ATLANTA (AP) – Georgia is on pace to finish the regular season with its best rushing totals under coach Mark Richt, but waiting Saturday night is a Georgia Tech defense coming off an attention-grabbing performance.

In last week’s 14-10 upset of No. 3 Miami, No. 20 Georgia Tech held the Hurricanes to 30 yards rushing, sacked quarterback Kyle Wright seven times and broke up seven passes.

Tech (7-3) moved to No. 12 in the nation in total defense after holding Miami to 237 total yards.

Miami leads the nation in total defense, but Tech’s Eric Henderson believes the Yellow Jackets proved otherwise.

“Miami has the No. 1 defense in the country? Georgia Tech is the best defense in the country – point blank,” Henderson said after the game.

The Yellow Jackets were boosted by the win, but they concede that 13th-ranked Georgia (8-2), led by versatile quarterback D.J. Shockley, poses perhaps a more difficult challenge.

“This is a different team,” Tech coach Chan Gailey said. “Kyle Wright would stay in the pocket. D.J. Shockley won’t stay in the pocket. It’s a different football team.”

Added Gailey: “They both are the same in that you better stop the running game or you’re in for a long day.”

Richt is known more for his tendency to favor the pass, but he has maintained balance in the Georgia offense. Running behind a veteran offensive line, Georgia ranks third in the Southeastern Conference with its average of 167.8 yards rushing per game.

Richt says balance on offense keeps coaches such as Tech defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta from focusing preparation on one part of the game.

If it reaches its rushing average against Tech, Georgia would finish the regular season with 2,032 yards rushing, which would mark the first 2,000-yard season under Richt.

With five tailbacks who have at least one career start, Georgia’s strength is its depth.

The Bulldogs’ most impressive rushing game came in a road victory at Tennessee when they had 198 yards against a Vols defense that ranked fourth in the nation against the run.

Sophomore Thomas Brown leads Georgia with 585 yards rushing. Danny Ware is second with 461 yards and Shockley has added 250 yards and three touchdowns.

The team rushing totals have been overlooked because no individual back has consistently posted big numbers.

“Everybody looks at us as a passing team,” Ware said. “We’ve got a bunch of backs running the ball, not one guy with 37 or 40 carries a game or one guy with 200, 300 yards a game.”

Added Ware: “We go out and fight hard and put up the numbers just as well as other guys. It may be combined, but we do the best we can.”

Tech ranks 13th in the nation in rushing defense and have held five opponents under 100 yards rushing.

Tech players say they expect Georgia – even after seeing the Yellow Jackets shut down Miami’s running game – to still try to establish a ground attack.

“Every team is going to try to test you on the ground,” linebacker Gerris Wilkinson said. “I’d be really shocked if they didn’t come out and try to establish the running game. That’s just usually the way things go.”

Tech linebacker Chris Reis says Georgia, with Shockley, compares with Virginia, which has a similarly talented quarterback, Marques Hagans. With Tech having to respect the scrambling potential of Hagans, Virginia rushed for 161 yards – the second-highest total allowed by the Yellow Jackers this season. The Cavaliers beat Tech, 27-17.

Tech frustrated Wright and Miami’s offense with constant blitzes, keeping the Hurricanes in third-and-long situations.

If Georgia can establish its running game, it could keep Tech from a similar reliance on a blitzing plan.

“Tech blitzes so much, the only way you can get them to back down is start to gash them,” Georgia offensive guard Nick Jones said.

“They’re going to put a lot of pressure on us. We’ve got to recognize what they’re doing and try to create holes for our runners and give Shock time to throw the ball.”

AP-ES-11-24-05 1509EST

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