Georgia Tech is enjoying its most successful season in six years and has already clinched spots in both the ACC championship game and a bowl.
Now, the 16th-ranked Yellow Jackets look to snap their five-game losing streak against intrastate rival Georgia when the teams meet at Sanford Stadium on Saturday.
Georgia Tech (9-2, 7-1) wrapped up the ACC Coastal Division title with its 7-0 win at North Carolina on Nov. 11, despite gaining a mere 221 yards against the two-win Tar Heels. The offense responded with a 49-21 win over Duke last Saturday, as the Yellow Jackets racked up 462 total yards.
Georgia Tech pulled its starters after leading 28-7 at halftime, as senior quarterback Reggie Ball threw for three touchdowns and Tashard Choice ran for 118 yards and a touchdown on 18 attempts.
“It was a great day,” Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey said. “I thought our guys went out there and learned from last week that you can’t just go out and play, you have to play your best.”
The Yellow Jackets have won four straight games to get to the nine-win mark for the first time since 2000, and will have three attempts to record the program’s first 10-win season since 1998.
“This is what we worked so hard in the summer for, to finish at the end,” said Choice, who has four straight 100-yard games. “These next three games can be some of the biggest games in Georgia Tech history.”
The Yellow Jackets will meet either Boston College, Maryland or Wake Forest in the Dec. 2 ACC championship game in Jacksonville, Fla.—where they’ll try for their first outright league title since 1990 and a spot in the Orange Bowl.
Getting past Georgia (7-4, 4-4 SEC), however, could be a tough task. Georgia Tech has not defeated the Bulldogs since 2000, and Ball has struggled in three starts in the series.
In last year’s 14-7 loss, Ball threw an interception at the Georgia 5-yard line with just more than a minute remaining. In 2004, he lost track of downs late in the game and threw the ball away on fourth down in a 19-13 defeat.
Ball has thrown for just 376 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions with a 47.6 completion percentage in his three starts against the Bulldogs.
“Whatever happened in the past happened in the past,” Ball said. “We’re just focusing on Saturday. We’re going to do what we do and we’re going to go 110 percent like we do every week, but it’s a big rivalry game.”
The Bulldogs lead the all-time series 57-38-5, and have won 12 of the last 15 meetings. Georgia has also won its last two home games with Georgia Tech by a combined score of 70-20.
This will be Georgia’s first home game in more than a month. The Bulldogs were off last week, and capped a series of three straight road contests with a 37-15 upset win over then-No. 5 Auburn on Nov. 11.
Georgia entered the game losers of four of its previous five, but outgained the Tigers 446-171.
“It’s definitely a big one for me and for the team,” said freshman quarterback Matthew Stafford, who went 14-for-20 for 219 yards, a touchdown and a rushing TD. “We gave ourselves a chance even though a lot of people didn’t. We just did a great job, a total team effort of pulling one out.”
The Bulldogs failed to crack the Top 25 in spite of the big win, though, and they’ll play the intrastate rivalry game unranked for the first time since 1996.
Georgia won the SEC championship last year and was ranked as high as No. 10 this season, but suffered losses to Kentucky and Vanderbilt for the first time since 1973.
A win over Georgia Tech, though, will give the Bulldogs eight victories for their sixth straight season, and let them retain bragging rights over their rival.
“The one thing is no matter who you lose to during the year, the Tech game is always the last game,” senior punter Gordon Ely-Kelso said. “You can always buy yourself a little bit of time with the fans’ good graces by beating Tech.”