The win, in Paul Johnson’s first season as Georgia Tech’s coach, was seen by some as a possible end of the Bulldogs’ domination of the state rivalry.
Instead, Washington and the Yellow Jackets have since lost three straight to Georgia. Now the quarterback has a chance for a memorable finish to his career and his own piece of the hedges.
After a dismal 2-4 start to the season, Georgia Tech (6-5) has won three straight. The Yellow Jackets will play in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game next week, when an Orange Bowl berth will be at stake.
Washington said a win Saturday at No. 3 Georgia would be more than a dramatic final regular-season game for his senior class. The quarterback said beating the Bulldogs would put the Yellow Jackets in position for a successful postseason and give the program momentum for the future.
“I think it would set the tone for us going forward, for Georgia Tech as a program, moving forward with the rivalry and also moving on to next week,” Washington said. “They’ve beat us the last three, so it would be good to get it going the other way this time around.”
Washington was redshirted as a freshman in 2008, when the Yellow Jackets rallied for a stunning 45-42 win over the Bulldogs.
“That was just a good feeling to be able to go in there and get a victory,” Washington said Tuesday. “They’ve gotten the best of us the last few times. Our whole mindset is to take care of business and try to swing this thing going the other way.”
Johnson’s spread-option offense has taken an unorthodox route to impressive production the last three weeks. The Yellow Jackets have averaged 47.7 points in three straight wins over Maryland, North Carolina and Duke, but it’s been difficult to predict the playing time of Washington and freshman Vad Lee at quarterback.
Lee took over after the first two series and played the remainder of the game in a wild 68-50 win over North Carolina on Nov. 10. Lee made only a brief appearance behind Washington in last week’s 42-24 win over Duke.
Lee has earned an increased share of the playing time even though Washington has done nothing to lose the job.
Washington has started every game, and he has set a school and ACC record for quarterbacks with 36 career rushing touchdowns, including 18 this season. He also has fairly good passing numbers for a spread-option quarterback, as he has completed 59 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and only three interceptions.
Even now, entering his final regular-season game, Washington earned less than glowing praise from Johnson this week.
“I think he’s been solid,” Johnson said. “He’s like a lot of people. He’s had great games and games that aren’t so good. That’s what happens in a career. Everybody doesn’t play great every game. I think he’s been consistent.”
Washington has had to operate behind a young offensive line.
“The one thing I think he’s had to carry sometimes is it’s hard to carry everybody else if they’re not doing their job,” Johnson said. “As a quarterback, you take the hit. I think he’s been resilient. He’s had a pretty good attitude. He’s just been a good kid, a good teammate, somebody who likes to compete. I think he’s gotten the max out of his ability.”
Johnson said Washington led the cheers as Lee thrived against North Carolina. The quarterback then came back with a strong game against Duke.
“I think he’s the epitome of perseverance,” Johnson said after the game. “I couldn’t be happier for him to play his last home game and play like he did.”
Running back Robbie Godhigh compared the relationship between Washington and Lee to the friendly competition between a long list of A-backs fighting for playing time.
“They’re close and they compete and when one of them does good, the other feels good about it,” Godhigh said. “It’s good to have that depth, especially at the quarterback position.”
Washington would be remembered as more than a “good kid” or just “solid” as a player if he could lead a huge upset of Georgia in his final regular-season game. It would be a signature game, and he knows the stage will be big.
“Everybody knows it’s Georgia week around here,” Washington said. “It’s the biggest game of the year by far. Everybody is anticipating this game the whole season. We hear from our fans and not only that but amongst each other, especially the senior class. We want to go out with a bang.”