Georgia Tech has a good chance at claiming its first ACC title in 16 years. The 21st-ranked Yellow Jackets, though, will first have to get past Miami and the many Hurricane players that could possibly return from suspension Saturday.
The Yellow Jackets (5-2, 3-1) had a five-game winning streak snapped last Saturday with a 31-7 loss at No. 10 Clemson, their first defeat in the conference. That loss, coupled with Miami’s 20-15 victory over Duke, left Georgia Tech just one-half game ahead of the Hurricanes (5-2, 2-1) in the ACC’s Coastal Division.
Miami played last week for the first time since 13 players were suspended for taking part in an on-field brawl with Florida International on Oct. 14. This week, the Hurricanes could have up to 12 suspended players back. Safety Anthony Reddick remains on indefinite suspension after swinging his helmet as a weapon in the fight.
Georgia Tech, however, is not concerned with who will or won’t be on the field for Miami. The Yellow Jackets’ main concern is to get their offense, especially wide receiver Calvin Johnson, back on track.
Johnson leads the conference in receiving yards (559) and touchdowns (8), and is second in receptions (35). He was shut down last weekend by the Tigers, who held him without a reception for the first time in his career.
The rest of the offense didn’t fare much better. Quarterback Reggie Ball was 12-of-25 for 117 yards, one touchdown and one interception, and Georgia Tech was held to just 205 yards of total offense.
“We just didn’t make plays and they did. That’s all it is,” Ball said.
The loss to Clemson, which plays in the ACC’s Atlantic Division, won’t necessarily hurt the Yellow Jackets’ chances of playing in the conference title game. The Hurricanes are expected to be one of Georgia Tech’s last remaining tests before playing at Georgia in the final game of the regular season.
The Yellow Jackets’ last outright ACC championship came in 1990, the same year they won a share of the national championship.
The Hurricanes are trying to recover from the embarrassing fight and a near loss to the winless Blue Devils, who had the ball at the Miami 6-yard line with three seconds left before Willie Cooper’s interception at the goal line as time expired sealed the victory.
“It’s still a win, but we have to get a lot better in terms of not breaking down mentally and not making stupid mistakes,” quarterback Kyle Wright said. “Just things that we could have prevented—I don’t think it had anything to do with what happened last week.”
Coach Larry Coker said his team is trying to move past the brawl and takes offense to the criticism the program has faced for its handling of the fight.
“Every day we move past the incident the better,” Coker said. “It was a draining thing on everybody that loves this program and the players we are trying to recruit. To hear some of the malicious comments that were totally out of character and wrong—about thugs—you hear that enough, yeah it bothers you.”
Georgia Tech won 14-10 at Miami in last year’s meeting as Ball’s 16-yard TD run midway through the third quarter put the Yellow Jackets ahead for good. Johnson had six catches for 89 yards in the victory.