After win over No. 14 Hokies, what’s in Jackets’ sights?

Members of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets sing the fight song following the victory against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Lane Stadium on November 12, 2016 in Blacksburg, Virginia. Georgia Tech defeated Virginia Tech 30-20. (Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images)

By upsetting No. 14 Virginia Tech Saturday, Georgia Tech achieved one team goal of securing a bowl berth. The 30-20 win in Blacksburg, Va., gave the Yellow Jackets a sixth victory against four losses, returning them from their one-year bowl exile.

“It’s definitely a good feeling,” defensive tackle Patrick Gamble said. “I get more games with my teammates. We’ve got more out there for us to go get. Our season’s not done. Now instead of two more, we’ve got three more.”

In recent weeks, players spoke with apparent sincerity about how badly they wanted to go to a bowl game and how bitter it was to be at home watching bowl games last winter, their 18-year bowl streak over.

“It would mean a lot to me, going to a bowl game, finishing out my last season with a bowl game win,” linebacker P.J. Davis said two weeks ago. “It would mean a lot to me. I can’t wait for it.”

Tech had to readjust objectives after it fell out of contention for a spot in the ACC title game, the standard team goal. Upon elimination, coach Paul Johnson sought to re-frame the season.

“It’s like I told our kids after the game – 6-6 is not what we’re after,” Johnson said Saturday in a post-game interview. “We’ve got a chance this week to get to seven (wins) and then we’ll have a chance after that to get one more.”

Johnson said he challenged the team to win nine games, which would require the Jackets winning out – against Virginia Saturday, at Georgia Nov. 26 and the bowl game. Since coach Bobby Dodd retired at the end of the 1966 season, nine Jackets teams have won nine games.

Could it happen?

Tech would likely need to continue to get the sort of productive defense it demonstrated against the Hokies (five sacks, three defensive turnovers). Was the improved defensive line play a one-time occurrence, or can defensive coordinator Ted Roof re-create it against Virginia and Georgia?

Hokies quarterback Jerod Evans appeared off his game, but how much was that Georgia Tech’s doing and how much of it was Evans fumbling through an off game?

It would help, too, if the Jackets’ starters who missed the Virginia Tech game (center Freddie Burden, A-back J.J. Green, offensive tackle Andrew Marshall, B-back Dedrick Mills and quarterback Justin Thomas) could return. Mills will serve one more game of a two-game suspension for violating team rules.

Johnson said that Thomas was cleared to play and wanted to play Saturday, but he did not look to be 100 percent, Johnson said, so he kept him out.

Virginia is not the caliber of opponent as Virginia Tech and North Carolina, certainly. Georgia, which is 6-4 like the Jackets, looks like an even match.

ESPN assigns Tech a 78.7 percent probability of beating the Cavaliers and a 34.4 percent chance of beating the Bulldogs. Beating both would be a 27.1 percent probability.

A lot is in flux, but bowl games such as the Pinstripe (New York), Quick Lane (Detroit) and Military (Annapolis, Md.) would appear to be possibilities at seven or eight wins. At 8-4, the Jackets might have an outside shot at the Belk (Charlotte, N.C.) or Russell Athletic (Orlando, Fla.) bowls, particularly if ACC teams ahead of them falter.

“(There is) a lot we can take out of this game and grow from,” Johnson said. “Got to go home and continue to work and see if we can’t get better next week against Virginia.”

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