Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson takes his team to Chapel Hill, N.C., today to take on the Tar Heels.
Want To Watch?
WHO: Ga. Tech (4-5, 3-3 ACC) at N. Carolina (6-3, 3-2 ACC).
WHAT: Crucial ACC game for Georgia Tech, which is still in the running for the conference title game with a win and some help.
WHEN: 3:30 p.m. today.
WHERE: Chapel Hill, N.C.
TV: ACC Network.
LINE: North Carolina by 8 points.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — North Carolina can’t go to a bowl. If Georgia Tech doesn’t get things rolling soon, the Yellow Jackets aren’t going anywhere, either.
Coach Paul Johnson’s team looks to continue its march toward bowl eligibility — and maybe even the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship game — today when Georgia Tech faces the Tar Heels in a pivotal Coastal Division matchup.
After winning two of three, the Yellow Jackets (4-5, 3-3) remain in the muddled division pack and can reach their third league title game since 2006, but they’ll need to sweep two Tobacco Road teams — they play host to Duke next week — and get some help.
If they don’t win two of their last three games — they finish the year against No. 5 UGA — they’ll miss the postseason for the first time since 1996.
“We’ve got two conference games left. It’s time to talk about it,” Johnson said. “Certainly we’re not mathematically out of it by any stretch, but if we don’t win it won’t matter. You try to control what you can control and the big thing is going up there (to North Carolina).”
The Tar Heels (6-3, 3-2) have known for months that this season will end when November does, because of NCAA sanctions against the program, and they will play a huge factor in the Coastal Division race — even if a new ACC policy won’t allow them to win it.
Despite that, the players insist they’ve got plenty to play for.
“We won’t lack motivation or focus,” offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper said. “We have a bunch of goals — to be undefeated in Kenan Stadium, to have the best record we’ve had here in a long time, and we have a bunch of other things that will really culminate and make the season that much better. I feel like we have a group of guys who are really focused and are ready to complete the season to the best of our ability, for pride and for one another.”
This game figures to come down to which team is best able to dictate its style. New coach Larry Fedora’s offense is known for scoring quickly — more than half of North Carolina’s 56 scoring drives have lasted two minutes or less — while the Yellow Jackets and their run-first triple-option scheme prefers a slower, deliberate pace.
“You’ve got to limit the possessions. If you get 20 possessions a game (like North Carolina does), you’re going to score some points,” Johnson said. “They’re getting the ball twice as much as you’d get in a normal game. So you’ve got to keep your offense on the field and try to limit the game and do that. That would be number one.
“Second, you’ve got to try to contain the running game because if they get that going and they can do whatever they want, then they become very, very hard to stop,” he added.
That goes for both teams. As it always seems to do, Georgia Tech leads the conference with an average of 318 yards rushing. The Tar Heels are third with an average of 207, largely because of Gio Bernard.
He’s had four straight 100-yard games and is coming off a 135-yard performance against North Carolina State in which his biggest play came on special teams. His 74-yard punt return in the final minute lifted the Tar Heels to a 43-35 win, and last year he lit up the Yellow Jackets for 155 yards — a career high at the time — and two touchdowns.
“He’s the kind of guy, if you miss a tackle, he’s going to go the distance,” Johnson said. “The first guy’s not going to get him down every time so you have to keep the guys coming. Clearly, he’s the key to their success.”
Georgia Tech using two-man approach to quarterback position
ATLANTA — Coach Paul Johnson believes Georgia Tech has found the right solution at quarterback.
The Yellow Jackets (4-5, 3-3 ACC) will use the same approach this weekend at North Carolina (6-2, 3-2) that helped them win a surprisingly easy game last week at Maryland.
Tevin Washington started at quarterback, played two series and then watched two series from the sideline while Vad Lee ran Johnson’s spread-option offense.
The change worked. Georgia Tech, which had dropped three of its previous four, won, 33-13.
“Certainly we’re going to have to carry that over this week,” Johnson said. “We’re playing a team that’s really hot and has won five of their last six and is undefeated at home. They’ve had a week off to rest and get healed up. We’ve got to continue to build on last week and build some momentum.”
It was clear that the Yellow Jackets needed a proverbial spark after their dreadful showing two weeks ago in a 41-17 home loss to Brigham Young.
They failed on all 10 third-down attempts and finished without an offensive touchdown for the first time since Johnson’s first season in 2008.
As Johnson saw it, fifth-year senior quarterback Washington deserved only part of the blame and had played well enough to keep the starting job he’s held since taking for an injured Joshua Nesbitt in 2010.
But Johnson likewise wanted to give more snaps to Lee, a redshirt freshman and the likely successor to the starting job next year, so the coach decided to do something different.
“I think both quarterbacks bring something to the game,” Johnson said. “Tevin has a lot of experience. He’s played a lot of football. You’re not going to line up too many ways with things he hasn’t seen or doesn’t know what to do. Vad brings a lot of athleticism and a lot of energy when he goes out there. You kind of get two different things out of those guys.”
Johnson was encouraged by the urgency Georgia Tech showed in the first half at Maryland. The Yellow Jackets’ offensive line consistently extended blocks and created space for the A-backs, B-backs and quarterbacks to run for a combined 370 yards and five touchdowns on 46 attempts.
Washington had one rushing touchdown. Lee had two. They combined for 90 yards rushing on 16 attempts.
But without the offensive line’s work, the Yellow Jackets might have folded against a Maryland defense that ranks third in ACC average points allowed and second in average yards allowed.
“We keep a stat on defenders on the ground and we had more than we’ve had all year,” Johnson said. “I mean not even close. It was guys getting after it. That’s the way you have to play if you’re going to have a chance to be any good. You can’t go through the motions.”
Washington missed practice Tuesday to get some rest. He wore a red jersey and watched as Lee took snaps with the first-team offense.
Because he didn’t practice, Washington wasn’t available to speak with reporters, per Johnson’s policy, but Lee was grateful for the opportunity to get more snaps and feel more relaxed on the field.
“The more times you get reps in a live game, the more confidence comes with it and the more that I feel that I’m getting better,” Lee said. “Things slow down a lot. Things have slowed down tremendously. I just feel like I can go execute and make plays and just play my game.”
Johnson said Washington’s 26 career starts and his scoring ability — his 34 career rushing touchdowns are one shy of tying former teammate Joshua Nesbitt’s ACC record by a quarterback — are his primary attributes.
Lee has developed quickly enough this year to earn more responsibility.
“As he progresses, as I’ve said all along, the more he gets accustomed to what we’re doing and the better he gets at it, the more he’s going to play,” Johnson said. “We’re at the point with Vad where he’s going to run the stuff everyone else does. Earlier in the year, that was not the case. He just couldn’t do it.”