By Doug Roberson
Georgia Tech has one game left at Virginia before its precious off week, its first and only break this season.
It couldn’t come at a better time as the Yellow Jackets prepare for a stretch run of three games. Fresh off a win against Florida State that snapped a five-game losing streak, Tech still has a lot to play for. If Tech can beat struggling Virginia on Saturday and come back from the off week with wins in each of its next three games – Virginia Tech, at Miami and Georgia – the Yellow Jackets will finish the regular season with a winning record and likely extend their bowl streak to 19 years.
Only one ACC team, Boston College, has an open Saturday later in the schedule as late as Tech, which has been dealing with a slew of injuries on offense and defense – starters have missed a total of 12 games -- since the season started on Sept. 3.
Coach Paul Johnson said he doesn’t know if there is ever a good week for a bye, but this one is welcome.
“It’ll be good news because we have got a ton of people beat up and even a lot of the guys playing are beat up,” he said. “Just to get a couple days off will be good for ’em, especially this late in the year.”
The only downside to taking a week off is it may derail the momentum that Tech seems to finally be building.
The defense played arguably its best game in years in limiting the Seminoles to 16 points and 280 yards. While the offense didn’t spark as consistently as it did against Pittsburgh the week before, it did create a few big plays, notably Justin Thomas’ 60-yard touchdown run and his 36-yard pass to Brad Stewart.
And the special teams, well, all the mistakes made in previous games were likely forgiven after Patrick Gamble’s block and Lance Austin’s game-ending winning touchdown return.
Johnson said he does his best to limit the number of hours the Jackets practice anyway.
Johnson said they are on the field for less than an hour on Monday, with Tuesday and Wednesday the heavy work days. Practice is cut back to between 60-90 minutes on Thursdays. Also, contact is minimized to reduce the risk of injuries.
He said the team was cutting back even more this week because the team “is really beat up.”
“Just lethargic and guys are hobbled,” he said. “You come out to practice and you’ve got 15 guys in no-contact jerseys and another 15 in red. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that you’re beat all to (heck).”
A-back Isiah Willis said the team is focusing on Virginia and not looking ahead to the off week. Should Tech defeat the Cavs, Hokies and Hurricanes, it will finish with a .500 record in the conference, which would be its 21st consecutive season avoiding a losing record in the conference, the longest such active streak in FBS.
Things seem to be setting up well for the Jackets because they are facing teams in uncertain situations.
Virginia’s Mike London and Tech’s Frank Beamer may be coaching in their final few games after disappointing seasons. Miami fired Al Golden last week after Clemson handed the Hurricanes their worst loss ever.
Further, as the game after the open date against Virginia Tech is on a Thursday night, the Jackets will have two extra days to rest and prepare for Miami on Nov. 21. But Tech can’t count on those circumstances aiding their efforts to win.
“Now you just have to go out and execute next week,” Willis said. “Winning that game makes this one that much bigger. Use that as a mindset and don’t get complacent. Don’t take it for granted that next game will be a win.”