vs. Georgia Tech
When: noon, Saturday
Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens
TV, radio: CBS (WGCL-46), 1240-AM
Web sites: www.georgiadogs.com; www.ramblinwreck.com
ATLANTA — Georgia Tech has two important games on Saturday.
The one between the hedges. And the one in Blacksburg, Va.
The 18th-ranked Yellow Jackets (8-3) will travel to Athens to face their most bitter rival in a contest that is mainly about state pride. No. 13 Georgia has won seven straight in the series — one shy of the longest streak by either school — and Georgia Tech is eager to pick up its first win over the Bulldogs since 2000.
That said, another game will actually have more impact on the Yellow Jackets’ immediate future. If Virginia wins on the road against Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech clinches a spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game on Dec. 6, no matter what happens in its own game.
Yes, the Yellow Jackets could get blown out 50-0, and they would still have reason to celebrate if the Hokies also lose.
There is the potential stumbling block. Georgia Tech knows how much it would mean — from the administrators to the alumni to the student body — to finally beat the Bulldogs, but the players and coaches will surely have a hard time avoiding updates coming in from the other game, which kicks off at exactly the same time.
Scoring updates are posted frequently on the Sanford Stadium scoreboard and likely will be blared out from time to time on the public-address system. Would the Yellow Jackets get a boost from hearing that Virginia is winning? Would they be in danger of a letdown if the Cavaliers are losing?
"You definitely have to be disciplined," defensive tackle Darryl Richard said. "Now, you won’t ignore it if the P.A. announcer comes on and tell you the score. It’ll be like, ‘OK, that’s what is going on.’ But the focus should be on our football game and winning our game. If we do what we’ve got to do, we feel pretty confident. We felt pretty confident going into last week that things might fall into place for us."
Indeed, after beating Miami last Thursday night, the Yellow Jackets hit two parts of the season-ending trifecta that would give them the ACC’s Coastal Division championship: North Carolina and Virginia both lost on Saturday, eliminating them from the convoluted race.
Now, Georgia Tech needs one more piece to the puzzle — a loss by the Hokies. If that happens, Miami would be the only other Coastal team that can match the Yellow Jackets’ 5-3 mark in conference play, and the Hurricanes would lose the tiebreaker because of their 41-23 defeat in Atlanta.
"If Virginia wins, that’s great," Georgia Tech running back Jonathan Dwyer said. "That puts us in the ACC championship game, which is where we want to be. But that’s not where our focus needs to be. Our focus needs to be on getting ready for Georgia. It is."
Coach Paul Johnson shrugged off the idea that he’ll be keeping an eye on the score in Blacksburg will calling offensive plays for the Yellow Jackets.
"I’ll be a little occupied during that game," he scoffed. "I haven’t thought about it a whole lot this week. It’s going to be what it’s going to be. I learned a long time ago not to worry about things you can’t control. In my mind ... at worse we end up co-champs in our division. Would we like a chance to play in the championship game? Sure. But we’re finished (with the ACC schedule). We accomplished all we can accomplish. Whatever happens, happens."
Johnson sees no need to pass along that message to his players, either.
"I haven’t thought twice about it," he said. "I think this game has enough importance and enough meaning to our guys. I really doubt their minds will be anywhere else. If they are, we’re going to be in a world of trouble. But I think our guys are smart enough to focus on the task at hand."’
Richard certainly is. The senior lineman has been through three losses to the Bulldogs. He doesn’t want to finish his college career with a fourth.