Yellow Jackets don't want success going to their heads again

Updated: October 20, 2003, 6:30 PM ET

ATLANTA -- Georgia Tech has been in this position before.

The glowing media reports. The "atta boys" coming in from all sides. The plentiful pats on the back.

Now, let's see if the Yellow Jackets can handle success a little better than they did the last time.

"I believe we learned our lesson from that Clemson deal," coach Chan Gailey said Tuesday, sounding a bit hopeful. "It's not like that happened two years ago. It's still fresh in our minds."

Ahh, the Clemson deal.

Georgia Tech was coming off a stunning victory over Auburn and a one-point loss at Florida State when Clemson came to town on Sept. 20. The Yellow Jackets were brimming with confidence, prompting freshman quarterback Reggie Ball to boldly predict his team wouldn't lose another game the rest of the season.

Thoroughly motivated, the Tigers dealt Georgia Tech a humbling 39-3 loss -- their biggest victory in the series since 1903. Suddenly, the Yellow Jackets weren't feeling so good about themselves, which is just the way Gailey liked it.

"If you ever feel like you arrived, that's probably when you'll get in trouble," he said. "If you're not out there fighting and scrapping for everything you can get, you're probably in trouble."

Georgia (4-3, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) hasn't lost since that awful night in Atlanta, beating Vanderbilt, North Carolina State and Wake Forest in successive weeks.

Once again, the season is full of promise as the Yellow Jackets prepare for a crucial game Thursday night against Maryland (5-2, 2-1). The Terrapins also are on a roll, coming to Bobby Dodd Stadium with a five-game winning streak.

"I don't think I need to say anything this week," Gailey said. "The guys know exactly what's at stake."

Living with success is a tricky thing for a program such as Georgia Tech, which lurks beyond the Oklahomas and Miamis of the college football world. There's not enough depth or talent to get away with a bunch of mistakes. There's no time or place for savoring success.

Last season, the Yellow Jackets got caught up in the moment after impressive victories over Virginia and North Carolina State. They proceeded to lose three of their last four games, including a 51-7 embarrassment against Georgia and a grim 30-21 defeat to suspension-depleted Fresno State in the Silicon Valley bowl.

Once again, Georgia Tech has put itself in position for greater glory. Beating Maryland would be a giant step toward a seventh straight bowl invitation -- no small accomplishment considering the depths this program has reached over the past year.

The Georgia humiliation. Grumbling about Gailey. Academic woes that knocked 10 players off the team in the spring.

Hardly anyone expected this team to be playing beyond late November, but a victory over the Terrapins would put Georgia Tech in position to be bowl eligible with a win against either Duke (2-5) or North Carolina (1-6).

"We're definitely thinking about that," defensive end Gerris Wilkinson said. "We're going pretty well right now. This game is a way to show we can keep the trend going. This could be our transition to the latter part of the season."

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Georgia Tech already made that mistake once before, which is why some of Wilkinson's teammates were reluctant to look past Thursday's game.

"We're not worried about anything else," said another defensive end, Eric Henderson. "We're just focused on Maryland. If we take it one game at a time, who knows?"

Senior center Hugh Reilly prefers not to look back, but he still has bitter memories of being manhandled by Clemson.

"You've got to work hard every week," he said. "The Clemson game showed us what can happen when we don't. We're working hard to make sure it doesn't happen again."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index