5 things to know before Georgia Tech-Miami

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

For the fourth consecutive game, Georgia Tech is playing an opponent coming off a loss. In this case, it’s Miami, which was obliterated 45-3 at home by No. 23 Florida State, then unranked.

The circumstances didn’t work in the Yellow Jackets’ favor in two of the games. Virginia ended a three-game losing streak at Tech’s expense. Florida State did the same. Virginia Tech nearly was able to stop its five-game losing streak against the Jackets, but Georgia Tech prevailed last week 28-27.

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A win for Tech (4-5, 3-3 ACC) would push the Jackets to one win shy of bowl eligibility, which would be a remarkable accomplishment for interim coach Brent Key. Miami (4-5, 2-3) is trying to assemble the pieces in coach Mario Cristobal’s first season. The Hurricanes were a 1.5-point underdog as of Thursday.

Here are five things to know ahead of the game Saturday (3:30 p.m., Bobby Dodd Stadium):

Get to know Miami

The Jackets encounter a Miami team that is trying to recover from a decisive loss to archrival Florida State on Saturday, its most lopsided home loss since 2015. It was a game that led Hurricanes coaches to conclude that the team does not respond well to adversity and needs to be more physical.

The Hurricanes may have to play without starting quarterback and 2021 ACC Rookie of the Year Tyler Van Dyke (shoulder injury) and have lost multiple offensive linemen to injury. Not coincidentally, the Hurricanes have played the past nine quarters without a touchdown. (The Jackets played 12 consecutive quarters earlier this season with one touchdown.)

A quarterback who Tech could see is Jacurri Brown, a freshman who has appeared in five games, including the past four. Brown was a four-star prospect from Lowndes who was the No. 23 prospect in Georgia (247Sports Composite).

The Hurricanes’ defense has been inconsistent, holding Virginia to 5.5 yards per play, Duke to 5.0 and Virginia Tech to 4.1. Miami was taken apart by more capable offenses such as Florida State (7.0) and North Carolina (6.6).

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Takeaway bonanza

Tech is completing an exceptional season in turnover margin. The Jackets go into the 10th game of the season ranked second in FBS in turnover margin at plus-15, just behind USC at plus-16.

The fumble-forcing prowess of defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker’s defense has paired with a significant uptick in interceptions. Since 2019, Thacker’s first season running the defense, the Jackets lead FBS with 43 fumble recoveries. With better play in the secondary, the Jackets have snagged 10 interceptions, far surpassing last season’s total of three.

On top of that, Tech’s seven turnovers rank tied for seventh fewest in FBS. The Jackets gave the ball away 15 times last season. Tech’s strength in gaining extra possessions has compensated for other deficiencies and enabled the Jackets to be 3-1 in one-possession games, all since Key took over leadership of the team.

Honoring seniors

Before the game, 16 Tech players are expected take part in Senior Day ceremonies. They are safety Derrik Allen, defensive back Kenny Bennett, wide receiver Malachi Carter, defensive tackle T.K. Chimedza, linebacker Ayinde Eley, running back Hassan Hall, tight end PeJé Harris, wide receiver E.J. Jenkins, safety Jaylon King, offensive lineman Cade Kootsouradis, cornerback Myles Sims, running back Dontae Smith, linebacker Charlie Thomas, cornerback Zamari Walton and defensive ends Keion White and Sylvain Yondjouen.

Many of the 16 are in a position where they are on track to graduate in this academic year, but have eligibility remaining and could return. That includes Walton, a three-year starter who is scheduled to graduate in December but has a season left. He said Wednesday that he had not made up his mind about whether to return or pursue the NFL.

“It came by quick,” Walton said. “Definitely excited. I can remember last season, seeing some of my friends on Senior Day, and it was kind of crazy, now being that it’s about to be my Senior Day. So I’m definitely excited. It’s kind of crazy, surreal.”

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Much improved

Before this season, defensive tackle D’Quan Douse was not much of a consideration to be a significant contributor along the line, and with good reason. In 19 career games with the Jackets, he had a total of eight tackles.

Through nine games, Douse has 20 tackles, including 3.5 for loss and a forced fumble. He had a career game against Virginia Tech on Saturday, with seven tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss (all sacks) and a forced fumble that led to a turnover. He has the eighth highest grade among ACC defensive tackles by Pro Football Focus.

“It is exciting, I can’t lie,” Douse said about the increased notoriety that he has received. “It is exciting, but honestly, I just want to say it’s just consistency and (things) just finally coming together, working out for me. Not much has changed with how I come in and work from when I first got here to now.”

Douse, from Calvary Day School in Savannah, has progressed this season with a new position coach, David Turner.

“Coach Turner’s been coaching for a long time,” Douse said. “He’s got some real key tidbits. I try to pick up on just about everything he has because I know how beneficial that can be.”

Needing fixes

Tech’s faulty punt coverage nearly cost the Jackets against Virginia Tech, allowing 188 yards on seven punts by David Shanahan, including a 90-yard return for a touchdown. It was the second punt returned for a touchdown against the Jackets in the past four games. Undoubtedly, Miami will try to exploit any weaknesses in the Jackets scheme.

On Tuesday, Key said the problem was that players overran the returner.

“The guys, they ran so fast down the field,” he said. “Now when that guy catches the ball, they’ve got to settle up and keep the thing in front of them. Well, everyone went to go take their shot and ran past.”

Tech’s scheme, which uses three linemen in the punt shield to limit the potential for a blocked punt, has been effective to that end but reduces the number of players on the field with speed to chase down a returner. Key said that a lot of time was devoted to fixing mistakes at the Sunday practice, such as knowing where the ball is as coverage team members run down the field.