October 1, 2016 Atlanta - Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets head coach Paul Johnson and Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt shake hands after Miami defeated Georgia Tech 35-21 at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday, October 1, 2016. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC/hshin@ajc.com
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC/hshin@ajc.com

Georgia Tech question of the week versus Miami

Since the season-opening loss to Tennessee, Georgia Tech has smoothed out the ride over the past three games, wins over Jacksonville State, Pittsburgh and North Carolina. The modest win streak has placed the Yellow Jackets on the cusp of the Top 25, in position to make their first poll appearance since 2015. But the grade of the climb becomes substantially steeper this week with a road trip to No. 11 Miami, leading to this week’s question:

How good, exactly, are the Jackets?

One assessment of Georgia Tech and its schedule spells out why coach Paul Johnson called his team “a little bit of an enigma” in his Tuesday news conference. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, Georgia Tech’s first three FBS opponents are rated 51st (Tennessee), 69th (Pittsburgh) and 55th (North Carolina).

Of their final seven opponents, six are rated inside the top 40 and four are in the top 20. Not surprisingly, the remaining strength of schedule is ranked first. It’s about to get serious for the Jackets.

As Johnson has noted on several occasions, Miami is a much more formidable opponent than Tech has faced thus far, not to mention one that has consistently given the Jackets boatloads of trouble throughout Johnson’s tenure.

Tech has shown plenty of reason to have hope, particularly Tech’s powerful interior offensive line and its third-down defense. However, the special teams have not significantly helped the cause and the fumbling issues, particularly with quarterback TaQuon Marshall and B-back KirVonte Benson, need addressing. It seems unlikely that Tech can upset Miami without a lift of some sort out of the kicking game and a cleaner ball-handling effort.

The defense, too, which has performed far above expectations, is about to undergo its most thorough examination. North Carolina is ranked 91st in FBS in yards per play, Pittsburgh is ranked 97th and Tennessee 99th. Miami is seventh.

Saturday’s game may not answer all the questions about the Jackets, but it will likely reveal far more about the Jackets than the first four.

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