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Defense to be on display in Georgia Tech-Miami game

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

ATLANTA -- Georgia Tech is trying a first-time starter at quarterback against Miami's tough defense on Saturday after losing back-to-back games for the first time in Paul Johnson's three seasons as coach.

Sophomore Tevin Washington's first career start comes after Joshua Nesbitt suffered a broken right forearm last week. Nesbitt will miss the rest of the regular season.

Washington drew a tough test for his first start. Miami has the Atlantic Coast Conference's top-rated defense in total yards and yards passing allowed.

The Hurricanes also must overcome inexperience at quarterback. Freshman Stephen Morris will make only his second start as Jacory Harris continues to recover from a concussion.

Nesbitt hopes to return for a bowl game. Georgia Tech (5-4 overall, 3-3 ACC) has games remaining against Duke and Georgia.

Johnson said his Yellow Jackets, the defending ACC champions, must regroup after falling out of contention in the ACC's Coastal Division.

"This is new territory for them," Johnson said. "This is new territory for me as a head coach.

"I'm not worried about me getting ready to play because I'm competitive and I know what this is about. But I'm talking about getting it out to the guys that we're still playing for bowl eligibility, we're playing for a winning season, we're playing for pride."

Washington was 2-for-7 passing for 80 yards with an interception and had 11 carries for 45 yards after taking over for Nesbitt in last week's 28-21 loss at Virginia Tech. Georgia Tech lost 27-13 at Clemson two weeks ago.

"We've lost two games in a row and everybody is going to be telling you how dumb you are and how bad you are and you can't do this and that," Johnson said. "You need to rally together. That's what this is about. We're going to have a new quarterback. You need to stick together and rally around that guy."

Miami (6-3, 4-2) still has hopes of catching first-place Virginia Tech in the ACC's Coastal Division. Virginia Tech, 5-0 in the ACC, plays North Carolina on Saturday and visits Miami next week.

If North Carolina beats Virginia Tech and Miami beats Georgia Tech on Saturday, the Hokies would be playing for a share of first place next week. If Miami loses to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech beats North Carolina, the Hokies would clinch a spot in the ACC championship game.

That's a lot of pressure on the young Morris.

Coach Randy Shannon said Morris proved himself by leading Miami's 26-20 comeback win over Maryland last week. Morris threw one touchdown pass and remained poised after two interceptions.

"When you watch the way he managed the game, it's exactly what you want from a young guy," Shannon said.

"He stayed calm and collected in that type of game, and did a lot of great things. I'm really proud of him ... and very, very excited to see how much he'll grow and get better from the Maryland game to the Georgia Tech game."

Despite its overall strong defensive statistics, Miami ranks only seventh in the ACC against the run. Georgia Tech leads the nation with its average of 320.6 yards rushing per game but lost a big part of its attack with Nesbitt's injury.

Nesbitt is second on the team with 737 yards rushing and leads the team with 10 touchdowns.

Georgia Tech may lean more heavily on B-back Anthony Allen, who leads the team with 817 yards rushing and has gained momentum in the second half of the season. Allen did not have a touchdown in the Yellow Jackets' first five games. He has 487 yards rushing and five touchdowns in the last four games.

Allen ranks second in the ACC in rushing, one spot ahead of Miami's Damien Berry, who has 690 yards and four touchdowns.

Georgia Tech has won eight of the last 11 games in the series. Miami has not won in Atlanta since 2004, but the Hurricanes snapped a four-game losing streak in the series by beating the Yellow Jackets 33-17 last year.

Johnson has reminded his players about last year's loss.

"Revenge is a great motivator for those who care," Johnson said. "They spanked us pretty good last year. I haven't forgot. I hope they haven't. We'll see."

Miami's veteran players are motivated by their 41-23 loss in their last visit to Atlanta in 2008.

"It was a bad feeling," said Miami junior linebacker Sean Spence. "They rushed for almost 500 yards. It was embarrassing. I still have a bad taste in my mouth."