“He’s explosive, fast,” linebacker coach Andy McCollum said. “Maybe one of the faster ones I’ve seen. And not only that, he’s physical.”
Jackets brace for FSU’s speed
What else does Tech have to worry about from Florida State’s offense besides Heisman Trophy candidate running back Dalvin Cook and the fact that the offense hasn’t committed a single turnover this season in 394 plays? How about more team speed than the Yellow Jackets have seen all season, and perhaps in a long time?
“They might have the fastest offensive team I believe I’ve seen in a while,” coach Paul Johnson said. “They can all run. They’re all really fast.”
There may be none faster than wide receiver Kermit Whitfield, who was timed in high school in the 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds.
“We know what Miami is, right?” Johnson asked. “And they make Miami look slow.”
The Seminoles’ speed puts Tech in a precarious spot, given the trouble that its pass rush has had reaching the quarterback. Play conservatively, and quarterback Everett Golson could have plenty of time to throw. Send extra men at him and it leaves cornerbacks D.J. White and Chris Milton in single coverage to hold the fort while the blitz may or may not reach Golson.
Maybe not out of it yet
Tech can take some inspiration from several teams in recent years who started out 2-5 but rallied to make bowl games. Central Michigan in 2012, Utah State and Northwestern in 2011 and Boston College, BYU and Tennessee in 2010 are among teams who have gotten off the mat at 2-5 and ended their seasons at bowl games. Minnesota in 2006 and N.C. State in 2008 even overcame 2-6 records to make bowl games.
The trouble is that the schedule won’t offer much help. There’s Florida State on Saturday night and Georgia at the end. In between is a game at Virginia, a home game against Virginia Tech and a game at Miami. The teams have a combined 20-14 record.
The Cavaliers would be the only team that could be anything resembling a gimme. The Hokies and Hurricanes are both 5-2 against Tech during coach Paul Johnson’s tenure.
Big plays needed for Jackets
Tech’s chances at winning may depend heavily on its ability to produce big plays out of both the run and pass game. The Yellow Jackets broke out against Pittsburgh with four run plays of 40 yards or more, including a pair of 58-yard runs by B-back Marcus Marshall in his first career start. The Jackets had only three run plays of 20 yards or more in the previous four games.
Quarterback Justin Thomas also found wide receiver Ricky Jeune for a 29-yard touchdown pass and Micheal Summers for a 34-yard reception.
“If you can hit some plays on the outside, it kind of backs up the safeties a little bit because they have to respect it,” Thomas said.
Any method by which the Jackets won’t have to labor too strenuously to score will help, as the Seminoles don’t give up points cheaply — they rank No. 9 in the country in scoring defense, at 15.2 points per game. They’ve also just given up two run plays of 20 yards or more in their first six games, tied for second fewest in the country. Neither was longer than 30 yards.
The Seminoles will be prepared by defensive coordinator Charles Kelly, who was on the Tech staff for coach Paul Johnson’s first five seasons as a secondary coach.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Charles,” Johnson said. “He’s a good coach. He knows what we do. He’s a smart guy, hard worker, so they’ll have a good plan.”
FSU has let teams hang around
Florida State may be undefeated and trying to win its 29th consecutive game against an ACC opponent, which would tie a conference record set by FSU from 1992-95, but the Seminoles have not been unassailable.
They led Boston College 7-0 into the fourth quarter until cornerback Jalen Ramsey returned a fumble for a touchdown to clinch a 14-0 win. Against Wake Forest, the Seminoles needed an interception in the end zone with 21 seconds left to secure a 24-16 victory.
Two weeks ago, Miami led the Seminoles 24-23 with 10:02 remaining before FSU took back the lead for good on the ensuing drive. On Saturday, Louisville led FSU 14-13 midway through the third quarter. The Seminoles scored the next 21 points to put the game away.
That said, FSU won all four, the Seminoles have taken confidence from the way they finished against the Cardinals and graduate transfer quarterback Everett Golson appears to be finding his groove.
“I think we can be a heck of a football team, we really do,” coach Jimbo Fisher said. “We have all the things in place. We just have to play well and understand that and take advantage of the opportunities.”
The season, which began with expectations and hopes well above normal for Tech, has taken a toll on all involved, in particular coach Paul Johnson.
“It’s a killer,” he said. “You hate it. To me, I can’t stand losing, so it gnaws at me and eats at me.”
As he has searched for a message to communicate to players to pull them out of the Yellow Jackets’ longest losing streak since 1994, his competitive fury has proven, for better or worse, a source of material.
