ATLANTA -- There were a lot of people jumping off the Georgia Tech bandwagon during the team’s two-game losing streak. Head coach Paul Johnson actually said they were “breaking their necks” trying to jump off the Yellow Jackets’ good-time train.
This week a lot of those same people are looking to grab onto a strap and pull themselves back onto the bandwagon. But that’s what happens when a team enjoys a season-shaping win like Georgia Tech had Saturday when it beat Clemson.
The Yellow Jackets (7-2) don’t play this week. Their next game is against Virginia Tech on Nov. 10, a nationally televised game on ESPN that could determine the ACC’s Coastal Division championship. The team will have practice the remainder of the week but will enjoy a rare weekend off before returning to the field Monday to get ready for the Hokies.
Until then, they can enjoy the accolades that had dried up after losses to Virginia and Miami seemed to doom what had started to be such a surprisingly successful season.
“We knew we had a bunch of doubters and whatnot because of the last two games,” defensive back Jemea Thomas said. “We just pulled together. We knew we had to use each other to get through it and get done. With adversity, you’ve either got to stand up or lay down. I think we’ve got the type of team where we’re going to stand up and come back and just fight, no matter how hard the situation is.”
Thomas is one of the players who had a coming-out party against Clemson. The sophomore has been considered one of the most-gifted athletes on the team, and Johnson has constantly remarked how the staff needed to get Thomas more involved. It finally happened Saturday, and he responded with a performance that got him named Defensive Player of the Week in the ACC.
Thomas, a native of Fitzgerald, got his first career start at safety. He had five tackles, one tackle for loss, forced a fumble, broke up two passes and became the first Georgia Tech player this season to intercept two passes in one game. The first interception came in the end zone, one play after Clemson had seemingly seized the momentum and was trying to pull to within a touchdown. The second interception iced the game in the waning minutes.
“Jemea Thomas made some huge plays,” Johnson said.
The same can be said of Tevin Washington, who had been the subject of much conjecture after two losing efforts. Washington rewarded the faith of his head coach, who had stressed that the quarterback was taking too much of the blame and that the problems weren’t all of his own doing.
Washington was able to make the right reads against Clemson, whether it was handing the ball to B-backs David Sims or Preston Lyons on the dive, pitching to A-backs Orwin Smith or Roddy Jones or keeping the ball himself. Washington rushed 27 times for 176 yards, including runs of 46 and 56 yards, and one touchdown. The 176 yards set a program record for rushing by a quarterback.
Washington had two turnovers; an interception that he simply didn’t put enough zip on and a bobbled snap on which Johnson insisted the Clemson player who recovered was offsides. But Washington showed his maturity in the final quarter, when he led the Jackets on a nine-minute drive that netted no points but left Clemson bereft of timeouts and without enough time to mount a comeback.
Georgia Tech suffered no serious injuries Saturday and will get center Jay Finch back for the Virginia Tech game. Junior Nick McRae did an admirable job filling in for Finch against Clemson and may have earned himself more playing time.
If Georgia Tech runs the table against Virginia Tech and Duke, the Yellow Jackets will finish with a 6-2 conference record. Virginia, which also has two conference losses, still has to play Duke, Florida State and Virginia Tech. The Cavaliers have the tiebreaker edge over Georgia Tech because of their 24-21 victory on Oct. 15.
Should Georgia Tech win the Coastal Division, it would likely set up a rematch with Clemson in the ACC championship game Dec. 3 in Charlotte, N.C. The winner would be the ACC’s representative in the Orange Bowl. The loser could end up going to the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta, the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando or at worse, the Hyundai Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.
Should Georgia Tech fall out of contention, its bowl options range from the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn., the Advocare V100 Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., or the Military Bowl in Washington. It is unlikely the Jackets would go to Shreveport, since that was last year’s destination.