which has helped us.''

The line earned its highest overall grade of the season in last week's 30-17 win over Wake Forest. Tech boasted impressive offensive balance with 200 yards passing - including two touchdown passes from Ball - and 187 yards rushing in the game. Daniels rushed for 109 yards.

''That's great if you build on it,'' Gailey said. ''It's nothing if you don't keep building on it.''

Virginia ranks only seventh in the ACC in rushing defense and 10th in total defense. Tech still has games against two top 10 teams - Miami and Georgia - following Saturday's visit to Virginia.

Note: Tech's Nov. 19 game at Miami has been set for a 7:45 p.m. start. The ACC will announce Sunday if the game will be televised by ESPN or ESPN2.