ATLANTA — The last two ACC first-team quarterbacks will meet for the first time when Joshua Nesbitt leads Georgia Tech against Russell Wilson and North Carolina State saturday.
The winner could emerge as an early favorite in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Georgia Tech (2-1 overall, 1-0 ACC) is the defending ACC champion and has won eight straight conference games, including its win over Clemson in last year's ACC championship game.
"We're hoping we can make a statement in the ACC we're the team the beat," Nesbitt said.
Wilson has led North Carolina State to its first 3-0 start since 2002 as it enters its ACC opener. Georgia Tech and N.C. State have not played since 2006.
Nesbitt, who leads Georgia Tech's option offense, was the 2009 first-team all-ACC quarterback. Wilson was voted the league's top quarterback as a freshman in 2008, when he threw for 17 touchdowns and only one interception.
Wilson has six career games with at least 300 yards passing, including two this season. Nesbitt has six career games with at least 100 yards rushing, including two this season.
"I think each program asks each one to do something a little different," said Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson. "I think they are both really good players. Certainly, Joshua is not going to throw it as many times as Russell Wilson will. Hopefully we can be efficient when we throw it, and I hope our quarterback will have more rushing yards then theirs. If we don't, we will be in trouble."
Nesbitt, who ran for 18 touchdowns and more than 1,000 yards last season, already has 267 yards rushing and six touchdowns for Georgia Tech. He averages only 66.7 yards passing per game and has completed a dismal 36 percent of his passes, but Georgia Tech's average of 20.4 yards per completion concerns N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien.
"When you're averaging 20 yards a completion, that's a big-play pass offense," O'Brien said. "It's the same thing: They run the ball, they run the ball, they run the ball, they run the ball. And they lull the secondary to sleep, not reading their keys because then they start drifting and not having the mental toughness they need to have each and every play. Once they miss a key, (Georgia Tech receivers) run by you and they complete a pass and it's devastating."
Wilson has completed 57 of 101 passes for 744 yards and eight touchdowns. He hasn't thrown an interception.
Johnson said the Yellow Jackets must respect Wilson's potential as a passer and a runner.
"We've got to pressure the guy," Johnson said. "We can't just stand there and let him hold the ball. He'll kill us.
"When we do bring pressure and we rush the passer, we've got to stay in our lanes. We can't jump underneath and try to grab him by the arm or whatever and let him jump outside. He kills us."
Wilson has the potential to elude the pass rush and break free on outside runs.
By contrast, Nesbitt plays with the fearless toughness of a linebacker disguised as a quarterback. At 6-foot-1 and 218 pounds, he prefers to lower his helmet and run over tacklers, especially in short-yardage situations. If the Yellow Jackets come up short on third-and-2, Nesbitt is the best bet to keep the ball on fourth-and-1.
"He's not only a good runner, he's a powerful runner," O'Brien said. "He runs through tackles and he's been in the offense for a couple years, so he feels very comfortable with what his job and assignment is. He's very difficult to get down."
O'Brien has found some new help for Wilson this year.
Freshman Mustafa "Moose" Greene led the Wolfpack with 84 yards rushing and a touchdown and five catches for 54 yards in a 30-19 win over Cincinnati on Sept. 16.
Greene and another freshmen, Dean Haynes, have combined for more than 300 yards rushing and five touchdowns.
The Yellow Jackets fell from No. 15 out of the Top 25 following an unexpected 28-25 loss at Kansas on Sept. 11. Georgia Tech recovered to win 30-24 at North Carolina last week as Nesbitt threw and ran for touchdowns. Anthony Allen had 20 carries for 115 yards and Nesbitt added 26 carries for 104 yards.
"We just talked about our backs were against the wall," Johnson said. "We lost a game on the road that we felt we probably had a chance to win and we didn't want to dig ourselves into a deeper hole. Plus it was the first conference game.
"I think they responded with the attitude and the intensity that they needed to from the start of the season. Now the big question is can you maintain it? Is it a one-time deal or can you maintain it?"