Georgia Tech looking to avoid 0-2 ACC start

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Georgia Tech will dip its toe back in conference play this weekend when it travels to Wake Forest for the first time since 2010. Kickoff Saturday is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Allegacy Federal Credit Union Stadium.

The Yellow Jackets (1-2, 0-1 ACC) resumed practice Tuesday still looking to get right after Saturday’s 48-23 loss at No. 15 Ole Miss. That result marked the second time in as many seasons that the Jackets have lost a road game by at least 25 points.

Tech surrendered 550 yards of total offense, including 299 yards on the ground to the Rebels. In two losses this season, the Jackets have allowed at least 474 yards and an average of 43.5 points.

“We’ve got to sustain, obviously. We’ve got to do a better job on first and second down of putting ‘em up against the wall,” Tech coach Brent Key said of his defense. “Where we’ve done some good things in the first half of games – even the other night being able to hold (Ole Miss) to a field goal, you’re playing the field position game, you’re aggressive in a lot of areas in the game based of where you’re playing, your opponent, all those different things.

“Look, we knew the last team we played was going to get explosive plays. It’s about limiting those explosives. We’ve got to be able to make plays one-on-one. We’ve got to be able to create negative plays. That’s something we’re working extremely hard on, is creating negative plays.”

While Tech’s defense has struggled somewhat in two of three games against a pair of very good offenses, the team’s own offensive attack has been humming right along. The Jackets have piled up at least 474 yards of offense in all three games and are averaging 188 more yards per game than than the 2022 offense.

Quarterback Haynes King leads the ACC in passing touchdowns, passing yards, passing yards per game and points responsible for per game. Six Tech players have caught a touchdown pass.

Tech’s ground game has been quietly solid as well, having rushed for at least 167 yards in all three games. Jamal Haynes (236) and Trey Cooley (196) both rank inside the top 11 in the ACC for total rushing yards.

King, a Texas A&M transfer who won the starting QB job at the end of fall camp, undoubtedly has been the straw stirring the drink.

“(King’s) done a good job of running the offense, being a leader on the team, having relationships with other people, with really everyone on the team across the board,” Key said. “He has the unique ability at that position to put a bad play behind him and put a good play behind him. He’s (even-keel) the entire time. That’s what you look for at that position.

“But he also instills confidence in the guys that are playing with him. In just talking to some of the guys the last couple days, the confidence that they have when he’s out on the field, knowing that he’s got the opportunity to make the throw, make the run, pull the ball and do different things with it and make the right decisions and then he puts the offense in the right position in order to be successful.”

Saturday’s game is the ACC opener for Wake Forest, who will be playing in front of a family-weekend crowd. The Demon Deacons (3-0) have won 22 of their past 30 games and are 22-4 in their past 26 home games.

This year’s Wake Forest squad, with wins over Elon, Vanderbilt and Old Dominion, respectively, has the nation’s best red-zone defense and leads the ACC in third-down defense, interceptions, tackles for loss per game and sacks per game. Running back Demond Claiborne already is approaching 300 yards for the season, and quarterback Mitch Griffis has completed 61.9% of his throws for 837 yards and eight touchdowns.

Kicker Matthew Dennis is 8-for-9 on field-goal attempts.

“Wake is a really good football team. Probably over the last six, seven years, one of the most impressive teams, not just in the conference, but in the country with what (coach) Dave Clawson’s been able to do there,” Key said. “They have a system in all three phases of the game. They understand their system, they understand how to play within their system, they’ve got players they play extremely well in the system, they play confident.

“They have answers. They have answers on offense, on defense, in the kicking game. And they play hard. They play extremely hard and they’re a tough, physical team.”

Having previously been a continual league rival from 1982-2004, the Jackets and Demons Deacons will be playing for only the fifth time in the past 19 years (and one of those meetings came in the 2006 ACC title game). Tech is 9-3 in its 12 previous trips to Wake Forest.

The Jackets will be trying to avoid their first 0-2 start to league play since 2019 and their second consecutive 1-3 start to a season.

“I’m tired of telling these guys, ‘Hey, you have a chance to be a good team.’ They are a good team,” Key said. “We are a good football team. Now, you gotta go out and play like it consistently through the whole game. I thought it was good to let them know that, to let them know about playing with consistency, finishing drives, finishing plays, all those things.

“There’s a lot of good teams that don’t end up being successful on Saturday. Today, that’s what we’re striving for. We’re striving to when the clock hits zero to make sure we’re on the upside of it.”