Can Georgia Tech keep up push to finish?

When Georgia Tech’s football team last walked out of Sun Life Stadium, it was shortly after the stroke of midnight New Year’s Eve. The Yellow Jackets had just vanquished Mississippi State, completing one of the more memorable seasons in school history.

The Jackets will return there Saturday to play Miami. The experience portends to be strikingly dissonant, the vivid memories and good feeling derived from returning to the site of their conquest interwoven with the disappointment of Tech’s present reality.

Tech will drag its 3-7 record into the game. The opposing Hurricanes have lost their coach, Al Golden, who was fired Oct. 25. The game has about as much sizzle as a wet rag. The Jackets will have to look within themselves for the motivation to give the effort necessary to prepare for the Hurricanes. By and large, they have shown their character with sufficient effort despite the mounting losses. Execution and playmaking pluck have been another matter.

“It’s just pride,” safety Demond Smith said. “Who would want to go out there and lose? You’ve got to have that in you.”

Not wanting to lose is one matter. Being willing to push through the discomfort of practice, absorb the detail of the game plan, maintain a positive attitude and submit to coaches’ demands for better effort, focus and better execution, among other things, is another. Following the Jackets’ 23-21 defeat against Virginia Tech on Thursday — yet another loss in which victory was tormentingly close — frustration and bewilderment were evident.

“Right now, we’re just not very good,” coach Paul Johnson said.

Asked if it would be accurate to describe the season as hard to believe, center Freddie Burden went a step further.

“I’m lost,” he said. “I don’t know.”

He also was asked about possibly taking on more of a leadership role in the final two games.

“We have to try something,” he said. “What we’re doing now isn’t working. We have to go back and adjust and try it out, see where it goes.”

Smith, a senior, faced the reality that the Jackets’ bowl streak, a point of pride, most likely will end under his watch at 18 consecutive bowl trips.

“It’s just been frustrating,” he said. “From the injuries to our record, it’s just been real frustrating. But with the guys, we never quit. I can’t say that we have (lacked) the effort. We bring the effort each and every game. We just can’t put it all together now.”

Wins over Miami and/or Georgia would scarcely redeem the season. But finishing 5-7 would undoubtedly feel significantly better than 3-9. A win over Miami would be the first road win over the Hurricanes in Johnson’s tenure. A win over the Bulldogs would be Tech’s second in a row against Georgia and its first at Bobby Dodd Stadium since 1999 and ease the aggravation of this season’s five losses by one possession.

Miami and Georgia have been estimable adversaries. Both are 5-2 against Tech during Johnson’s tenure, though the Jackets bested both in 2014. The Miami game also will be Tech’s last chance to win its first road game. The Jackets have won at least one road game every season since the disastrous 1994 season.

“It’s tough, being that we’ve made a bowl since I’ve been here besides this year, but we’ve just got to finish strong,” Smith said.

There is the slight possibility that if Tech can get to 5-7, the Jackets may be invited to play in a bowl game. An NCAA rule stipulates that 5-7 teams could fill slots if there are not enough bowl-eligible teams. Last week, CBS Sports bowl expert Jerry Palm projected a four-team shortage. Rather than cling to that possibility, Burden will tap into an elemental source of motivation.

“Just the chance to play another game,” he said. “It’s fun just to go out there and play.”

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