ATLANTA -- If Georgia Tech has a chance to reverse its losing ways against Georgia, the Yellow Jackets likely will need another good effort from their defense. And that means once again winning the takeaway battle.
The Yellow Jackets have been opportunistic all season. Georgia Tech has 24 takeaways (10 fumbles and 14 interceptions) and turned them into 116 points, the fourth most in FBS football.
Georgia Tech has converted 18 of its 24 takeaways into points. Six times the takeaway has resulted in a defensive touchdown, the second most in the country.
“We’ve been a little more aggressive, and guys have stepped up and made some plays,” head coach Paul Johnson said. “But the key is getting the turnovers and playing better on third down.”
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Creating turnovers against Georgia hasn’t been easy. The Bulldogs are second in the nation in turnover margin at plus-16, which would rank as the fourth best in program history. The Bulldogs have fumbled 18 times but lost only four, and they have thrown just four interceptions.
Georgia Tech hopes to do better in the turnover department in this game than it did a year ago. The Yellow Jackets forced one turnover against Georgia, a pass interception, but Georgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee threw two picks in the double-overtime loss.
“You’d like to create some turnovers if you can,” Johnson said. “They do a good job of taking care of the ball. We need to play clean on the other side and try to control the clock a little bit.
“We’ve just got to do our thing. We’ve got to gang tackle and rally to the ball and see if we can put some helmets on them.”
Defensive backs Jamal Golden (four interceptions) and D.J. White (three interceptions) are the primary air bandits, although 10 different players have interceptions. Linebacker Quayshawn Nealy has been a takeaway machine, with two interceptions and three recovered fumbles, along with six tackles for loss.
The turnover flurry for Georgia Tech began at Pittsburgh, a victory that changed the momentum for the second half of the season. Pittsburgh fumbled seven times, and the Yellow Jackets recovered six of them. Georgia Tech has forced five fumbles in the ensuing three games but recovered only one.
The interceptions began to flow against Virginia, when the Yellow Jackets grabbed two. They had two more against N.C. State and snagged three against Clemson, returning two of them for touchdowns.
While the turnovers earn a lot of attention, the defense has become much more efficient at getting teams off the field. Pittsburgh converted 8-of-12, but Virginia was 3-for-12, N.C. State was 6-for-12, and Clemson was only 3-for-13.
The turnovers and the points produced are welcomed by the Georgia Tech offense. Lately the offense and defense have been coexisting. The Yellow Jackets have averaged 480.7 yards on offense the past four games and gained 353 yards against a Clemson team that ranked second in the nation in rushing defense.
The offense will be at full strength, other than A-back Broderick Snoddy, who broke his leg against Clemson.
“It relieves a lot of pressure,” Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas said. “(The offense needs) to be on our ‘A’ game every game, but if we’re not, we know the defense has our backs.”