After climbing out of a 1-3 hole to reach 5-4, Georgia Tech now has a game that should draw some attention, a matchup with Miami at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday night. The Yellow Jackets are eager to gain bowl eligibility and pay back the Hurricanes for a crushing loss last year in South Florida. A whiteout crowd could provide the most electric atmosphere of the season.
Here are five things to know about the game:
Girding for Miami defense
Tech’s run game, which has piled up an average of 377 yards per game (most in FBS), will get perhaps its toughest challenge since playing Clemson in the fourth game of the season. Miami ranks first nationally in tackles for loss (10.4 per game), second in total defense (264.7 yards per game), third in yards per play (4.06) and tied for 19th in scoring defense (19.3 points per game).
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Under the direction of defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, the Hurricanes have also done the job against the Jackets in his two years on the job. The past two years, Miami has defeated the Jackets in part by holding them under 300 rushing yards and under 5.0 yards per carry in both games, conditions that have not boded well for Tech in coach Paul Johnson’s tenure. The Jackets are 12-34 when at or under both of those benchmarks, according to sports-reference.com. (They’re 51-15 when at over 300/5.0.)
“I just think they’re really aggressive,” Johnson said. “They’ve put up some really good numbers.”
Getting bodies on Miami’s linebackers will be a key as usual. Linebackers Zach McCloud, Michael Pinckney and Shaq Quarterman have been starters together going back to their freshman season in 2016.
Hold onto the ball
Per usual, ball possession likely will figure prominently in the outcome, and this game features two teams who have given and taken the ball away with consistency. Miami enters the game with 16 giveaways and Tech with 15, including three lost fumbles against North Carolina on Saturday.
Holding onto the ball has been particularly critical for Tech’s success. The Jackets are 3-0 this season and 19-4 in Johnson’s tenure when they finish the game without a turnover. Rather remarkably, the Hurricanes have accounted two of those four losses (2009 and 2012), but also one of the wins (2014).
Both defenses have likewise been adept at stealing possessions. Tech’s 20 takeaways are tied for eighth nationally and Miami is right behind with 19, although 10 of them were collected in two games.
Saturday night magic
Tech and Saturday nights at Grant Field have been a successful combination in the Johnson era. In home games that have started at 6 p.m. or later, the Jackets are 7-1 with a string of notable conquests – No. 4 Virginia Tech in 2009, No. 5 Clemson in 2011 and No. 9 Florida State in 2015.
Tech also beat Miami in 2014 (also a whiteout game) under Bobby Dodd Stadium’s lights and a Wake Forest team in 2017 that finished with eight wins.
“Night games are something else – having a night game at Bobby Dodd under the city lights and under the lights of Bobby Dodd,” defensive end Anree Saint-Amour said. “There’s always more energy in night games. There’s something about the game atmosphere that’s great, and having that as a senior is an amazing thing.”
What’s at stake
With a win, Tech will improve to 6-4 and gain bowl eligibility, which has been its primary objective since its loss to Duke dropped the team to 3-4 and made winning the ACC Coastal Division a long shot.
“This right now is the most important game to us,” safety Juanyeh Thomas said. “We’ve got to get to six and we just want to keep winning every game from here on out.”
Tech has missed the postseason two of the past three seasons. The Jackets can also stay in the race for the Coastal title pending the outcome of the Pitt-Virginia Tech game at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. If Pitt wins to improve to 5-1 in league play, the Jackets will be eliminated. But a Hokies win and a Jackets win over Miami will keep the Jackets in pursuit.
A win over Miami would also give the senior class its first win over the Hurricanes and also be payback for last year’s last-second loss to the Hurricanes.
“You go home after a loss like that and you remember it the whole year,” senior linebacker Brant Mitchell said.
As was the case last week against North Carolina, Johnson likely will split time between quarterbacks TaQuon Marshall and Tobias Oliver. Johnson has said that the plan is for Marshall to start. Last week, Johnson sent Oliver into the game after the third possession of the game, at which point Oliver ran for 120 yards, threw for another 104 and accounted for three touchdowns in the 38-28 win.
Johnson said after the game that his plan was to keep one quarterback in until he failed to lead the team to a score, but despite Oliver having four possessions in which the Jackets failed to score (twice on downs, twice on lost fumbles), Johnson kept him in the game because the plays that were working for Tech better suited Oliver. Johnson acknowledged it could be the opposite in the next game.
“It’s a good problem to have if you have two good players,” Johnson said.