MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson hopes his Yellow Jackets won't be headed into a hornets' nest at Middle Tennessee State today.
The Sun Belt's Middle Tennessee narrowly missed pulling off a season-opening upset in a 27-24 loss at Purdue, and the Blue Raiders have been very competitive in recent years against Georgia Tech's fellow Atlantic Coast Conference members.
"Middle Tennessee has a history of BCS schools coming in there and having an extremely tough time," Johnson said. "They have beaten a team from our league there."
MTSU defeated Maryland in both 2008 and 2009 and narrowly lost to visiting Virginia in 2007. Last October, the Blue Raiders lost 42-14 at Georgia Tech but trailed only 14-7 at halftime before their six turnovers sealed the outcome.
Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill said he senses confidence among his team, despite breaking in nine new starters on defense against Purdue.
"I said last week that we expected to beat Purdue. On a national scale, nobody outside of Murfreesboro expected that, and we could have (won)," Stockstill said. "We expect to beat Georgia Tech this week. On a national scale nobody expects us to beat them, but everybody in that locker room does."
Against Purdue, new MTSU starting quarterback Logan Kilgore was 27-of-45 passing for 330 yards and two touchdowns, all high marks for Sun Belt Conference quarterbacks in the first week of the season.
The Blue Raiders' offense put up 460 yards in the opener, and its speedy defense racked up nine tackles for loss and four sacks, but they must adjust to two unique looks in facing Georgia Tech's triple-option offense and 3-4 defensive scheme — both rare for teams on MTSU's schedule.
"You've got to study more and prepare more when you are going against an offense like this. We don't see this much," MTSU linebacker Craig Allen said. "If you miss your assignment against an offense like this, they will gash you for a big play. We are focused on their running game, but we know they can pass it too."
Georgia Tech's run-oriented offense showed rare versatility in a 63-21 rout of Western Carolina last week. It racked up 662 total yards, including 297 yards on the ground and 365 yards through the air, the most passing yards for the Yellow Jackets since 2001.
Led by quarterback Tevin Washington, the Yellow Jackets touted the best passing efficiency in the Football Bowl Subdivision in the first week.
"That's news to me, but I know we have really worked on our passing," Washington said. "We have worked hard on it all year. We are still trying to run the ball a lot, but I think the pass really backs up defenders and helps our running."
Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill had a career day in the opener, catching four passes for 181 yards and two TDs and was honored as the ACC wide receiver of the week.
Hill could see a lot of MTSU senior safety Eric Russell, who garnered Sun Belt defensive player of the week honors after posting a career-high 13 tackles, one sack and one interception versus Purdue.
The Georgia Tech offense wasn't without flaws in its opener as the Yellow Jackets fumbled six times, five on quarterback-center exchanges.
"I think there are a lot of positives, but there are things we can work on to keep the team grounded," Johnson said. "There are a lot of things to work on. Certainly the competition level is going to ratchet up a little bit."