Dec. 6, 2014
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Not many people outside of the Georgia Tech locker room can honestly say they expected the Yellow Jackets to be playing for the ACC Championship when the 2014 season kicked off back on August 30 against Wofford. Yet here they are, standing across the field from the defending National Champion and two-time defending ACC champs. Kickoff for the 2014 Dr Pepper ACC Championship Game at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte is set for 8:00 p.m., and can be seen on ABC.
It’s the fourth time Georgia Tech will play for the Conference Championship and the second time in three years they’ll play for it against Florida State. It turns out the FSU win that 2012 night would be win No. 1 in a streak that has now reached 28, the 14th-longest in FBS history. Tech Head Coach Paul Johnson has tremendous respect for the Seminoles and their ability to get the job done during the streak.
“I know how hard it is to win. So I think you have to give them all the credit in the world for winning,” he said. “While I was at Georgia Southern we won 38 games in a row and I can just tell you the mindset of our players was ‘Somebody is going to make a play and we are going to win the game.’ It never entered their minds that we could lose. I’m pretty sure that’s where Florida State is. They’ve managed to find ways to win and that’s a hard quality to have. My hat’s off to them. People have gotten close, but it’s not horseshoes or hand grenades. Close isn’t good enough. They keep winning.”
Johnson is equally proud of his team, which boasts its second five-game winning streak of the season, and its resilience.
“I think our guys have done a good job since October. I don’t have any doubt that our kids will play. They’re going to show up and they’re going to play hard,” he said. “They won’t give up. No matter what happens we’ll keep playing. I am assured of that. We’re excited to have that opportunity. It’s not every day that you get to go play in the conference championship game. You need to take advantage of that.”
Tech showed up, played hard and took advantage of opportunities last week in winning a heart-stopping 30-24 overtime thriller at No. 9 Georgia. In a see-saw affair, the Yellow Jackets let a four-point lead slip away in the final minute then tied the game on the final play of regulation, when kicker Harrison Butker nailed a career-long 53-yard field goal. In the overtime, B-Back Zach Laskey gained the final two of his game-high 140 yards, going into the end zone to give Tech the lead. Then, on Georgia’s series, with a second and goal from the nine, junior corner D.J. White made the biggest interception of his career, picking off Georgia QB Hutson Mason to seal the win. Tech dominated time of possession, holding the ball for 36:23, while rushing for 399 yards. Defensively, redshirt senior safety Isaiah Johnson led the Jackets with 10 tackles (six solo), and 2.0 tackles for loss and a fumble recovery, while redshirt senior linebacker Quayshawn Nealy added nine stops (five solo), and junior defensive tackle Adam Gotsis added a blocked field goal, his second of the season.
Florida State completed its undefeated season by overcoming four turnovers to defeat rival Florida, 24-19, at Doak Campbell Stadium. The Seminoles struggled early, as QB Jameis Winston was intercepted on three of FSU’s first four drives, but the ‘Noles defense bowed up, limiting Florida to three field goals. A 94-yard interception return by FSU linebacker Terrance Smith got FSU on the board and a pair of second-quarter Nick O’Leary TD receptions completed a Seminoles’ run of 21 unanswered points, giving them a 21-16 lead at the break. In the second half, the running of freshman running back Dalvin Cook (144 yards on 24 carries, both career highs) and the defense shut down the Gators.
The opportunity to win a conference championship as well as end FSU’s winning streak on the very same field where it began isn’t lost on the Yellow Jackets. But they’re also not getting caught up in the high stakes.
“You can’t get too high on the team but you’ve also got to respect them,” said All-ACC second-team senior right guard Shaq Mason. “We come into this game with the same respect that we do UGA, Clemson. We give [Florida State] the same respect. But we also can’t over-respect them and just know that we have to go out there and play our game.”
That’s good enough for Johnson, who claimed his third ACC Coach of the Year award..
“You have to realize there’s a lot of guys who play football and a lot of a schools and a lot of teams who never get this opportunity to play for a conference championship,” he said. “Just look at our own league, there have been only a handful of teams that have gotten to the game. So make sure that you maximize your opportunities and have no regrets when you finish. When we come off that field on Saturday night, we know that we laid it all out there and did our best. If we do that, the score will take care of itself. One way or another. You can live with it then.”
Here is some statistical data to take into the ACC Championship Game.
The Series: Tonight is the 24th game in the series that dates back to 1952. Tech began by winning the first eight games of the series and leads overall, 13-9-1, but is 0-1 in neutral-site games, that being Dec. 1, 2012, the 21-15 defeat to the Seminoles in the 2012 ACC Championship Game played on Dec. 1, 2012.
.250 – The percentage of quarters this season that the Yellow Jackets have held the ball at least 10 minutes. GT has held the ball for 2/3s of a period in 12 of 48 quarters this season.
3 – Georgia Tech’s national rank in time of possession. The Jackets hold the ball 34:02 per game. They are 9-2 this season and 41-28 under Paul Johnson when holding the ball more than 30 minutes.
