ATLANTA — Georgia Tech no longer has to look for help in the ACC title race.
The Yellow Jackets now control their championship hopes.
“It’s a good situation,” coach Paul Johnson said Sunday, one day after the Yellow Jackets’ 34-9 win over Virginia and Clemson’s overtime win at Miami combined to leave No. 11 Georgia Tech in first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division.
Perhaps the best news for Johnson is most of his team’s most difficult work in the league is over. Georgia Tech (7-1 overall, 5-1 ACC) has only two conference games remaining — against Wake Forest on Nov. 7 and at Duke on Nov. 14. Georgia Tech plays at Vanderbilt this week.
Georgia Tech has the tiebreaker advantage over Virginia Tech, the only other team with only one loss in the division.
Clemson’s win over Miami was a nice welcome-home gift for the Yellow Jackets.
Johnson said the team returned from Charlottesville, Va., just in time to watch the final 40 seconds in overtime of Clemson’s 40-37 win over Miami. The game was crucial for Georgia Tech, because Miami beat the Yellow Jackets 33-17 on Sept. 17.
“I think they were excited,” said Johnson when asked his players’ reaction to Miami’s loss.
“But it wasn’t like it was that big of deal because we haven’t won anything yet.”
Before Miami’s loss, Georgia Tech did not control its path to the ACC championship game in Tampa. The Yellow Jackets needed help, but Johnson said there was no sense of panic.
“Miami still had five games to go so we haven’t really talked a lot about that,” Johnson said. “I think the conference race was still wide open and I think it’s still wide open. I mean you could make a case that Miami could still win, Duke could win, Virginia could still win, Virginia Tech. I think the only team that has been eliminated really is North Carolina, probably.”
But Georgia Tech is the only team that can lock up the division with only two more wins.
The Yellow Jackets will take a break from their conference schedule on Saturday at Vanderbilt.
“It’s strange that you’re playing a nonconference game this late in the year,” Johnson said. “Almost everybody played them in the front part of the season.
“ I guess in a positive way we’re almost through with our conference schedule. We only have two games left.”
Virginia was the last team without a conference loss, but the Cavaliers were overwhelmed by Georgia Tech’s 362 yards rushing. The Yellow Jackets held the ball more than 42 minutes, including 10:47 in a devastating third-quarter touchdown drive that covered 18 plays and 82 yards.
Georgia Tech also had touchdown drives that covered 10 and 11 plays. Their time of possession — 42:43 — was their longest in at least 20 years.
The Yellow Jackets won at Virginia for the first time since 1990, when they won a share of the national title. The win came one week after Georgia Tech beat then-No. 4 Virginia Tech, the program’s first home win over a top-five team since 1962.
After the sweep of the two ACC teams from the state of Virginia, Georgia Tech’s biggest challenge this week may be retaining its focus against Vanderbilt, which is 2-6 overall and 0-5 in the Southeastern Conference. The Commodores have not scored more than 10 points in any of their SEC games.