ATLANTA -- Rarely has Georgia Tech's game with Duke had so much riding on it.
If the Yellow Jackets have any chance to survive the early season scheduling bottleneck and remain a viable contender in the ACC Coastal Division, they can't afford a slip-and-fall today in Durham. A loss could send the season in a downward spiral, something coach Paul Johnson understands and relays to his team.
"We talked to the team about the importance of the game," Johnson said. "It's a division game. It's a road game. And anytime you can win a division game on the road, that's a bigger plus. Our guys understand it's a big game and they've set goals that they want to get back to Charlotte (for the ACC Championship game). And we need to win this game if that's going to be one of the goals."
Tech has done a good job handling Duke for the past two decades. Tech has won the last nine meetings and 17 of the last 18 games. But normally those games are toward the end of the season. This one starts a stretch of four consecutive ACC Coastal Division games that could determine the fate of the season. After the Duke game, Georgia Tech faces North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Miami. The first three of those fall within an 11-day period.
"You know, it's set up the way it is," Johnson said. "There's not much to talk about. You just get ready to go play who you've got to play."
Both defenses will be stressed in this one. The Tech defense, which played well against an inferior opponent in the opener, will get a legitimate test this week, even though Duke will be without its starting quarterback. Defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu is definitely interested; he has three sacks and eight solo tackles in three games against the Devils. Cornerback Jemea Thomas has 15 career tackles against Duke and had a crucial fourth-quarter interception to preserve the 2001 win.
The Tech defense will need stop quarterback Brandon Connette, who moved from reserve to starter when Anthony Parker broke his collarbone last week against Memphis. Connette has been the team's short-yardage quarterback for a couple years, but doesn't appear to be the same sort of breakaway threat as Parker.
"I don't think it changes a great deal," Johnson said. "He's played a lot of quarterback. Good athlete, big guy, hard to tackle. With what they're doing offensively, they might add a wrinkle or two, but I don't think they're going to change a whole lot."
The Duke defense will have its hands full trying to slow Tech's high-powered offense.
"When you play Georgia tech, maybe the most important factor is experience," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. "The reason I say that is they're going to move the football and make first downs. I don't see anybody - anybody - stopping them. They're going to get their yards, but this game is about points per game."
Tech has always managed to score in droves against the Blue Devils. During the nine-game winning streak they've never tallied fewer than 24 points and seven times have scored 30 or more. Last year the Yellow Jackets won 42-24.
One of the guys who should be ready is B-back David Sims, who will celebrate a birthday on Saturday. He has rushed for 136 yards and three touchdowns in three games against Duke. A year ago B-back Zach Laskey carried 18 times for 72 yards and caught a touchdown pass.
Although Tech has won its last four visits to Wallace, the games were very competitive.
"They haven't been blowout games; they've been tough," Johnson said. "But again we're going into this game not with the expectation to win by ever how much, but our expectation is to win the game. That's what we want to try to do - 6-3 or 46-43, whatever it might be. We've just got to try and win the game."