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Jackets play waiting game
1122GeorgiaTech mja
Georgia Tech’s Darryl Richards sings the school fight school with his teammates after defeating Miami 41-23 on Thursday in Atlanta. - photo by John Bazemore | The Associated Press

Tech in Tampa?

Here’s what needs to happen for the Yellow Jackets to advance to the ACC Championship:

  • North Carolina State defeats North Carolina today
  • Clemson defeats Virginia today
  • Virginia defeats Virginia Tech on Nov. 29
ATLANTA — For now, all Georgia Tech can do is wait.

Wait on this improbable bid to play in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game, which now depends on others. Wait for a shot at rival Georgia, the team that’s caused seven long years of misery for the Yellow Jackets.

Georgia Tech finished off the ACC portion of its schedule with a flourish Thursday night, routing a Miami team that had won five straight games and cracked the national rankings for the first time in more than two years.

But it didn’t take long to shift priorities after a 41-23 victory over the No. 23 Hurricanes.

Just ask defensive tackle Darryl Richard, who knows exactly what must happen in the convoluted Coastal Division for Georgia Tech to emerge as the representative in the Dec. 6 ACC championship game: North Carolina State must beat North Carolina, Clemson has to knock off Virginia, and the Cavaliers would need to bounce back with following week with a win over Virginia Tech.

If that scenario plays out, "then Georgia Tech is going to be in Tampa," Richard said, beaming. "I don’t think it’s all that hard to keep up with. It’s been in the back of my head."

While the Yellow Jackets (8-3, 5-3 ACC) can’t do anything more about their fate in the conference race, they can take care of a little piece of business that’s been nagging them most of this millenium.

Georgia Tech hasn’t beaten Georgia since 2000, a stretch of seven straight losses that’s one away from tying the longest streak by either team in the series. The Yellow Jackets won eight in a row from 1949-56; the Bulldogs can do the same with a win in Athens on Nov. 29.

"My first thought is to say, ‘To hell with Georgia,"’ Richard said, mimicking the school’s fight song. "That’s the goal we made No. 1 this year, to beat those cats in Athens. I’m feeling pretty good about it. I like how we’re peaking right now."

Indeed, Georgia Tech seems more confident about its traditional season-ending game than it has in years, even though the 13th-ranked Bulldogs (9-2) are having another big year.

"This is a good year to do it," wingback Lucas Cox said. "I think we’re prepared. I think we’re a good team. I think we’re going to go in and do it."

The Yellow Jackets turned in one of their best performances of the season against Miami. They rushed for a staggering 472 years out of the triple-option offense, the second-most ever allowed by the Hurricanes, and built a commanding 41-10 lead by late in the third quarter.

Richard wonders what the Bulldogs must have been thinking as they watched Georgia Tech run the Hurricanes ragged until coach Paul Johnson cleared the bench in the final period. Georgia was off this weekend, giving it 14 days to prepare for an offense that harkens back to the days when run-oriented offenses such as the wishbone ruled the day.

"They had an off week to kind of stew about it and think about how we’re going to attack ‘em," Richard said, breaking into a sly grin. "I hope they enjoyed the game."

The senior hopes to set a tone with his confident, brash talk. He believes the Yellow Jackets have gone into previous games against Georgia a little too antsy, a little too eager to end the losing streak.

"The thing about Georgia week is we get so focused around here," Richard said. "This year we might want to go about things a little bit different. If you keep trying to do that same things and keep getting the same results, what is it they say? The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.

"It’s definitely going to be intense, but we can also be focused on having fun. I think we dominated this game (against Miami) because we were having fun. You saw a team that had guys excited about playing football. Hey, we need to bring that excitement down the road."

No matter what happens over the final two weekends of the regular season, Johnson can’t help but be pleased with the way his team adapted to a new coaching staff and the switch from a pro-style offense to one based around the option.

The Yellow Jackets already have more wins than they had in five of six seasons under previous coach Chan Gailey, and they’ve clinched at least a tie for the best record in their division.

"Who knows how it’s going to work out with all the tiebreakers and everything involved," Johnson said. "But I do know this: At the end of the year, we’ll at least be co-champs or tri-champs or quad-champs. We’ll be something. Nobody will have a better record than us. We may lose the tiebreaker, but we’ll have a piece of the championship in our division.

Richard has clearly enjoyed proving people wrong.

"Everybody was pretty much laughing at us when we were killing ourselves in the offseason," he said. "Look at us now. We got the last laugh."

Well, not quite. There’s still a little more waiting to do.

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