DURHAM, N.C. — Whoever wins the Georgia Tech-Duke game will grab an early edge in the ACC’s Coastal Division race.
Yet the loser certainly won’t be out of it.
In each of the past two years, the team that lost this matchup bounced back to claim the division title and reach the league championship game.
Both the 20th-ranked Yellow Jackets and Blue Devils are coming off losses in nonconference games they could have won, and enter Saturday’s game with a very real sense of urgency.
“Any time you play a division game, it’s important that we try to stress to our guys it counts like two, because you want to have the tie-breakers if anything happens at the end,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “Even with the opening game, you’re not going to win the league this week or probably not going to lose it, but it certainly puts you in a better shape if you can win the division games.”
In Georgia Tech’s last visit to Duke, the Yellow Jackets picked up a 38-14 win over a Blue Devils team that went on to reel off six straight conference victories and earn its first division title.
Tech returned the favor last year, rebounding from a 31-25 loss to Duke in Atlanta by claiming the Coastal crown and reaching its fourth league title game.
Both teams also are counting on a rebound this week. Georgia Tech’s late rally fell short in a 30-22 loss to Notre Dame, while Duke fell to Northwestern 19-10.
“I think (the Yellow Jackets) are better than they were (last year), there’s no question about that,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “Right now, we can’t say that, with the performance we had against Northwestern.
“Whatever it is we do, we’ve got to execute better than what we did last week against Northwestern,” he added. “Georgia Tech is every bit as good as Northwestern’s defense.”
Some things to know about the teams’ ACC opener:
TECH’S OPTION: The Yellow Jackets always seem to rank among the nation’s top rushing teams, and they’re No. 2 in the FBS with an average of 377 yards on the ground. Duke is tied for 15th nationally against the run, giving up 93 yards per game. Georgia Tech’s 282 yards rushing in last year’s meeting was their fewest against
ANOTHER SKOV: Tech RB Patrick Skov, a transfer from Stanford, scored all three touchdowns in last weeks’ loss to Notre Dame and leads the ACC with seven TDs — the most by a Yellow Jacket through three games since 2002. The last time a Skov came to Wallace Wade Stadium, big brother Shayne Skov led the sixth-ranked Cardinal to a 44-14 rout of Duke in 2011.
ROOF RETURNS: Duke’s last win over Georgia Tech at home came in 2003 under the leadership of interim coach Ted Roof, who took over for the fired Carl Franks and earned the full-time job in part because of that victory over his alma mater. Roof is now Georgia Tech’s defensive coordinator.
SHORT PASSES: Duke QB Thomas Sirk is peppering his running backs with short passes. RBs Shaq Powell (seven) and Shaun Wilson (six) combined for 13 of Sirk’s 24 completions against Northwestern. Powell is tied for second on the team with 13 catches while Wilson is fourth with 11. Said Cutcliffe: “I think we can be a little more aggressive than what we were.”
QUICK-STRIKE JACKETS: For all the talk about Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense relying on ball control and dominating time of possession, there’s this counter: Half of the Yellow Jackets’ scoring drives have lasted 2 minutes or fewer.