The odds are getting longer, but at long as there’s a mathematical chance, Georgia Tech isn’t backing off its season-long goal to win the ACC’s Coastal Division. The formula incudes a necessary win this week when the team travels to Virginia.
The Yellow Jackets (4-3, 3-2 ACC) are behind Miami, which is undefeated, and Virginia Tech, which has lost one conference game. By running the table on its three remaining conference games – and with more than a little help from their friends – Georgia Tech could still reach the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Until the numbers say it’s impossible, the Yellow Jackets aren’t going to reset their goal.
“Not as long as there are that many conference games left,” head coach Paul Johnson said. “We’ve got to win at Virginia. What happens if Virginia Tech goes and beats Miami and we win at Miami. Then Virginia Tech comes in here next week and Miami is one loss away from being tied with whoever wins that game. Now that’s a lot of ‘ifs,’ but it’s not dead. We don’t change our goals. We just keep playing. It will all be dead if we don’t beat Virginia.”
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Virginia (5-3, 2-2) has not played well the last two weeks, losing to Boston College and Pittsburgh. But the Cavaliers have always seemed to play well against Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech leads the all-time series 20-18-1 and won last year’s game 31-17 thanks for a fourth-quarter pick-six by Lance Austin. Johnson is 6-3 against Virginia and 2-2 in games played in Charlottesville.
The biggest challenge may be for the Georgia Tech offense, which has struggled in the past to run the ball against a team coached by Virginia’s Bronco Mendenhall. The Cavs rank fourth in the ACC in total defense (337.4 yards). They lead the ACC by allowing opponents to score only 68.2 percent of the time in the red zone.
Virginia is led defensively by safety Quin Blanding, who leads the ACC with 83 tackles, and linebacker Micah Kiser, a semifinalist for the Butkus Award, given to the nation’s top linebacker. Blanding (six tackles) and Kiser (five tackles) were Virginia’s leading tacklers against Georgia Tech last year.
“They’ve got several good individual players and they play well as a team,” Johnson said. “They’re well-coached on defense, they know what they want to do, and they play hard and run to the ball.”
Georgia Tech needs a big bounce-back from quarterback TaQuon Marshall, who took a beating last week against Clemson. Marshall ran 15 times for a season-low 23 yards and was sacked four times.
“It was definitely a learning experience,” Marshall said. “I’ve got to work hard this week so we can go up to Virginia and win.”
The Georgia Tech defense will be tasked to stop a Virginia offense led by quarterback Kurt Benkert (252.2 yards passing) and running back Jordan Ellis (82.5 yards rushing). Neither were involved in last year’s game.
But the Georgia Tech defense could be missing some key pieces. Outside linebacker Terrell Lewis was injured against Clemson and won’t play. Middle linebacker Brant Mitchell and free safety A.J. Gray are listed as questionable.
Bruce Jordan-Swilling would likely start in place of Mitchell. The backup at outside linebacker are freshman T.D. Roof and little-used sophomore Tyler Cooksey. Gray’s backup is Shawn Kagawa, but nickel Lawrence Austin could roll into the safety spot and allow Jalen Johnson to open at nickel.
The Yellow Jackets have historically been a resilient team after a loss. They have bounced back to win the game following their last four losses, doing so by an average of 13.3 points.