North Carolina quarterback Chazz Surratt (12) runs against Georgia Tech defensive back A.J. Gray (5) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Jon Barash)
Photo: Jon Barash/AP
Photo: Jon Barash/AP

Georgia Tech keys to defeating Miami

For Georgia Tech to upset No. 11 Miami Saturday in Miami Gardens, Fla., more than a few things will have to go the Yellow Jackets’ way. Here are three of the more significant priorities for Tech to defeat the Hurricanes for the first time since 2014 and the first time on the road since 2007.

1. Limit big plays

Two years ago, in the Hurricanes’ 38-21 win, Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya completed 16 of 25 passes, and six of them went for 20 yards or longer. Last year, the Hurricanes blitzed Tech with seven plays of 10 yards or more in just 21 first-half plays, overwhelming the Jackets in the 35-21 defeat at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

Matching up with Miami’s speed and athleticism has been a constant challenge for Tech, and that struggle has often been represented in Miami’s ability to break down the Tech defense for big gains. The Jackets have improved at tackling in space, and have done better at limiting plays of 20 yards or more, skills that will be tested Saturday.

Next week in Miami, Georgia Tech wants to show improved defense

2. Get something out of special teams

Given Miami’s strength on both offense and defense, it may be that Tech will have to procure something extra out of its kicking game. The Jackets have not distinguished themselves yet on special teams with a blocked kick or punt, which has become something of a calling card, or a long return. The Jackets’ longest kickoff return has gone for 26 yards and the longest punt return for 12 yards. Saturday would be an ideal occasion for its first punt return for a touchdown since 2009, or a game-changing special-teams play of any sort. Miami’s punting and kickoff teams have been solid, however.

Paul Johnson calls for special-teams improvement

3. Hold onto the ball

Fumbles have been the Jackets’ bane thus far. Tech has put 14 balls on the ground (tied for third most in FBS) and lost eight. They’ve also been a significant element in the losses the past two seasons to Miami (Miami returned two for touchdowns last year, and fumbled a school-record nine times in 2015 on a rain-soaked day).

This does not appear to be a game in which the Jackets can waste possessions or even plays with miscues with the ball.

For Georgia Tech to upset Miami, ball security will be critical

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.