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Yellow Jackets remain focused
Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt pitches the ball to a running back as Virginia Tech defender Nekos Brown tries to bring him down in the fourth quarter Saturday in Atlanta. - photo by The Associated Press

ATLANTA — Paul Johnson is not downplaying the importance of Georgia Tech’s win over then-No. 4 Virginia Tech last week, a game quarterback Josh Nesbitt calls the “biggest thing since I have been here.”

Even so, Johnson says the No. 11 Yellow Jackets have every reason to focus on this week’s game at Virginia.

The coach has reminded his players Georgia Tech also was 6-1 and heavily favored last year when Virginia “smacked us right in the mouth” with a 24-17 upset win.

It was a painfully familiar smack for the Yellow Jackets.

Virginia has won five of the last six games in the series and eight straight games in Charlottesville, the site of Saturday’s game.

Georgia Tech’s last win at Virginia came in 1990.

The Yellow Jackets must end that streak of losses in Charlottesville if they are to protect their hopes of winning the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coast Division.

Johnson says Georgia Tech’s goals this week are the same as in last Saturday’s 28-23 home win over Virginia Tech.

“All that does, winning that game, is make this game the biggest game of the year, as I told the team,” Johnson said. “We have to go to Charlottesville and play a team that is sitting on top of our division. Basically, it’s an elimination game for us. If we don’t win the game, our chances of winning the Coastal Division are probably not very good.”

Georgia Tech (6-1 overall, 4-1 in the ACC), Virginia Tech, Miami and Duke have one conference loss and all are chasing Virginia (3-3, 2-0) in the division. Georgia Tech would lose a tiebreaker against Miami, which gave the Yellow Jackets their only loss.

Johnson said the conference implications of Saturday’s game should be familiar to his team.

Georgia Tech was in first place in the Coastal Division when it was upset by Virginia last year.

“We were sitting in the same boat a year ago, 6-1 and two-touchdown favorites against the same team and they came in here and smacked us right in the mouth,” Johnson said. “So it should be no big surprise to our team that Virginia will be ready to play. They sit atop the conference standings. We know where we’re at. Our backs are up against the wall.”

There have been other recent Virginia wins over ranked Georgia Tech teams: in 2005, 2001 and in 1999, when the Yellow Jackets were No. 7. The 1999 game was the last time Virginia Tech has beaten a team ranked as high as Georgia Tech’s current No. 11 spot in The AP poll.

Georgia Tech climbed eight spots from No. 19 following the win over Virginia Tech.

Georgia Tech fans rushed the field and tore down the goal posts.

When asked if the win was bigger than Georgia Tech’s win at Georgia last season, Nesbitt said “By far, yes.”

The Yellow Jackets are left with conference games against Virginia, Wake Forest and Duke and nonconference games at Vanderbilt and at home against Georgia. Georgia Tech may be favored in each of its remaining games.

If Georgia Tech players resist the temptation to look back at the win over Virginia Tech, might they be tempted to look ahead at their future games and their drive for a spot in the ACC championship?

“I hope not,” Johnson said. “We’re not talking about that. If they’re smart enough to get into school at Georgia Tech, they ought to be smart enough to know if they don’t win in Charlottesville they’re not going to win anything. You just keep saying it. If they’re not smart enough to realize that, they probably shouldn’t be in college.”

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