Just like last season, Georgia Tech will face Virginia Tech on Saturday coming off a bad performance and needing a win.
Despite missing key starters at many positions, the Yellow Jackets stunned the then-No. 18 Hokies 30-20 last season in Blacksburg, erasing the memories of a humiliating 48-20 loss at North Carolina the previous week. The win at Lane Stadium sent Georgia Tech on a four-game run that included defeating Georgia.
This season, the Jackets (4-4, 3-3 ACC) are coming off a 40-36 loss at Virginia, a game that coach Paul Johnson acknowledges they had every chance to win and the third loss this season that came with the team holding a lead with less than two minutes remaining.
“It’s kind of similar to last year when we got beat by North Carolina going to the Virginia Tech game,” Lawrence Austin said. “We’re just focusing on win No. 5. It’s going to be tough to beat those guys, but it’s going to be good to go for win No. 5.”
Coming off a loss and needing a win aren’t the only similarities.
Like last season, when the Jackets were without quarterback Justin Thomas, center Freddie Burden and tackle Andrew Marshall, this season the Jackets may again be missing key players. The hero of last year’s upset, quarterback Matthew Jordan, won’t play Saturday because of injury. Linebacker Brant Mitchell is listed as questionable, while safety A.J. Gray may return.
Tech defeated the Hokies last year without those key players by playing mostly mistake-free on offense in scoring on four of its first six possessions and producing several impact plays (five sacks, two interceptions) on defense.
That type of execution in key moments has been an issue for the Jackets this season in their losses. But if the players can keep their focus for the game, and avoid missed assignments – something that has cost the team in three of its four losses -- Johnson believes they have the potential to win their remaining three games, which should guarantee a bowl berth.
It won’t be easy. Virginia Tech’s defense is its usual stout self under coordinator Bud Foster. The Hokies are allowing 13.3 points per game, tops in the ACC and fourth in FBS, and 300.6 yards per game, tops in the ACC and 11th in FBS. Georgia Tech’s offense is averaging 31.8 points and 415.3 yards per game.
“The thing that’s impressive to me as anything is there’s very fewer things that go uncontested,” Johnson said. “They are in your face right from the start and going full bore. They give as good as they get.”
The Hokies’ offense, under freshman quarterback Josh Jackson, is averaging 32.6 points and 430.1 yards per game. Johnson said he was impressed by Jackson’s toughness in losses to Clemson and Miami. Georgia Tech’s defense is allowing 23.6 points and 333.5 yards per game.
Virginia Tech has been prone to turnovers. Of its 10 interceptions or fumbles lost, seven happened in its defeats. But Georgia Tech hasn’t been good at creating those this season, with just six interceptions and four forced fumbles. It hasn’t had a sack in its past two games. The Jackets were beaten in both games.
“It’s hard this day and age on defense if you don’t get negative plays and sacks,” Johnson said.
Here’s another issue for Georgia Tech: It has just four wins with three games remaining. After hosting the Hokies, it will play at Duke and then will host Georgia. Teams typically need at least six wins to become bowl eligible. Should Tech post just five wins, Johnson said he thinks the team’s APR is high enough to make it eligible to be selected for a bowl game should there be an open slot.
“Let’s try not to have that scenario,” Johnson said.