ATLANTA — Georgia Tech opened practice Monday for the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game without leading rusher Orwin Smith, but the senior provided an optimistic outlook for the week.
Smith said he "definitely" plans to practice on Tuesday and hopes to play in Saturday night's game against No. 13 Florida State.
"It's still to be determined," Smith said when asked about his status. "I think I will play. We'll just see how it goes day by day."
Smith missed last week's 42-10 loss to No. 3 Georgia with a sprained right ankle.
"It's definitely feeling a lot better than last week," he said.
The running back's absence was felt, as the Yellow Jackets were held to a season-low in scoring after averaging 47.7 points in three straight wins.
Quarterback Tevin Washington said he hopes Smith can help the offense bounce back.
"Orwin has made a lot of plays in his career," Washington said Monday. "I feel like not having him, it was a vacant spot there. He's a senior, he's a leader also on the team. We have young guys ready to step up and make plays too. I think we have a host of guys ready to step up and make plays. I just feel like going forward with him there it gives us a better chance at being successful."
Georgia Tech (6-6) is a two-touchdown underdog and will need its spread-option offense to be at full strength against Florida State's tough defense.
In a matchup of strengths, Georgia Tech is No. 3 in the nation in rushing, and Florida State ranks fourth against the run.
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said Sunday he didn't know if Smith would return this week.
"He didn't play Saturday, so I wouldn't have any reason to think there's any change in him," Johnson said before adding "We'll know Monday."
Johnson said it was not his decision to hold Smith out against Georgia.
"I never decided on Orwin," Johnson said after the game. "I thought he was going to try it today. He didn't dress and try it. I guess with the trainers they decided he couldn't go."
Smith tested the ankle in pregame warm-ups and then was not in uniform.
"It actually came down to the game time," Smith said Monday. "I did try to give it a go. I warmed up before the game. It just wasn't up to par to feel like I could contribute in a way I needed to."
Smith's value to the offense has become more apparent through the season. He had no more than seven carries in the balanced rushing offense through the Yellow Jackets' first eight games. He had 10 or more carries in the next three games.
The senior has 75 carries for 673 yards and leads the ACC with his average of 9 yards per carry.
Smith's career average of 9.4 yards per carry is the highest of any active Football Bowl Series player with at least 1,000 yards rushing.
"He leads on offense, along with Tevin," said linebacker Quayshawn Nealy. "He's a big part of our success and we really are looking forward to having him back this week."
Smith ran for 11 touchdowns in 2011, when he had 615 yards rushing and averaged 10.1 yards per carry. He has only five rushing touchdowns this year.
Washington leads the team with 18 rushing touchdowns. His backup, freshman Vad Lee, is second with nine.
Smith said being able to look forward to the ACC championship game was the only consolation when he couldn't play in Georgia Tech's fourth straight loss to Georgia. But he said he wasn't held out last week just to help his chances of playing against Florida State.
"This game didn't really dictate if I was going to play last week, but it was in the back of my mind," Smith said. "If I could have played last week, I definitely would have been out there with those guys.
"Just to have the opportunity to have one more week to keep me going, it did kind of brighten me up a little bit. I still had a shot to get out there and play for something much, much bigger than that rivalry game."