1. Georgia Tech defensive back Chris Milton has made his mark this season with excellent special-teams play. He’ll likely have an opportunity to close out 2012 by starting at safety in the Sun Bowl.
Milton, a redshirt freshman, is the probable candidate to replace the injured Isaiah Johnson, who will not play against USC in El Paso, Texas, Dec. 31.
“He’s earned it,” interim defensive coordinator Charles Kelly said. “He’s worked his rear end off.”
Milton, who played at Folkston’s Charlton County High, has taken most of the practice snaps with the first-string defense this week since Johnson’s injury, which coach Paul Johnson described Wednesday as “lower extremity” and “a major injury.” Jamal Golden and Demond Smith have also taken turns with the first unit.
“It’s kind of bad for Isaiah, what happened, but I’m just trying to help my team,” Milton said.
Milton’s special-teams play earned him limited time with the defense toward the end of the regular season, but he played mostly at the opposite safety spot, which has slightly different responsibilities, Milton said.
“The one thing I’ve been very happy with is the way Chris has stepped up,” Kelly said. “He’s making all the calls. He can make plays. It’s been obvious that he can get people down. He’s done it on special teams.”
2. Losing Johnson is particularly costly for the Sun Bowl. The Jackets will have to track USC wide receiver Marqise Lee, who won the Biletnikoff Award, given yearly to the nation’s top receiver. Asked if he had seen many players as good as Lee, Paul Johnson replied, “Not that I’ve seen on film.”
Lee has caught 112 passes this season for 1,680 yards, both Pac-12 records, with 14 touchdown receptions. A sophomore, he was a unanimous first-team All-American, the Pac-12 offensive player of the year and was fourth in Heisman Trophy balloting.
“He’s got great hands, great ability, but when he catches the ball, it’s hard to find one guy getting him down right then,” Kelly said. “Changes direction and then when he catches the ball, he makes plays after he does it. Really, he’s got a complete game.”
Lee starts with Robert Woods, his high school teammate, who merely caught 73 passes for 813 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Said Kelly, “Woods is the real deal.”
3. Johnson was coy about his plan for using quarterbacks Tevin Washington and Vad Lee, saying “Why would I tell the other team what we’re going to do?”
He did acknowledge that both will play, as has been the case for the past seven games. For the past five games, they’ve both played two series to start the game and then coaches determined playing time after that. Tuesday, quarterbacks and B-backs coach Brian Bohannon said the fact that it’s a bowl game will not influence coaches’ thinking.
“The bottom line is, we’re not thinking about next year,” he said. “We’re thinking about winning that game, because that’s a big deal, to win that last game.”
4. Speaking of Washington, he has completed his classes, as he completed his management degree over the summer and took classes this semester as a postgraduate. He said he will give professional football a shot after the season ends.
“Other than that, I came to school to get my degree and be able to go out in the world and make a living for myself without football,” he said. “I’ve got my degree and now I’m ready for whatever opportunity opens itself.”
5. Kicker Chris Tanner will handle field goals and extra points, while David Scully will take the kickoffs. … Safety Jemea Thomas will be available to chat with fans on Twitter on Thursday at 3 p.m. He’ll take questions on the athletic department account, @gtathletics.