You wanted a statement? This was it.
Something that screamed they’re a player in the ACC. Something that suggested that the faceplant in Miami last month was an aberration — “a perfect storm,” as Paul Johnson put it. Something that gave everybody reason to watch with at least some curiosity Sunday when the first BCS rankings come out, especially given the relatively soft schedule that lies ahead.
Georgia Tech is a team following its coach, a team following its quarterback, a team getting better every week — a team so unlike Georgia in every way.
You wanted a statement? Try this: The Jackets just drove Virginia Tech, the No. 4 team in the nation, into the turf. They danced on the sideline. They danced like they hadn’t danced since winning in Athens last season. And who would’ve thought after that dramatic victory over the Bulldogs that something could seem bigger this soon?
“This is by far the biggest win since I’ve been here,” quarterback Josh Nesbitt said.
“Because it’s the ACC. Because it’s over a top 5 team. That’s bigger than Georgia.”
When the Jackets dumped the Hokies 28-23 on Saturday night, it was their first win over a top-5 ranked team at home since a 7-6 win over Alabama in 1962. Tech had gone 0-17-1 since. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer didn’t take it any better than Bear Bryant did 47 years ago.
Fans stormed the field when the game ended. The goal posts officially fell at 9:16 p.m.
All lingering doubts about whether Paul Johnson’s offense could work against the nation’s elite fell with it.
“Their offense [was] just hard to stop,” Beamer said. “Their quarterback was doing a great job, and we got into a little bit of a guessing game.”
Tech’s defense, mangled at Miami and Florida State, was the story in the first half, holding the ACC’s highest-scoring team to a field goal. Nesbitt and the offense took over in the second. The Jackets rushed for 258 yards in the second half. Nesbitt led everybody with 122 yards and three-touchdowns, including a Hokie-chokey 39-yard score with three minutes left to make it 28-16.
Not long after, they celebrated. They didn’t tear down the goal posts in Athens. But they did rip out chunks of the famed hedges.
When asked if he envisioned a bigger win was possible this season, Demaryius Thomas said: “Honestly, I didn’t think so until tonight.”
He was the Jackets’ leading receiver. He had one catch, the only completion of Nesbitt’s seven attempts.
“But we made it count,” Thomas said, laughing.
Yes — it went for 51 yards in the second quarter and set up a touchdown. Nesbitt’s 1-yard score gave them a 7-3 lead. They led the rest of the way.
They have won four straight since that 33-17 debacle at Miami. It may be a while before they lose again. The rest of the regular-season schedule: Virginia, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, Duke, Georgia. Every game, winnable.
The Jackets have a chance for a special season, and Nesbitt is the biggest reason why. Earlier this season, it looked like quarterback would be a position that could hold Georgia Tech’s offense back. It doesn’t look that way anymore. Nesbitt is making plays. He’s making the difference. His 31-yard run to the Virginia Tech 4 in the third quarter set up his second t0uchdown for a 14-3 lead. When the Hokies answered with a 66-yard touchdown run by Ryan Williams, Nesbitt had two third-down conversions in the following possession to set up another TD — an improbable pitch, despite being sandwiched between two defenders, to Marcus Wright for a 13-yard touchdown. That made made it 21-10.
After the game, Johnson recalled how he talked to his players about Virginia Tech’s ranking, about the 0-17-1 streak, about the odds. He told them, “None of that mattered because you can’t get any points for that.”
They got the message. So did everybody else.