.574 – Georgia Tech’s nation-leading third-down conversion rate. Tech has earned a new series of downs on 85 of 148 third-down plays. Auburn is next at 53.9 (90 of 167). Tech went 8-for-16 last week against Georgia. FSU’s defense allows opponents to convert on third down 42.6 percent of the time, 11th in the conference.
.813/.727 – Georgia Tech’s winning percentages in the last 16 games and under Paul Johnson in games in North Carolina. The Jackets are 13-3 over the last 16 and are 8-3 under Johnson. The only city in the Tar Heel State in which the Jackets have not recorded a victory is Charlotte, where they are 0-1.
2 – The number of Yellow Jackets head coaches with multiple 10-win seasons. The 2014 season gives Johnson two with Tech, as his Jackets won 11 games in 2009. Only Bobby Dodd, who has four 10-win seasons (1947, ‘51, ‘52, ‘56), has more.
3 – The number of consecutive games in which junior corner D.J. White has at least one interception. White is the first Yellow Jacket to get picks in three straight games since Dominique Reese did it in 2008. White has four interceptions this season. He had one career pick coming into the year.
4.6 – The average margin of victory in the last five games between Georgia Tech and Florida State. All five games have been one-possession games, with a 21-13 win by No. 17/18 FSU on Nov. 9, 2002 being the biggest spread. Tech is 2-3 in those games, with its largest margin of victory being five (49-44) in 2009.
5 – The number of coaches to win three ACC Coach of the Year awards. Paul Johnson became No. 5 this year. The previous coach to do it was Virginia’s George Welsh.
8.2 – The number of points scored by opponents in the second half (and overtime) of Georgia Tech’s last five games. Georgia Tech has outscored its opponents 105-42 in those 10 quarters plus the overtime period against Georgia.
60/67 – Georgia Tech opponents’ point totals in the third and fourth quarters. Those are the two quarters Tech’s defense has allowed the fewest points. Offensively, Tech’s highest-scoring quarter is the fourth, where it has scored 132 points.
65 – The disparity between Georgia Tech and its opponents in fourth-quarter scoring. that’s the third-widest spread in a quarter for any team in the FBS.
2/6 – The total number of touchdowns and field goals scored by Florida State over its last four second halves. The Seminoles scored both touchdowns in the second half against Miami on Nov. 15. In their last four second-half quarters, against Boston College and Florida, they’ve totaled a pair of field goals.
25 – The amount of lost yardage on Davis’ four sacks.
11 – The number of Yellow Jackets on All-ACC teams. There were no first-teamers, but had four second-teamers (B-Back Zach Laskey, right guard Shaq Mason, defensive tackle Adam Gotsis and and ILB Quayshawn Nealy), three third-teamers (quarterback Justin Thomas, wide receiver DeAndre Smelter and free safety Jamal Golden) and four honorable mentions (B-Back Synjyn Days, Left Tackle Bryan Chamberlain, Center Freddie Burden, DE KeShun Freeman and cornerback D.J. White).
26 – The number of turnovers recorded by Georgia Tech in its 10 wins this season. they had nine (eight INTs, one fumble recovery over the first five games and 17 (eight INTs, nine fumble recoveries in the last five). They had one in their two losses. For the season they are plus-11. FSU is minus-4 (23 turnovers forced, 11 fumbles, 12 interceptions vs. 27 lost, eight fumbles, 19 interceptions).
7 – The number of red zone turnovers forced by the Georgia Tech defense. That’s the most in the ACC. It’s one more than forced by Florida State.
4 – The number of Yellow Jackets turnovers in the red zone. That’s tied for second-most in the ACC and two more than Florida State’s conference-leading red zone offense.
4 – The number of multi-sack games in the last five. Georgia Tech has 10 total in the last five games, for minus-77 yards in losses.
10 – The number of sacks allowed by Georgia Tech in 12 games. That’s tied for fourth in the FBS.
8 – The number of touchdowns scored this season by B-Back Zach Laskey. That matches his career touchdown total heading into the 2014 season.
10 – The number of Yellow Jackets with at least one interception. Jamal Golden and D.J. White lead with four, Quayshawn Nealy is next with two. Corey Griffin, Adam Gotsis, Lawrence Austin, Chris Milton, P.J. Davis, Demond Smith, and Isaiah Johnson each have one. Tech has a 17-4 edge on interceptions, and has returned five for touchdowns.
25 – The advantage in the number of big plays that Georgia Tech has over its opponents. Tech has made 64 big plays (plays of 25-or-more yards), while opponents have 39.
46/2/4 – The number of total tackles, forced fumbles and interceptions All-ACC third-team free safety Jamal Golden has in 2014. Golden has matched or passed his career output in all three categories this year, as he came in with 44 tackles, two forced fumbles and three interceptions.
97 – The number of rushing yards senior B-Back Zach Laskey needs to move into the top 13 in school history. Laskey, who begins play with 1,930 yards, would pass former teammate Anthony Allen (1,934), and William Bell (2,026) and sit right behind his former teammate Tevin Washington (2,225).
