It has been a long time since Duke beat the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, even longer since they beat them in Atlanta and longer still since the Blue Devils won a meaningful game in November.
All of those things could potentially happen this coming weekend.
When Duke kicks off on Saturday afternoon they will be playing what has been classified as its most important game since 1994, the last time the Blue Devils went bowling and consequently the last time they beat the Yellow Jackets in Bobby Dodd Stadium. If Duke goes down to Atlanta and beats Georgia Tech they will be one step closer to claiming the ACC Coastal Division for the first time ever.
If they lose those hopes come to an end.
The Blue Devils have had two weeks to mull over their previous two performances that resulted in two blow out losses to the two best teams in the ACC. Now they are taking on a Yellow Jacket team that is a bit hard to figure out and that has nothing to do with the unique offense they run.
In a typical year, especially since Paul Johnson took over the helm at Georgia Tech, the Yellow Jackets have been one of the better programs in the league. But this year, like just about everything else in the ACC, has been different.
Georgia Tech has struggled and with only two games left to go they are still not bowl eligible. Duke on the other hand has cooled off after a 6-2 start. Both teams have a lot to play for and the most important prize for the victor would be a clearer path to the Coastal Division crown.
If the Yellow Jackets win they will claim the title. Duke has to win its last two games to seal the deal, so a victory over the Yellow Jackets is imperative and it won’t be easy.
Georgia Tech has come on strong of late and have won their last two games against Maryland and North Carolina. Against the Tar Heels the Yellow Jackets amassed 68 points on 588 yards of offense. Part of their success has been due large in part to the performance of backup quarterback Vad Lee.
Lee rushed for 112 yard and two touchdowns but he offered an element that is rare for Johnson’s option attack, he threw the ball and threw it well. Lee completed 6 of 10 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown. Not great passing numbers, but when you consider the Yellow Jackets are a run oriented team that element makes an already difficult offense to stop even harder.
Duke has had exta time to prepare for the option attack and used time in both the spring and in August to get some work in on the option, but being able to stop it is a whole different animal.
Coach David Cutcliffe has talked ad nauseum about the need for his defense to play smart, disciplined-assignment football. If Duke cannot do that it could be a long game.
Cutcliffe also said one of his biggest goals will be to keep the Georgia Tech offense off the field by running the ball well. Another key for the Blue Devils will be to put a healthy defense on the field and the bye week went a long way toward helping with that.
Starting defensive end Kenny Anunike looks ready to go. Safety Dwayne Norman is listed as probable which is very important since Brandon Braxton is out and stopping the option requires strong play from the safeties. Duke didn’t get all that lucky as fellow safety Anthony Young-Wiseman is listed as doubtful.
Duke is going to have to get a lead and force the Yellow Jackets to play from behind which means that somehow the Blue Devils defense is going to have to keep the nation’s fourth best rushing team in check, without letting Lee and the new found passing attack from catching the secondary sleeping.
Duke-38 Georgia Tech 33
This seemed like a much safer pick a few weeks ago when Georgia Tech was in the midst of a three game losing streak including a home loss to Middle Tennessee State. In a recent episode of Another Blue Devil Podcast I predicted that Duke would win 38-28, but given the improvement in Georgia Tech, I’ve made a slight adjustment and I’m not quite so confident of a Duke victory.
The Yellow Jackets are clearly a better team since earlier in the season and they still have an offense capable of putting up points. They are 19th in the country in scoring, averaging 38.2 points per game. So if the Blue Devils can’t keep them off the field Georgia Tech will find a way to get on the scoreboard.
Georgia Tech also has a lot to play for and a victory over Duke would make them bowl eligible.
If there is a positive sign for the Blue Devils it is the fact that their offense is the team’s strengths and the Georgia Tech defense has been particularly vulnerable this year. So vulnerable that Al Groh was fired as the team’s defensive coordinator earlier this season.
The Yellow Jackets are giving up 30.2 points per game, which is right at what Duke is averaging. And in games where the Blue Devils have scored 30 or more points they are 6-0. Look for Duke to try to score and control the ball and if they get over 30 points they will win the game.
However, if Georgia Tech opens up a lead and the Duke defense can’t force some turnovers, this could be Duke’s third straight loss. Ultimately I’m predicting a Blue Devil victory because I feel that Duke will respond to their poor performance in its last two games and because it is finally getting the chance to play in an important November game and they can improve its bowl status while still keeping its Coastal Division hopes alive.
And in a year where it seems like anything can happen in the Coastal Division, it would be appropriate that a team who hasn’t won an ACC title in more than 20 years, would get the opportunity to do so and Duke can help with that by winning Saturday.
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