Georgia Tech
Sat, 11/26 on ESPN @5:00 ET
(1) Georgia

Georgia can’t blow game; Tech can’t blow chance

Steve Spurrier has had his way with Georgia, like in this 35-7 win at South Carolina in 2012. (Bob Andres, AJC)

Georgia fans are nervous.

Georgia Tech fans are anxious.

Georgia fans acknowledge that South Carolina lost to Kentucky, and their team is a heavy favorite (17 points), and the other team’s coach is 70 years old and probably can’t close the deal in a recruit’s living room like he used to — assuming he even leaves the office, or the putting green. But they look up and see Steve Spurrier and they can feel the blood begin to rush from their heads and they begin to think, “Not again. Please, not again.”

Georgia Tech fans see opportunity. They know everybody laughs about their cute little wins over Alcorn State and Tulane so they refrain from jumping up on any tables and screaming, “Look at us!” But they know this is the week when they can shut everybody up, particularly those cretins in Athens. The Jackets are playing at Notre Dame, a good team but a beatable team, especially with its starting quarterback Malik Zaire having been carted off the field last week with a broken leg. But the Fighting Irish are still respectable and Notre Dame has all that history and this game is on a real network (NBC), not ESPN-37 as a lead-in to Division III lacrosse. A win would give the Yellow Jackets hope for a special season and something they so often lack: visibility.

It’s a big week for two teams for two very different reasons:

Georgia can’t blow this game.

Georgia Tech can’t blow this chance.

Spurrier is 16-6 against Georgia. Most of that physical and mental abuse was inflicted when he was at Florida (11-1). But he is 5-5 in Columbia, including four wins in the last five years, and he has accomplished that with generally less talent — as he would be the first to tell you.

Spurrier is exactly where he wants to be: In your head.

Georgia senior linebacker Jordan Jenkins has been a part of two losses in the last three years to South Carolina, including 38-35 last season. “It’s definitely motivation in the back of your mind,” he said. “You always look back at past years and look at some plays you could’ve made but you didn’t and look at the reasons for why you lost and use that to get yourself ready.”

Defeating Notre Dame would be a significant step forward for quarterback Justin Thomas and Georgia Tech after easy wins over Alcorn State and Tulane. (Hyosub Shin, hshin@ajc.com)

I’m guessing motivation isn’t really the problem. It’s more like clenching up or hyperventilation.

Winning this game wouldn’t necessarily assure anything for the Dogs. They still face an October schedule with games against Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri and Florida, then travel to Auburn in November. But a win would give them an early leg up in the SEC East.

This week isn’t about the ACC for Georgia Tech. The conference has a bizarre agreement with Notre Dame, in which the Irish play six games against ACC schools but doesn’t take part in the conference race. So this is a non-conference game. Still with us?

But a win over Notre Dame would answer some questions and mean a lot to the Jackets in terms of perception. The Irish are a top-10 team, and even if rankings don’t directly figure into much these days, a win would provide more clarity about where the Jackets fit in than their first two wins did.

Tech plays its next eight games against ACC competition. It likely will be favored in at least six (at Duke, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, at Virginia, Virginia Tech, at Miami) and the line will be close in the other two (at Clemson, home against Florida State). The Jackets have won five of eight meetings with Clemson under Johnson, and last season came close to upsetting then-unbeaten Florida State in the ACC championship (losing 37-35).

This game is on a national stage. What can Tech do while its up there — and how long can stay there?

Johnson was typically low-key when asked about the significance of playing at Notre Dame, which you would expect from a coach who’s trying to keep his players in the moment.

“They have got a lot of tradition, a lot of history, and they have had some really good teams,” he said. “But it is just like going to play anybody else. We never made a big deal about going there to play. It is just like going to Clemson to play or going somewhere else.”

Right. That Duke trip will be huge next week. Hopefully the Jackets won’t be caught looking ahead.

Win this week and Tech is on the map.

Lose this week and Georgia is off of it.

–> For Weekend Predictions on this week’s games, click here

–> For column on Tech having comfort at quarterback, unlike Georgia, click here

–> For a look back at Georgia’s last win at Vanderbilt, click here

 

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