Now, it’s time for the No. 12 Yellow Jackets to show they’re a legitimate title contender. These next two Atlantic Coast Conference road games should give them a much better idea of where they stand.
“Guys realize what’s going on around here,” quarterback Tevin Washington said. “We’ve just got to make sure we put ourselves in position to have the best season we can, by doing things the way the coaches expect us to and being the team we want to be.”
Georgia Tech (6-0, 3-0 ACC) is heading into its only stretch of back-to-back road games, starting with Saturday’s contest at Virginia, followed by a trip south to face Miami.
“Going up to Charlottes-ville is always a challenge for us,” coach Paul Johnson said Tuesday. “That’s a tough place to play.”
Indeed, Georgia Tech has traditionally struggled with this every-other-year ritual, though the Cavaliers (3-2, 0-1) have not been overly impressive this season. In their last game, they had to go to overtime to beat a one-win Idaho team.
Next week, the Yellow Jackets will face Miami (2-3, 0-2). Again, the opponent doesn’t look that daunting, given its NCAA problems and starting over with a new coach, but Johnson knows this could be a defining stretch for a team that is growing in confidence with each win.
“It’s really tough,” he said. “Any conference game on the road is tough.”
These two games are vitally important to Georgia Tech’s hopes of making this a truly memorable season, given what awaits them in the final month of the season.
No. 8 Clemson visits Atlanta on Oct. 29, then No. 19 Virginia Tech comes to town for a Thursday night game. After a bit of a breather — a road game against Duke — the Yellow Jackets close the regular season with their traditional finale against rival Georgia.
“That’s a pretty good string of games right there in a row,” Johnson said. “But I don’t look ahead. That’s the best way to do it. Just focus on Virginia, then worry about the next one next week. You can’t start looking down the road. That’s when you get in trouble.”
The Cavaliers created all sorts of trouble for themselves in their last game, nearly allowing Idaho to bounce back from a two-touchdown deficit. They gave up a blocked punt for a touchdown and turned it over three times. The Vandals went for the win in overtime, but a two-point conversion failed and Virginia escaped an embarrassing upset.
Johnson is undoubtedly reminding his team of all the losses Georgia Tech has piled up at Virginia — including a stretch of eight straight defeats from 1992-2007. Of course, that will take a bit of a selling job.
The coach wasn’t around for all those losses. Neither were his players. Two years ago, the Yellow Jackets ended their Virginia misery with a 34-9 romp.
“Since I’ve been here,” junior running back Orwin Smith said, breaking into a smile, “we’ve won.”
The Yellow Jackets have done nothing but win this season, taking advantage of the most favorable part of their schedule to climb to their highest ranking in nearly two years.
Going back a lot further, the last time Georgia Tech started the season with six straights wins was 1966, the final year for longtime coach Bobby Dodd. In fact, those Jackets climbed to 9-0 before losing to Georgia, then falling to Florida in the Orange Bowl.
This team wants to finish the job.
“Winning is not easy,” Johnson said. “To accomplish something that hasn’t been done here since 1966 certainly speaks volumes for those guys. We celebrated for a day, then it was time to get back to work.”
With each victory, the confidence level goes higher and higher. Even when the Yellow Jackets don’t play at their best, which was certainly the case in last week’s 21-16 squeaker over Maryland, that final score tends to keep the team on a positive path.
“You’d be out of your mind if you didn’t feel good at this point in the season,” Smith said. “The best you can be is 6-0. Guys are coming in with confidence. They’re playing with speed. You can tell the chemistry is there. We’ve just got to stick with it.”