Georgia Tech defensive back Lance Austin (center) intercepted Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason, setting up the game-winning drive last year for Tech. Tech defenders Lawrence Austin (left) and Brandon Adams celebrate on the play. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.co
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.co

Georgia Tech has a lot on the line Saturday against Georgia

Georgia Tech still has plenty to play for.

With most of the perceived pressure on No. 7 Georgia, the Yellow Jackets have been looked at as coming in with nothing to lose, but players aren’t seeing it that way.

“We’ve got a lot on the line, too. We’ve got a bowl game to go to,” junior linebacker Brant Mitchell said. “And we’re not big fans of those guys over there at Georgia, so we don’t like to hear it all year long, and that’s what they’ve done this whole year. Both teams have a lot on the line, and it’s going to be a heck of a competition.”

Junior linebacker Vic Alexander had similar thoughts.

“Besides this being a big rivalry game, there’s a lot on the table, a lot at stake here,” he said. “We’re looking forward to an opportunity to knock them out of the playoffs and get our bowl eligibility. We’re going out there to beat Georgia, man.”

The Bulldogs have two games remaining — Saturday at Tech and an SEC Championship game against the winner of the Auburn-Alabama game. If they win both, they likely will find a spot in the playoffs. While Georgia is playing for something bigger, the Jackets likely will need a win Saturday to have a chance at a bowl game, which is something the seniors are locked in on. They missed a bowl two seasons ago — the first time Tech didn’t make a bowl game since 1996 — so they will desperately try to avoid a second occurrence in three years.

“We know what we have at stake. We know what we want to do as a team,” senior defensive end KeShun Freeman said. “And we’re going to fight our butts off from the beginning to the end, and I know everyone is willing to fight.”

After Saturday’s blowout loss at Duke, the Jackets aren’t coming in on much momentum. The Blue Devils ran all over the Tech defense, a worrisome result with possibly the best running-back duo in the country coming to town. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel both will potentially finish with more than 1,000 yards rushing in a power run game that will challenge the Jackets’ front seven.

“Just a powerhouse,” Alexander said of Georgia. “It’s really going to be a dogfight. Another group of guys coming to fight another strong group of guys — cause we’re not gonna lay down. We know they’re coming in only losing one game. They run the ball very well. They’ve got multiple running backs that are top in their class … that are second and first-round picks in the NFL draft. So that’s what we’re looking to stop.”

The Tech defense has seen improvements this season, most notably on third down, but inconsistencies have plagued it overall. With an impressive performance in a home win against Virginia Tech going into the Duke game, there was hope the unit had put things together for the closing stretch. Instead, the Blue Devils had their way Saturday as the Jackets had their worst tackling performance of the season. Players talked Tuesday about proving that Saturday was an outlier.

“Last Saturday definitely isn’t how we identify ourselves,” Mitchell said. “We took a look back at some of the plays we made throughout the year, and that’s our identity. We’ve just got to focus on that and who we really are and come out and do what we do on Saturday.”

Coming off winning two of three, the Jackets have some momentum in the rivalry. Both wins featured thrilling final minutes, though neither happened on Grant Field in front of their home crowd. Tech hasn’t beaten Georgia at Bobby Dodd Stadium since 1999, giving the Bulldogs an eight-game winning streak at Tech’s home. It’s something Freeman mentioned he wanted to end as one of his goals before the season, and he’s still keyed in on it.

“It would mean a lot,” Freeman said. “The most important part is to win at home. I know Georgia Tech hasn’t won here in the past eight or nine times. So winning here at home on Senior Day would be an amazing feeling. And to leave here knowing I won three times would be a really great feeling because I know not many people at Georgia Tech have done that … so it’d mean a lot.”

Perhaps the one thing Tech does have going for it this season is an undefeated record at home. The senior class will have the opportunity to do something that has happened once at Tech since 1963 — win three out of four against the Bulldogs. The 2000 class won three consecutive.

Senior cornerback Lance Austin kept it simple when discussing what such an achievement would mean to him.

“I’ll worry about that after it happens.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

X