Georgia Tech vs. Wake Forest
When: 3:30 p.m. today
Where: Bobby Dodd Stadium, Atlanta
TV, Radio: ABC, 99.3-FM, 1240-AM
ATLANTA — Two is a crucial number for both Georgia Tech and Wake Forest.
The No. 10 Yellow Jackets are chasing the higher prize, needing two wins to clinch a spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game. But two victories also would be meaningful for Wake Forest, which is trying to become eligible for its fourth straight bowl trip.
With larger goals looming over their seasons, both teams are trying to keep the focus on today's game.
"We don't want to get caught up in that stuff," Georgia Tech defensive end Derrick Morgan said. "It could be gone in the blink of an eye."
The Yellow Jackets (8-1, 5-1 ACC) would lock up a spot in the ACC championship game by beating the Demon Deacons (4-5, 2-3) and winning again at Duke next weekend. Georgia Tech hasn't won an outright conference title since 1990, also the season they finished No. 1 in the coaches' poll.
"That was a long time ago. I was a 1-year-old," Morgan said with a chuckle. "That is on everybody's mind. We're just trying to take Georgia Tech to the next level. We've done a good job so far, but we've got to keep pushing."
And keep running like they have. The Yellow Jackets rank second nationally with an average of 304 yards per game on the ground, and the spread option has really kicked it into high gear the last five weeks. During that span, the team is averaging 42 points and 483 yards per game.
Coach Paul Johnson has certainly defied the skeptics who said a triple-option, run-oriented offense would never work in a big-time conference.
"He's wearing people out with that offense," Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said. "It's a unique thing that nobody else does. When you're the only show in town, that makes it really hard on people to get ready for it."
The quarterback is the one who makes the spread option go, and Josh Nesbitt shouldered more of the running load for Georgia Tech early on when defenses focused on stopping 2008 ACC player of the year Jonathan Dwyer.
But Dwyer has come on strong in recent weeks, including an 186-yard performance against Vanderbilt last Saturday, and he's now leading the team with 904 yards, averaging 6.2 yards every time he touches the ball.
Nesbitt has 763 yards rushing and leads Georgia Tech with 13 touchdowns, while A-back Anthony Allen also ranks among the ACC's leading rushers with 470 yards on a mere 44 carries.
Defenses have to focus on stopping the run, which usually leaves 6-foot-3, 229-pound receiver Demaryius Thomas in single coverage. The Yellow Jackets have gone to him enough that he leads the ACC in receiving yards per game (91.4) and made the list of semifinalists for the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top pass-catcher.
Johnson clearly relishes the success of his offense, even though he's still driven by those who didn't think it would work against top-level competition — and maybe still don't, all evidence to the contrary.
"I could go out tomorrow and put in the same offense that everybody else runs," Johnson said. "I think I'm smart enough to do that. But I don't choose to. I choose to do what I think gives us the best chance to win."
Wake Forest has a better chance to win now that fifth-year senior Riley Skinner has been cleared to start at quarterback after sustaining a concussion last week in the closing minutes of yet another gut-wrenching loss, 28-27 to Miami.
Skinner did not practice Monday and got only minimal time the following day, but he was able to return to a regular routine by the end of the week after showing no lingering symptoms from the head blow. He'll make his 33rd consecutive start against the
Yellow Jackets, who had been expecting all along to face the No. 1 quarterback.
Not that it mattered much in their preparations. "You get ready for Wake Forest," Johnson said. "You don't get ready for certain people."
And you don't let your mind wander to what might lie ahead.
"We've got to be ready for Wake Forest," Johnson said. "It's a one-game schedule right now and all we're doing is getting ready for them. You can't worry about somebody down the road. If you do, you'll trip up. You better take care of what's at hand."