5 things to know about Georgia Tech’s matchup with No. 17 Miami

Bowling Green cornerback Davon Ferguson (7) is unable to stop Georgia Tech defensive lineman Makius Scott (8) from running the ball into the end zone for the Jacket’s second touchdown during the first half of an NCAA football game Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. (Daniel Varnado/ For the AJC)

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Bowling Green cornerback Davon Ferguson (7) is unable to stop Georgia Tech defensive lineman Makius Scott (8) from running the ball into the end zone for the Jacket’s second touchdown during the first half of an NCAA football game Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. (Daniel Varnado/ For the AJC)

Georgia Tech reaches the halfway point of its season Saturday when it faces No. 17 Miami at 8 p.m. Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium. The matchup can be seen live on ACC Network.

The Yellow Jackets (2-3, 1-1 ACC) are coming off a humbling, 38-27 beatdown by Bowling Green on Saturday. Coach Brent Key made a change to his coaching staff a day after that loss, elevating linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer to defensive coordinator and moving defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker to safeties coach.

Miami (4-0, 0-0) was off last week and rose to No. 17 in The Associated Press poll this week. The Hurricanes have allowed only 50 points in their four wins this season.

Here are five more things to know about Saturday’s matchup:

1. The choice is yours

It’s often said that good teams don’t allow one loss to become two. Tech is certainly up against that mantra this week.

“I told the team (Thursday), you can accept the identity that’s been out there that takes place from the previous game, or you can go out and project a different identity to others and to the teams that you play,” Key said Thursday. “That’s a choice that we have to make as a football team individually first, each person has to make that choice to go out and play the game the right way, play four quarters extremely hard.”

Key’s team is a three-touchdown underdog one week after being a three-touchdown favorite. The oddsmakers don’t have a lot of faith that Tech can upend a ranked team on the road, especially after the Jackets were manhandled by Bowling Green in Bobby Dodd Stadium last time out.

For Key, his coaching staff and the leaders on his team, putting forth a strong effort Saturday would go a long way not only in proving the external naysayers wrong, but also in reinforcing to those inside the program that Tech can play to a higher level, much as they did in wins over South Carolina State and Wake Forest this season.

“The thing about that (Bowling Green) game is it will affect the rest of our season,” Key said Tuesday. “It’s our choice if it’s going to be good or bad. Is it going to affect us the right way or the wrong way? I know how it has affected myself. I know how it affected the staff. And from practice (Tuesday) I know how it will affect the players. We’ve got to allow it to affect us in a way that, moving forward, that we don’t play that type of football game all around.”

2. Injury report

Key said this week that senior offensive lineman Jordan Williams will miss a second consecutive game.

Williams (6-foot-6, 304 pounds) left during the Wake Forest game (Sept. 23) with an injury and did not play against Bowling Green the following Saturday. A right tackle, Williams is one of the 10 best-graded offensive players, according to Pro Football Focus, this season and has played 151 offensive snaps.

Sophomore Jakiah Leftwich (6-6, 311) has taken Williams’ place in the starting lineup. Key said Leftwich, sophomore Corey Robinson (6-5, 305) and freshman Patrick Screws (6-5, 319) have continued this week to vie for playing time in Williams’ absence.

Leftwich had Tech’s worst offensive grade, according to PFF, in the loss to Bowling Green.

Key also said this week that wide receiver Chase Lane returned to practice and could play Saturday at Miami. Lane (6-foot, 193) has missed the past three games with an injury after making six catches for 105 yards and a touchdown in the Jackets’ first two games of the season.

3. Van Dyke

Those who like quarterback play should be in for a treat Saturday.

Tech’s Haynes King and Miami’s Tyler Van Dyke are two of the top QBs in the ACC this season. King and Van Dyke are ranked first and second, respectively, in the ACC in touchdown passes and points responsible for per game.

Van Dyke, who ranks second nationally with a passing efficiency rating of 197.8, went to Miami in 2020 from Connecticut, where he was a four-star prospect at Suffield Academy. Since then, he has thrown for nearly 6,000 yards in his career and has a 46-12 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Tech safety Clayton Powell-Lee said part of the plan to slow Van Dyke will be to slow Miami’s wideouts.

“Real emphasis on what (Van Dyke’s) capable of,” he said. “Just (have to) blow up the receivers. You blow up the receivers, no one to throw to, you get (pass breakups) and you get tips and overthrows and you got to get those.

“For our secondary, in practice we’re really emphasizing on pass breakups and being disruptive to the receiver, disrupting the releases, disrupting timing because all it is is just timing. We disrupt that, then the quarterback’s off, and if we disrupt the quarterback, we get those plays, we get those interceptions, you get those PBUs and then you get off the field eventually.”

Van Dyke didn’t play in the 2022 matchup between the two teams. In 2021 he threw for 389 yards and three touchdowns against the Jackets.

4. Key versus Cristobal

Key and Miami coach Mario Cristobal are no strangers. In 2016, Key joined Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama to help coach the Crimson Tide – Cristobal already was there as the team’s tight ends and offensive tackles coach. Cristobal also was the program’s recruiting coordinator.

Like Key, Cristobal is a former offensive lineman working to get his alma mater back to a level of national prominence. Key said he appreciates Cristobal’s no-nonsense approach and commitment to physicality at the line of scrimmage, stopping the run on defense and running the ball on offense.

“I do know how he is working to build that football team and respect him as a football coach and a man and the fact that he does things the right way,” Key added. “The thing about (Cristobal) is he believes the process that he’s doing. He’s not going to change that process because of one thing or another. I think that’s very evident in the improvement they’ve made as an entire football team from Year 1 to Year 2. He’s going to stick the plan.

“It’s not his first time as a head coach. Obviously he’s had success other places (Florida International and Oregon). A lot of that is because he has stuck to the plan and done it his way and done what he believes is the right way in his mind to build a football program.”

5. Black jerseys, eh?

Last Saturday, Tech donned special black “ghost” jerseys when they took the field against Bowling Green. Sixty minutes later the Jackets were on the wrong end of a 38-27 score after an uninspired performance.

Lo and behold, Miami announced this week that the Hurricanes will wear “Miami Nights” uniforms Saturday against the Jackets. The uniforms are all black.

Miami has worn all-black alternate uniforms three previous times, dating to 2017, and has gone 2-1 in those games. Miami also is asking fans who attend Saturday’s game to wear black.