ATLANTA — ATLANTA -- Even when Maryland isn't playing Georgia Tech, Jamal Cox has hurt the Terps.
Cox, a junior linebacker out of Gilman School who will lead the Yellow Jackets (1-3) against Maryland (0-5) today at Bobby Dodd Stadium, considered transferring to College Park after coach Bobby Ross left for the NFL in 1991. The rumor was so hot, in fact, that one Terps recruit, Cornell Brown, cited Cox's possible transfer as his reason for selecting Virginia Tech instead.
"The rumors were true," said Cox, who a year ago had a then-career-high 13 tackles in a two-point win over Maryland. "I first considered transferring after Coach Ross left. I decided to stay another year, but I still thought about it after last season. I never talked to any of the coaches at Maryland, but I mentioned the possibility to some of my friends there.
"The fact that I was halfway through my education here, and I was starting, were factors in my staying. My parents also had something to do with it. They thought I should think about something other than football."
Football always has ranked high among Cox's priorities, even though he was one of the top three-sport athletes in the Baltimore area in 1989-90. Cox played on the Greyhounds' basketball and baseball teams, but his biggest acclaim came in football, where he was a two-time All-Metro.
Cox (6 feet 2, 230 pounds) was one of four true freshmen to play on the 1991 Georgia Tech team that went to the Aloha Bowl. He started as a sophomore, when he was the second-leading tackler. This season, his 43 tackles are 16 more than any other Yellow Jacket. Against Virginia last month, he improved his career, single-game high to 17 tackles. And last week he led a defense that held No. 1 Florida State scoreless for the first 22 minutes before buckling in a 51-0 loss.
"He gives us the kind of physical play we want at inside linebacker," coach Bill Lewis said. "Jamal's also given us outstanding leadership."
Cox can't supply what Georgia Tech needs most, however -- some guidance on offense. The Yellow Jackets, whose schedule the past three weeks has been as difficult as Maryland's, haven't scored in six quarters. They figure to end that drought against the Terps, who statistically have the worst defense in Division I-A.
Georgia Tech has three decent tailbacks and a solid offensive line, but sophomore quarterback Donnie Davis has been the main culprit on a unit that isn't making the big plays. Freshman Derrick Steagall, a dangerous kick returner, H-back and the only Yellow Jacket with more than 10 catches, could be the quarterback of the future.
Like Maryland, Georgia Tech is winless in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Since beating Maryland and rising to No. 16 in the Associated Press poll last year, the Yellow Jackets have gone 1-8 against I-A competition, the lone victory coming at home against Duke last Halloween. Last year's Maryland victory was also the last time the Yellow Jackets scored four touchdowns against a I-A opponent.
Considering the Yellow Jackets went unbeaten and shared the national title in 1990, their current difficulties are troubling, but Lewis isn't under fire. Not many are paying attention anyway. Georgia is one loss from its worst season in 88 years, the Atlanta Falcons are 0-5, and there's the matter of the National League playoffs five miles away at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium later today.
Maryland, another program that stalled following Ross' departure, will try to avoid its first 0-6 start since 1967. The Terps have had one winning record since Ross left after the 1986 season. They were 6-5-1 in 1990, but since then they're 5-22. The Terps are trying to come back from a 70-7 loss to Penn State, Maryland's worst in 80 years.