Saturday could provide a moment of truth for Georgia Tech and Miami.
Georgia Tech will learn if its offense is as efficient as it looked in wins over Mercer and Vanderbilt, as weak as it appeared last week against Clemson or somewhere in between.
Miami, which opened the season with three cupcake opponents, will discover if it can maintain its high level of play against a team that already has been tested by a much more demanding schedule.
Georgia Tech (3-1, 1-1 ACC) hosts the No. 14 Hurricanes (3-0, 0-0) at noon at Bobby Dodd Stadium in the Coastal Division opener for both teams.
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Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson, who takes pride in the efficiency of his option offense, was hurt by its lack of success in last week’s 27-7 loss to Clemson. The Yellow Jackets totaled only 95 yards rushing and 124 total yards against Clemson.
“I think we’ll play better,” Johnson said. “I think it would be hard to play as poorly as we did (against Clemson). We’re back to basics, and we’re going to do what we do. We feel like we know it works if we do it correctly and we execute. We haven’t played as well offensively as we would have liked, but after Saturday I think we will have played the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 5 ranked teams in total defense in the country, so we’ve played some pretty good folks.”
Miami opened the season with a 70-3 win over Florida A&M, then beat Florida Atlantic 38-10 before going on the road to cruise to a 45-10 win over Appalachian State. Now, the Hurricanes open their ACC schedule with a visit to Georgia Tech, easily the best team they have played.
“Every game we’ve played, the second opponent was probably a little better than the first and the third was probably a little better than the second, and now the fourth is probably a little better than the third one,” Miami head coach Mark Richt said. “So we’re kind of stepping up in the competition level in my opinion throughout the season so far, and it’s just a new challenge for us to see if we’re ready for the next level of competition.”
But can the Hurricanes slow the Georgia Tech offense? Last year the Yellow Jackets ran for 314 yards in this game, mostly without a banged-up Justin Thomas at quarterback. Since then the Hurricanes have had a regime change, and Richt brought in Manny Diaz to be his defensive coordinator. Richt expects to see a rejuvenated Georgia Tech team Saturday.
“Clemson did a good job and knocked their numbers down in yards per game,” Richt said. “That’s a rarity. That was the most rare game ever, I think, against that offensive system.”
Georgia Tech will need more production from Thomas, who never had a chance last week against a quick, powerful Clemson front that interrupted play all night. Thomas had minus-25 yards rushing against the Tigers and needs 48 yards to become the 15th player in program history to reach 2,000 yards in career rushing.
B-back Dedrick Mills continues to impress and leads the team with 201 yards and five touchdowns, but the A-backs got only seven carries last week and produced just 25 yards.
The Georgia Tech defense will be tested by a Miami offense that has been efficient on the ground and in the air. Quarterback Brad Kaaya has thrown for 694 yards and seven touchdowns. Running backs Mark Walton (401 yards, seven touchdowns) and Joe Yearby (256 yards, four touchdowns) are familiar —Walton scored three touchdowns last year, and Yearby scored once against the Yellow Jackets.
Georgia Tech leads the series 11-10, but Miami has won five of the past six meetings. The Yellow Jackets’ last victory was 28-17 in 2014.