ATLANTA - Duke has had a warm-up game to prepare for Paul Johnson's spread option offense.
Paul Johnson has been able to watch film from that warm-up game to see how Duke will defend his Georgia Tech attack.
Which team receives the advantage in today's Atlantic Coast Conference game? The answer may help determine whether Georgia Tech or Duke remains close to the top of the ACC's Coastal Division standings.
Duke (3-1 overall, 1-0 ACC) ended a 25-game losing streak in conference games by beating Virginia 31-3 last week. If the Blue Devils are to beat Georgia Tech (3-1 overall, 1-1 ACC) today, perhaps their more important momentum-building victory came on Sept. 13 against Navy.
Before taking control of the Georgia Tech program in December, Johnson coached six years at Navy, which still runs the option attack he installed.
Duke first-year coach David Cutcliffe had a preview of Johnson's offense when his Blue Devils beat Navy 41-31.
"Same offense, better talent," said Cutcliffe when comparing Georgia Tech and Navy.
Cutcliffe says his defense faces a more difficult challenge against Georgia Tech, which gained 500 total yards, including 438 yards rushing, in a 38-7 victory over Mississippi State on Sept. 20.
"Paul Johnson, I don't think there's anybody that knows the offense as well as he does, no offense to the people at Navy," Cutcliffe said.
"He's seen us against Navy, so he's got a pretty good general idea of some of our philosophies to stop the option. So we're going to play a little cat-and-mouse game, and it's very difficult to play cat-and-mouse with a guy who knows his offense."
The spread option is still new to Georgia Tech players, so they talk a great deal about how difficult it must be for opposing teams to prepare to defend the scheme in one week.
Georgia Tech left tackle Andrew Gardner said this week the difficulty of defending the option-based offense is a big reason the Yellow Jackets have outscored opponents 38-3 in the first quarter.
"I think it's kind of difficult for other teams," Gardner said. "They practice for our offense all week, but that first drive, that's the first time they've seen it. If we come out on that first drive and do well, they don't really have time to adjust before we can put some points on the board."
Gardner says Duke's game against Navy helps the Blue Devils "maybe a little bit."
But the senior said the game also helps Georgia Tech.
"When we watch Duke, we have a better idea of what at least we think they're going to do against this style of offense, if not how they're going to stop it at least how individual players play against this style of offense," Gardner said.
Johnson downplayed the issue of Duke's familiarity with the Georgia Tech offense but acknowledged "that probably helps them some."
"We played them the last five years I was at the Naval Academy, so those kids have played a lot," said Johnson of Duke's players. "They've seen this offense a lot. It's going to help them. I've also seen them. I think it will help me. So we'll see.
"You still have to go out and execute. You have to go out and block and tackle and take care of the ball and do those things and read it right."
Freshman quarterback Jaybo Shaw, a Flowery Branch graduate, is expected to make his first start after sophomore Josh Nesbitt has been unable to return from a hamstring injury suffered on the first drive against Mississippi State. Shaw ran and passed for touchdowns and led Georgia Tech to its first turnover-free game of the season in the relief role, and he said that experience helped prepare him to start.
"I think after having almost a full game's experience, having that behind me will help me a lot," Shaw said.
Georgia Tech has attempted only 46 passes in four games, including only seven by Shaw against Mississippi State. The Yellow Jackets will lean on running back Jonathan Dwyer, who had a school-record 88-yard touchdown run against the Bulldogs and already has three 100-yard games this season.
Duke, led by junior quarterback Thaddeus Lewis and receiver Eron Riley, will test a Georgia Tech defense that already has six interceptions, one more than all of last season.
One week after ending its 25-game ACC losing streak, Duke will try to end its streak of 16 straight conference road losses.
"I wouldn't say it's a thought about breaking the streak," Lewis said. "I would say that it's just another chance to go out and get another ACC win."
Duke's last road win in a conference game came against North Carolina in its final game of the 2003 season.