117 – The edge Georgia Tech holds in rushing first downs over its opponents. The Jackets have ground out 218 first downs vs. 101 for opponents.
139 – The number of rushing yards quarterback Justin Thomas needs to reach the 1,000-yard mark. He’d become the second QB to reach that mark.
214 – The number of yards by which B-Back Synjyn Days has surpassed his three-year total this season. Days has rushed for 686 yards this season, giving him 1,158 for his career.
333.8 – Georgia Tech’s rushing yardage per game. That’s third in the nation and, as it stands, would set an ACC single-season rushing record.
1991 – The difference in rushing yardage between Tech (4,006) and its opponents (2,015).
10 Things To Know About Florida State (plus why FSU’s defensive coordinator hopes he’s on the right side of a good thing this time)
1 – The number of FBS teams to win a game despite committing four turnovers. That team is Florida State, which beat Florida last week despite committing four miscues. All four came on Jameis Winston interceptions, three of them in the first 15 minutes.
1 – The rank among Florida State tight ends for senior Nick O’Leary in all-time receptions (110), yards (1,490) and touchdowns (16). O’Leary has a caught a career-best 44 passes, having raised his receptions total by at least 11 each of the past two years, and is 41 yards and three TDs shy of setting new single-season marks. His 16 TDs rank third all-time among ACC tight ends, while his 1,490 yards put him seventh, only 67 from cracking the top five.
2 – The number of rushing touchdowns freshman running back Dalvin Cook needs to tie the Florida State freshman single-season record. Cook has seven scores entering the Championship Game. Cook also has a good chance to finish as the top freshman rusher as his 728 yards on 124 carries rank second to Greg Allen (888 on 139 in 1981), and he even has an outside chance to pass Allen for freshman all-purpose yards, as his 864 are fewer than 300 behind. Cook only needs 53 all-purpose yards to pass Warrick Dunn (916 yards in 1993), who currently sits in fourth. Cook has already tied Allen and Travis Minor (1997) with a school-record three 100-yard rushing games.
4 – The number of times Florida State has met Georgia Tech with both teams ranked. The Seminoles have won all four of the previous match-ups, in 1992, when the No. 6 Noles beat the No. 16/17 Jackets, 29-24, at Bobby Dodd Stadium. The teams met three straight years, 1997-99, with No. 3 FSU winning 38-0 over No. 21/25 Tech at Doak Campbell Stadium in ‘97, No. 6 FSU beating No. 20/19 Tech, 34-7, at Bobby Dodd in ‘98 and, finally, No. 1 FSU edging No. 10 Tech, 41-35, at the Doak in ‘99.
17 – The number of consecutive games Florida State has won away from Doak Campbell Stadium. The Seminoles have not lost a game played away from home since Oct. 6, 2012, a 17-16 loss at NC State, a game FSU led 16-0 at the half.
40 – The number of games since FSU has allowed a defensive special teams touchdown. The Seminoles rank fourth in kickoff coverage (teams average 21.7 yards per return), with kicker Roberto Aguayo booming 42 touchbacks (second in the ACC) on 83 kickoffs. The ‘Noles are seventh in punting (38.5 yards per punt) with Cason Beatty averaging 41.6 yards per punt, with seven kicks over 50 yards and 13 dropped inside the 20.
91.8/70.5 – The red zone offense and defense efficiency for Florida State. Both lead the ACC. FSU has scored 45 times in 49 trips to the red zone and have 31 touchdowns (20 rushing, 11 passing). They’re also 14 for 15 on field goals, with only two turnovers. Defensively, opponents have scored 70.5 percent of the time (31 scores in 44 trips). Teams have scored 21 touchdowns (10 rushing, 11 passing), are 10 of 13 on field goals and have turned it over six times, second-most in the ACC behind only Georgia Tech’s seven.
159 – The combined number of starts by FSU’s offensive line. That includes 40 each by redshirt-senior center Cameron Erving and senior right guard Tre’ Jackson, both All-ACC First-Teamers. Senior left guard Josue Matias, an All-ACC Second-Teamer, has a unit-high 41 starts and senior right tackle Bobby Hart has made 35. The baby of the group, freshman left tackle Roderick Johnson — he’s also the biggest, at 6-7, 330 — has three.
160.7/68.3/10/4 – The second-half QB rating, completion percentage, touchdowns and interceptions for defending Heisman Trophy winner and First-Team All-ACC quarterback Jameis Winston. Winston has thrown only 57 incompletions in 180 second-half aerials, while gaining 1,682 yards, an average of 13.7 yards per completion.
-128 – The amount of yardage below its season rushing average Georgia Tech was held by the Florida State defense in the 2012 ACC Championship Game. Tech came in averaging 311.2 rypg but was limited to 183 on 52 attempts. Current FSU Defensive Coordinator Charles Kelly was Georgia Tech’s secondary coach that night.