Alcorn faces stiff challenge from Georgia Tech

Published 9:02 am Thursday, September 3, 2015

Ever since he took over as Alcorn State’s head coach in 2012, Jay Hopson has wanted to play one game per season against a top-tier team in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

This year, that game arrives early — and in a big way.

The Braves will head to Atlanta tonight to open the 2015 season against Georgia Tech. The same Georgia Tech that nearly won the Atlantic Coast Conference championship last season, dismantled Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl and begins this year ranked 16th in the Associated Press poll.

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“They are an excellent football team,” Hopson said. “We’re excited about that. It’s a chance to test our mettle. Facing a big, tough opponent off the get-go is a good thing.”

This is the third consecutive season that Hopson has taken Alcorn into an FBS stadium. The first two trips had mixed results. The Braves were blown out 51-7 by Mississippi State in 2013, then nearly upset Southern Miss before losing 26-20 last year.

Georgia Tech is the most formidable opponent Alcorn has faced in Hopson’s tenure, but he’s adamant that it won’t be the last. He’s just as certain that the Braves won’t be a sacrificial lamb for a Top 25 team playing its home opener.

“I’m not into that. We’re looking forward to the challenge. We respect all and fear none,” Hopson said. “Texas, Penn State, Southern Cal, LSU, we want to play those games.”

Hopson’s Braves will be big underdogs, but are no slouches. They won the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship in 2014 and return a number of key players including senior quarterback John Gibbs, Jr.

Gibbs is a four-year starter who threw for 2,482 yards and 21 TDs and ran for 1,006 yards and 11 more scores. He is the preseason SWAC Offensive Player of the Year.

“Well, they have got a pretty good nucleus of players returning. I think they have eight on offense coming back and the Gibbs kid at quarterback is really a good player. He’s very athletic,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said at his weekly press conference. “I think (Damon) Watkins at linebacker was either the leading tackler or second-leading tackler a year ago. So a lot of the guys you can watch on tape. It’s more about the scheme sometimes than the individual players. Although, those two guys certainly stick out.”

Georgia Tech, meanwhile, returns 13 starters from a team that finished 11-3 and ranked No. 8 in the country last season. Eight All-ACC players are back, including quarterback Justin Thomas and freshman All-America defensive lineman KeShun Freeman.

The Yellow Jackets’ triple option offense racked up a school-record 4,789 rushing yards in 2014 and is famous for flummoxing opposing defenses. Hopson said the Braves spent some extra time this summer to prepare for it, but didn’t dwell on it.

“We took a couple of extra days. We didn’t spend the whole summer on it,” Hopson said. “We’re not going to work the whole summer on one game when we need to get ready for the rest of the season.”

On the air

Alcorn State at Georgia Tech

Thursday, 6:30 p.m.


Radio: 91.7 FM

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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