“It’s like I tell our guys, it’s not enough to want to win,” he said. “You’ve got to hate losing. And I do. It eats you.”
Tech is two losses away from his third losing season as a head coach out of 19, including the 6-7 season in 2010 following the bowl loss. His other was a 2-10 record in his first season at Navy in 2002, after the Midshipmen were 1-20 in the previous two seasons.
What has particularly galled Johnson is the losses to Duke, North Carolina and Pittsburgh, all games Johnson believes Tech should have won.
“I know there’s a thin line (between winning and losing),” he said. “If you win those three conference games, you’re sitting here at 4-2 and it’s a different story. But if’s and but’s were candy and nuts …”
Odds and ends
Tech safety Demond Smith is expected to play after missing Saturday’s loss to Pittsburgh with an undisclosed injury. It was the first game he had missed in his career after playing in his first 47. … Freshman linebacker Brant Mitchell is expected to see more playing time after strong performances against Clemson and Pittsburgh. … For Tech’s whiteout, Tech is expected to wear its white “honeycomb” helmets. … With multiple events in Midtown and downtown Atlanta drawing people and their cars, Tech has encouraged fans to either take MARTA to Saturday’s game or to pre-purchase a parking pass. Parking passes are available through the Tech website at ramblinwreck.com. … Saturday is also homecoming. The school’s parade begins at 9 a.m. Saturday.
The last time they met
When: Dec. 6, 2014, at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
Score: Florida State 37, Georgia Tech 35
Star of the game: FSU running back Dalvin Cook earned game MVP honors with 177 rushing yards and a touchdown on 31 carries in just his second career start. Cook also caught five passes for 43 yards to help the Seminoles win their third consecutive ACC championship.
Stats that matter: The two teams had the lowest combined ranking in the history of the league title game, 15 (FSU No. 4, Tech No. 11). … Tech had forced 17 turnovers in the previous five games, and FSU had lost the ball 27 times going into the game, but the Seminoles had no turnovers. … Tech's 35 points and 465 yards of offense were the most ever by the losing team in the ACC Championship game.
Play of the game: FSU quarterback Jameis Winston connected with Rashad Greene for a 9-yard touchdown pass with 30 seconds left in the half to take a 28-21 lead. The Jackets had led 7-0, 14-7 and 21-14, but never regained the lead after halftime.
Quote of the game: "You could have never told me we were going to lose that game. I didn't have doubt all the way up until the end. It just happens." — Tech guard Shaquille Mason
By the numbers
Florida State’s combined scoring advantage in the first and third quarters. Tech’s first- and third-quarter scoring is 108-92.
The next time Tech and FSU are scheduled to play each other in the regular season as part of the league’s crossover rotation.
Healthy dose of touchdown passes
Tech quarterback Justin Thomas has thrown 10 touchdown passes this season in 108 attempts (9.3 percent), one of the highest percentages in the country. Among Tech quarterbacks who led the team in passing yardage dating to 1950, he’s challenging to be among the best again in touchdown pass frequency.
Year; Player; TDs; Att.; Pct.
2014; Justin Thomas; 18; 187; 9.6
1999; Joe Hamilton; 29; 305; 9.5
1956; Toppy Vann; 6; 65; 9.2
1951; Darrell Crawford; 13; 150; 8.7
1953; Pepper Rodgers; 7; 85; 8.2
FSU another tough opponent
Florida State will be yet another highly ranked opponent that Tech will face this season. To this point, the Yellow Jackets’ schedule is the most rigorous they’ve faced in coach Paul Johnson’s tenure; Tech’s schedule strength was ranked No. 9 after last week’s games by the Sagarin ratings. Tech has played two top-20 teams (as judged by Sagarin) with two more on the way, No. 11 FSU and No. 20 Georgia.
Year; SOS rank; 3 highest-rated opponents; Tech record
2015; 9; Clemson (6), Notre Dame (9), North Carolina (27); 2-5
2014; 28; Georgia (5), Mississippi State (9), Clemson (13); 11-3
2013; 37; Clemson (14), Georgia (26), BYU (35); 7-6
2012; 44; Georgia (4), Florida State (11), Clemson (14); 7-7
2011; 76; Georgia (21), Virginia Tech (27), Clemson (32); 8-5
2010; 69; Virginia Tech (13), N.C. State (18), Miami (40); 6-7
2009; 10; Virginia Tech (7), Iowa (9), Miami (21); 11-3
2008; 40; Georgia (15), Virginia Tech (18), LSU (21); 9-4