Few took them seriously at 6-0.
Everybody piled on when they lost two straight.
This is what happens when a sports team operates in a world of around-the-clock analysis and hyper kinetic Tweeters.
Georgia Tech is a good football team, one that, as improbable as it seemed a few days ago, suddenly has a chance to go back to the ACC title game for the second time in three seasons. When Virginia Tech comes to Bobby Dodd Stadium on Nov. 10 – assuming the field and maybe some fans have been resuscitated by then following an unscheduled, late-night Saturday block party — the Yellow Jackets can all but assure themselves of the ACC Coastal Division title with a victory.
There is a pretty good chance they will be home underdogs again. But if this bunch of 18-to-21-year-olds has proven anything this season, it’s that they seem to operate better after most have already drop-kicked them into third-tier-bowl oblivion.
“We’ll probably be an underdog,” said the quarterback, Tevin Washington. “That’s OK. It’s just motivation. I prefer it that way, because when nobody gives you a shot you can go out and prove them wrong.”
About that chip on Paul Johnson’s shoulder: His players appear to have inherited it. Whatever works.
The Jackets had lost consecutive games at Virginia and Miami. They looked lost and Washington looked shaken. The option offense, which Johnson cherishes like offspring, had produced only three touchdowns in the previous 10 quarters. But against previously unbeaten Clemson, the Jackets rambled again, totaling 383 yards rushing, 443 in total offense and four touchdowns.
Tech upset the BCS’s No. 5 team, 31-17, in a game that actually wasn’t even that close. This came a week after the 24-7 loss to Miami. But the Hurricanes followed up that win with a 28-21 loss at home to Virginia on Thursday night.
Don’t try to make sense of it. Your head will hurt.
When it was over, Tech fans celebrated like they hadn’t since winning the ACC championship two years ago. There hadn’t been a scene at Bobby Dodd like it probably since the Jackets upset No. 4 Virginia Tech that same season, when fans tore down a goal post and carried it to the school president’s house.
(Campus officials have learned something since then: They took down the goal posts after Saturday’s game before fans could get to them.)
“I got into [the post-game celebration] a little bit,” Washington said. “But I tried to get off the field — it got a little crazy when the fans rushed the field. It’s a great feeling. Our team had been down in the dumps the last two weeks. So to come back like this and win is great.”
Yes, direction can change again. But the view in the ACC just got significantly better. Virginia (2-2) isn’t likely to run the table (remaining opponents: Maryland, Duke, Florida State, Virginia Tech). The Coastal title probably will come down to the nationally televised game between the Jackets (4-2) and Hokies (4-1) a week from Thursday. Tech’s only other conference game is at Duke. Virginia Tech plays North Carolina and Virginia.
The Jackets’ defense has steadily improved. (Clemson, which had been averaging 42 points in the conference, was held to a field goal in the first half and 17 overall.) But it’s the bounce-back by Washington and the offense that changes everything. He ran for a 176 yards and a touchdown, including carries of 46 and 56. It helped that everybody around him played better, but he looked more in control. The offense had a rhythm again.
Johnson also is learning what buttons to push with this team. Washington said he reminded them during the week that, “Everybody wrote us off.” The Jackets played with an edge that they hadn’t all season.
When it was over, the coach told the assembled media: “Let us finish the season before you do our tombstone.”
They’ve earned that.
By Jeff Schultz