ATLANTA — Embossed on a piece of posterboard that resides inside Georgia Tech’s locker room are eight team goals.
The goals all focus on the fulfillment of several key on- and off-field objectives, headlined by one singular desire that might soon come to fruition: Becoming ACC champs.
A win next week over Clemson in the ACC championship game in Tampa, Fla., is all that stands in the way of that goal.
While keeping those hopes and dreams in proper perspective, the players realize there are seven others that rest on their list. And while none of those explicitly include pleas for them to beat a certain opponent, they realize that winning that game remains a top priority.
“I think it’s 1A or 1B, maybe,” senior Georgia Tech linebacker Sedric Griffin said.
While none of the goals on the Yellow Jackets’ board — which was accidentally taken out of the team’s locker room by one overly enthusiastic player before their 28-23 win over then-No. 4 Virginia Tech six weeks ago — come right out and say beat Georgia, at least one implies that sentiment.
Prominently sitting near the top of the purpose-driven list is a plea that the Yellow Jackets go undefeated at home. A victory Saturday night over their in-state nemesis Bulldogs means the Yellow Jackets can place a check mark next to that goal.
“Well, beating Georgia is one of our priorities every year. When we wrote down the goals at the very beginning of the year, it was kind of an understood thing,” A-back Roddy Jones said. “We had it up on the goal board last year because it was something that hadn’t been done in a while. This year, it was kind of understood. Everybody knew beating Georgia was going to be a big priority, and it is every year.”
Against the Bulldogs last November, Jones raced for a career-high 214 yards and two touchdowns on just 13 carries en route to Georgia Tech’s 45-42 win in Athens.
A shootout decided mostly by the Yellow Jackets’ deficit-trimming 26-point third quarter showcase, the win was Georgia Tech’s first in the series after seven straight losses.
Since that moment, the programs have seemingly vaulted along vastly different paths, as the Bulldogs — who began that season ranked No. 1 nationally and were ranked 13th entering last year’s game — have been the recipients of a string of bad fortune.
In the midst of one of the more rocky and emotional seasons Georgia has seen in recent years, the Bulldogs have been booted out of the top 25 polls, lost five games — including a pair of blowouts and a pair of nail-biters — and even bid an untimely farewell to their live mascot, Uga VII.
“It has been tough for them this year; kind of unfortunate,” Griffin said.
So do Georgia’s misfortunes put a damper on the game as far as the Yellow Jackets (10-1, 7-1 ACC) are concerned?
“Not at all,” Jones said. “If you go out and lose to this team, you’re going to have to hear about it for a whole year up until you play them again. And we know that.”
Despite the Bulldogs’ rough season, Griffin said an intense, upset-minded Georgia team (6-5, 4-4 SEC) is sure to emerge from Bobby Dodd Stadium’s visiting tunnel.
“Georgia is just a few breaks away from being a 9-3 or a 10-2 team,” Griffin said. “Sometimes the ball doesn’t always break your way sometimes. But they’re still going to come out and fight. They’re still a talented team. We can’t take them lightly.”
With the Dec. 5 title game with Clemson already confirmed, the Yellow Jackets, who are riding an eight-game winning streak, understand just how much they have to play for beyond this week. For that reason, they hope to look to this week’s game as momentum to carry into the postseason.
“We’re keeping it hungry,” Griffin said. “We know we’re not at the finish line yet. We’re in the straightaway, but we’ve still got to keep running to the finish line.”
The veteran felt the Yellow Jackets pulled up lame last year, as they were blown out 38-3 by LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl just weeks after beating Georgia.
“The win last year, it was good for us, but we felt all that was wiped away when we lost the bowl game,” Griffin said. “All the doubt came back that maybe this wasn’t a good team.”
Jones believes the Yellow Jackets have learned greatly from that experience and ought to find a way to better balance the Georgia and postseason games more successfully this season.
“This team is a lot more mature than last year’s team,” Jones said. “It’s a lot of the same guys, and having been through the Georgia game last year and the way we lost the bowl game, everyone kind of learned from that and went into the offseason and really worked hard. We now know what it takes to keep up the intensity each and every week.”