The Yellow Jackets haven’t played in the postseason since they fell to Minnesota in the 2018 Quick Lane Bowl. A win against Clemson on Nov. 11 would have sealed Tech’s bowl eligibility. Now, the Jackets have just two more chances to secure a bowl berth: Saturday’s game against Syracuse and their Nov. 25 rivalry contest versus Georgia.
Key said he embraces a “one game mentality,” only focusing on what’s directly ahead. But he took a step back on Sunday, talking with players about only having 13 days left in the regular season and the “win and you’re in” aspect of the Syracuse game.
Bowl eligibility is a big deal for many people, Key said — from the Georgia Tech Athletic Association to the players.
“These guys understand that,” Key said. “Then they know that (there’s) something special in front of them to go out and work to get.”
A win on Saturday would also mean securing a bowl berth in front of a home crowd.
Players were excited when talking about playing at home again during Sunday’s team meetings, Key said. Key and his players often talk about keeping each week separate from the rest. However, returning home to play a night game brought back memories of their last matchup at that time and place: their upset victory against North Carolina.
That win on Oct. 28 led to hordes of students rushing the field, fans leaving the stadium cheering and Key making exuberant cameos in multiple players’ postgame interviews.
After that matchup, running back Dontae Smith said he felt like the fans were with them the entire game. The Jackets fed off that energy, Smith said.
“Whatever made everybody come to this game, we need it for every home game,” Smith said.
It was an outstanding environment, Key said, and he said the home crowd will be important on Saturday, too.
“We really have an opportunity this week to make this a great, great, great home field advantage — to truly be a 12th man out there for the defense and help them and be as loud as possible as long as possible,” Key said. “I want everybody in this stadium to be part of the game this weekend.”
Among those in the crowd on Saturday: former Tech coach George O’Leary and the 1998 Gator Bowl team, which Key played on. A bowl berth would be meaningful to the returning alumni, Key said.
It’s special any time former teammates get together, Key said, though he won’t be able to spend much time with them Saturday. Their attendance is also a reminder to his players about what they have to look forward to.
“Down the road, you’re going to have those same memories when you come back,” Key said he told his players.