5 things to know about Georgia Tech-Minnesota at Quick Lane Bowl

Detroit and the Quick Lane Bowl likely is not where anyone on the Georgia Tech roster figured the 2018 season would end, but as coach Paul Johnson likes to say, “it is what it is.”

The Yellow Jackets nonetheless have the opportunity to finish the season with a win over Minnesota in the first meeting between the two teams and finish Johnson’s run at Tech with a victory.

Rushing title at stake

It’s a virtual certainty that the Jackets will finish the season as the No. 1 rushing team in FBS, a title that Tech has earned twice in school history (2010 and 2014). At 334.9 rushing yards per game, the Jackets need only 44 rushing yards to finish ahead of No. 2 Army, whose season is complete at 312.5 rushing yards per game.

What also is out there for Tech is to break the 2014 team’s school record, 342.1 rushing yards per game. At 334.9 yards per game, the Jackets would have to run for 428 yards against the Gophers, something they’ve done four times this season.

Another rushing milestone is out there for quarterback TaQuon Marshall, who ranks fifth in the ACC in rushing at 81.45 yards per game. Marshall is 104 yards shy of 1,000 yards. Hitting that mark would make him the first Tech quarterback in the modern era to have two 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

What’s at stake

Tech can finish 8-5, which would be the sixth eight-win season of coach Paul Johnson’s tenure, which will conclude at game’s end. Since Bobby Dodd’s retirement after the 1966 season, Tech had nine eight-win seasons in the 41 seasons before Johnson’s hire. By winning percentage, there have been 10 seasons better than the .615 that an 8-5 season would represent.

It also would be Tech’s third consecutive bowl win after victories in the 2014 Orange Bowl and 2016 TaxSlayer (Gator) Bowl and fourth in the past five. The longest bowl win streak in school history is eight, during Dodd’s tenure.

It would be a satisfying conclusion to a season that began 1-3 with losses to South Florida, Pittsburgh and Clemson. The Jackets rallied from that point by winning six of the final eight regular-season games.

About Minnesota

The Golden Gophers enter the Quick Lane Bowl at 6-6. On offense, Minnesota runs a lot of run-pass option with quarterback Tanner Morgan and throws often to wide receiver Tyler Johnson (seven catches per game), whom the Gophers deploy across the field.

Freshman running back Mohamed Ibrahim (104 rushing yards per game) is another skill player that Tech has to slow.

“The big key will be to try to slow down their run game because you can’t let ’em do both,” Johnson said.

Minnesota also boasts a freshman right tackle who might be the largest opponent Tech has ever faced, Daniel Faalele, who is 6-foot-8 and 400 pounds.

Minnesota plays a 4-3 defense that has improved since the firing of defensive coordinator Robb Smith after the ninth game of the season. The Gophers gave up 6.3 yards per play in the first nine games and 4.9 in the final three. Defensive third-down percentage was 42 percent before the change and 22 percent after.

The Gophers will play without two key players – left tackle Donnell Greene and linebacker Blake Cashman – who chose not to play to begin draft preparations. Cashman was the team’s best defensive player. Coach P.J. Fleck also suspended one or more players for the game for an apparent violation of team rules, but had not identified them as of Sunday.

Farewell for Johnson

After 40 seasons – the past 11 at Tech – approximately 500 games, perhaps 3,500 practices and several thousand option plays, Johnson will hang up the whistle – at least for now.

“I’m going to try to have my best game, and we’re going to try to send coach Johnson out the right way, with a win,” linebacker and captain Brant Mitchell said. “I think that’s the mindset of everybody on this team.”

Johnson, for his part, said he’ll try to keep it as normal as possible.

“It’s more about the players,” he said. “They’re the ones who won six of the last eight, and we want to try to give them a good plan to get them ready to go play and certainly, (we) want to go out as a winner if we can. That’s been all my effort. I haven’t thought much about the other. Probably won’t hit me till I finish.”

It’s also the final game for Johnson’s 10 assistants, none of whom will be retained by incoming coach Geoff Collins. That includes wide receivers coach Buzz Preston and offensive line coach Mike Sewak, the two assistants who have been with Johnson for the entirety of his 11-year tenure. Sewak will retire.

An interesting, but irrelevant, statistic: Dating back to John Heisman, Tech coaches are 1-10 in their final game. The lone winner was Bobby Ross, who beat Stanford in the Aloha Bowl in 1991.

The new coach

Collins will be at the game in an observatory role. He also scheduled a meeting with team members’ family Wednesday morning at the team hotel to give them a chance to hear from him and meet them. Tech fans traveling to the game also will have the opportunity to meet him at pregame tailgates.

Collins has announced one member of his staff, Tech great Tashard Choice, who will be his running backs coach and is coming from North Texas. Kerry Dixon, a running backs coach at Toledo who worked with Collins when both were assistants at Florida, has been reported as a new hire.

Once players return from winter break, offseason workouts will not be far off. Collins described the early-morning workouts as including “unique and challenging things that we present to create a very close team like we had up in Philadelphia (at Temple),” he said. “So it’s going to be an exciting time to get to know these guys and really get to see what they’re all about through the offseason conditioning and then phasing into spring ball as well.”