Two years ago, Georgia Tech went to Pittsburgh on the verge of having its season collapse around them and began their magical ride to the Orange Bowl.
The 2014 turnaround occurred later in the season but also came on the heels of consecutive losses. That year, the Yellow Jackets found their offense at Pittsburgh in a 56-28 win. Georgia Tech reeled off five straight wins to end the season, pushed Florida State to the limit in the ACC championship game and thumped Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl.
This year, the Yellow Jackets are seemingly on the ropes after back-to-back losses to Clemson and Miami and find themselves in need of a restart when they play Pittsburgh (3-2) at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday at Heinz Field. Could it happen again?
“I haven’t talked about the game with Pitt being a springboard, but they all know how important it is,” head coach Paul Johnson said. “I did talk to the team on Monday about in ’14, how we lost two games back-to-back and a lot of people were about to give up the ship and jump off and we ended up winning 11 games and the Orange Bowl.”
Georgia Tech (3-2) must still play Coastal Division preseason favorite North Carolina, a rolling Virginia Tech team, an improved Virginia team and a Duke team that went to South Bend and thumped Notre Dame.
In other words, it isn’t going to get any easier.
“There’s still a lot of football to be played,” Johnson said. “You’ve just got to take it one game at a time and play. I’d like for us to be playing better than we are playing, but who knows? Maybe this is the week.”
It certainly won’t be easy against a Pittburgh team that ranks fourth in the nation and first in the ACC against the run. The Panthers have held six opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing in two seasons under head coach Pat Narduzzi and have won five of those games.
Another common thread this week is Pittburgh quarterback Nathan Peterman, the latest in a line of quality signal-callers to at a high level. He threw for 270 yards and two touchdowns last week against Marshall and has 923 yards and eight touchdowns this season. Peterman threw for 162 yards and three touchdowns against Georgia Tech last year.
“The thing that’s gotten lost watching them on tape is their quarterback is playing at a very high level,” Johnson said. “He’s taking care of the ball, and he he’s accurate. They’re playing with a pretty high efficiency offensively.”
Also back is James Conner, the truck-like runner who has rushed for 381 yards and five touchdowns after coming back from cancer, and receiver Quadree Henderson, who has rushed for 317 yards and two touchdowns and caught 15 passes for another touchdown.
“We’ve got to be sound with our defensive approach,” Johnson said. “Limit big plays and hopefully create some negative plays. I don’t think tempo is a problem, but they use a lot of formations, so getting lined up and not beating yourself is a good start.”
Last week, the Yellow Jackets came out in no-huddle attack and stayed there all game. It gave Johnson a chance to look over the defense and signal in a play. He wouldn’t say if that strategy would be used this week, but didn’t say anything to the contrary.
“I have no idea what we’ll do,” he said. “We were just trying to get the best play for the best alignment. I think our quarterback can do that. He’s played enough, and he’s pretty good at it. Where we were struggling was we weren’t getting out of the huddle fast enough, and that makes us get out of the huddle so he’s got time to see. I think we were in the right play for most of the time.”