5 things to know before Georgia Tech-Duke

After three consecutive weeks off, Georgia Tech will return to play (hopefully) against Duke on Saturday night at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Of the Yellow Jackets’ four remaining games, the Blue Devils might be the opponent that they’re most capable of defeating.

The game, listed as a pick’em, is between two of the more turnover-prone teams in FBS. Duke ranks last with 25 giveaways while Tech is tied for third to last with 19.

ExploreGeorgia Tech-Duke: TV, online, radio information

1. Aiming for strong finish

Coach Geoff Collins has his team eyeing the strongest of finishes over the final four games of the season. After Duke, the Jackets play at N.C. State the following Saturday and then have the two postponed games, at home against Pitt on Dec. 10 (a Thursday) and at Miami on Dec. 19.

Wide receiver Jalen Camp said that going into the open date after the Notre Dame game, Collins spoke to the team about winning all four.

“That’s everybody’s mindset,” Camp said. “Nobody’s going into these last four just like, we’ll just try our best and just hope (we can win),” he said. “No, we’re going into these last four focused on winning these games, and we believe we can do that.”

Winning the last four would raise the Jackets record to 6-5 overall and 6-4 in the ACC, which would be an eye-opening accomplishment for a team picked to finish last in the conference.

“We’ve got to focus on one game at a time,” left guard Jack DeFoor said, “but at the same time we’re trying to get those four and finish strong because people will remember that if you can finish strong at the end.”

2. Improvement from Sims

Offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude will be expecting to see improvement from quarterback Jeff Sims coming out of the team’s extended break. Patenaude said having two games postponed has been frustrating, but it has at the same time “been great for our quarterback development” because of the extra practice time that Sims has received, including work against the first-string defense.

The offense had put in what Patenaude called “a few new wrinkles” in anticipation of the games that were postponed and has since had more time to practice them.

“We’ve been able to run a lot of the same plays that we had been preparing over the last three weeks,” he said. “And so, that familiarity, I think, has been really good for him.”

DeFoor has seen the progress himself. Tech had had protection issues of late – two sacks allowed in the first four games, 13 in the past three, although the level of competition has certainly played a role – but DeFoor said he expects for the offense to do better at keeping Sims safe against Duke.

“We’re still developing, and I think we’re scheming things up right,” he said. “Jeff, I think, he’s going to look a lot more comfortable having this time off.”

3. Four Devils to be wary of

That pass-protection progress will be necessary, as Duke has one of the top defensive end pairs in the country in Victor Dimukeje and Chris Rumph, both All-ACC picks for the 2019 season. They are tied for sixth in FBS in sacks with 7.5 each. A year ago, Dimukeje was unmanageable against the Jackets, racking up three sacks in the Blue Devils’ 41-23 win in Durham, N.C.

“He’s very violent coming off the edge,” Patenaude said of Dimukeje. “He’s got a great first step, so you’ve got to be aware of those guys in the pass. That definitely is the strength of their defense. I think those two defensive ends create a lot of havoc.”

Tech defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker picked out his own pair of Blue Devils who pose threats, running backs Dean Jackson and Mataeo Durant. They average a combined 147 rushing yards per game and have run for 10 touchdowns. Jackson is a graduate of Pace Academy and a team captain.

“That’s as good of a two-headed monster as there is in the league right now,” Thacker said. “They have different skill sets as well, and running styles, so they complement each other well.”

4. Defensive objectives

One focus of the defense during the time off was the unified play of the defensive line and linebackers not to permit any creases for offenses to run through.

“That’s the thing that we’ve worked on the most, is the overlap to the football, the rally into the football, the energy to the football,” Thacker said.

It starts with the defensive tackles, Thacker said.

“We’re not built with size on the interior, so we have to create different layers to get to the football,” he said. “We’ve got to create pressures, we have to create second-level opportunities to get to the football with the non-disruption on the inside.”

Freshman defensive end Jared Ivey explained his responsibility as staying in his gap and maintaining physical leverage.

“That’s really it – just staying in your gap, being stout, holding down, just playing physical,” he said, “so that it’s clean and the linebackers can get over easy without getting blocked.”

He’s worked on the “being stout” part. Ivey said he has put on about 40 pounds working with strength coach Lewis Caralla. He’s listed at 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds, which may need updating.

5. For the Jackets, a historic respite

When (if?) the Jackets take the field against Duke on Saturday night, there will have been a 28-day layoff between Tech’s game last played, against Notre Dame on Halloween.

The last time Tech had that long a break between regular-season games?

That would be the 1900 season, Tech’s eighth. That year, the Techs, as they were known, had 31 days between their third game and the fourth (and final) games of the season, played on Oct. 29 and Nov. 29, respectively.

Against Davidson – a neutral-site game played in Augusta – Tech scored its first points of the season in the first half. However, according to an Atlanta Constitution report in the following day’s paper, “The Davidsons claim that they allowed the first goal to the Techs in order to brace up the crowd and get some betting on the game, and the second half seemed to justify the claim.” Davidson won 38-6, ending Tech’s season at 0-4.