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November 6, 2008

ACC: Georgia Tech appears ahead of schedule

MORE PREVIEWS: Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC

Georgia Tech supposedly was going to need a year or two to adjust to new coach Paul Johnson's run-oriented option attack.

As it turns out, the Yellow Jackets' ACC opponents have been the ones struggling to adapt.

Georgia Tech heads into the final month of the regular season leading the ACC Coastal Division and owning the league's best overall record. No. 19 North Carolina is the only conference team ranked ahead of No. 20 Georgia Tech in the BCS standings. The Yellow Jackets rank eighth in the nation in rushing.

"That's a heck of a dadgum offense," Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said Saturday after his team fell 31-28 to Georgia Tech.

That dadgum offense could take Georgia Tech all the way to the dadgum ACC title game.

Georgia Tech (7-2, 4-2 ACC) still needs some help to win the Coastal Division because it already has lost to Virginia Tech and Virginia, which also have two conference losses each. But the Yellow Jackets could help their cause in a big way Saturday by winning at North Carolina, (6-2, 2-2).

"We feel like we've been given a second chance maybe," Johnson said.

Georgia Tech could stay in contention as long as Jonathan Dwyer keeps performing the way he did against Florida State. Dwyer rushed for 145 yards and two touchdowns on only 13 carries last week.

Dwyer has emerged as the biggest story in a season full of surprises for Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets have averaged 242.3 rushing yards per game even though quarterbacks Josh Nesbitt and Jaybo Shaw have battled injuries. Demaryius Thomas is Georgia Tech's only legitimate receiving threat, yet he has continued to get open often enough to rank second in the ACC with 65.5 receiving yards per game.

Certainly the Yellow Jackets have been lucky. Florida State was driving toward a winning touchdown last week until Cooper Taylor's hit forced Marcus Sims to fumble the ball into the end zone.

But they've also been very good.

"They've just continued to believe and play hard," Johnson said. "When you play hard, sometimes good things happen."

Maryland at Virginia Tech, 7:30 p.m.
Georgia Tech at North Carolina, noon
Clemson at Florida State, 3:30 p.m.
Virginia at Wake Forest, 3:30 p.m.
N.C. State at Duke, 3:30 p.m.
Notre Dame at Boston College, 8 p.m.

  • Best matchup
  • Maryland WR Darrius Heyward-Bey vs. Virginia Tech CB Victor Harris: Heyward-Bey's numbers aren't spectacular he has caught only 25 passes all season but this potential first-round draft pick remains one of the most dangerous players in the conference. The only question about Heyward-Bey is how often the Terrapins can get the ball in his hands. As it turns out, 44 percent of his catches came in one game (a 26-0 victory over Wake Forest). Heyward-Bey could have his hands full Thursday night against Harris, an All-America candidate who has picked off a pass in four of his last five games. Both players have worlds of talent, but Heyward-Bey's height could give him a major advantage in this matchup. The 6-foot-3 Maryland junior is three inches taller than Harris.

  • Player to watch
  • Clemson WR Aaron Kelly: This season hasn't gone quite the way Kelly had planned, but the senior wideout slowly is beginning to recapture his 2007 form. After failing to reach the end zone in his first six games of the season, Kelly has scored three times in his last two games. His 4-yard touchdown catch midway through the fourth quarter last week put Clemson ahead for good in a 27-21 victory over Boston College. Kelly caught five passes for 98 yards and a touchdown against Florida State last year on his way to finishing the season with an ACC-leading 1,081 receiving yards and 11 touchdown catches. He will need to deliver a repeat performance against the Seminoles this week for Clemson to have a chance at pulling off the upset.

  • Who's hot
  • Florida State kicker Graham Gano has made 15 consecutive field-goal attempts. Florida State DE Everette Brown has five tackles for loss in his last two games. Georgia Tech RB Jonathan Dwyer has rushed for 215 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries over his last two games. Georgia Tech DE Michael Johnson has delivered 7 tackles for loss in his last four games. Miami QB Jacory Harris has thrown six touchdown passes and two interceptions in his last three games. North Carolina WR Hakeem Nicks has caught 23 passes for 370 yards and three touchdowns in his last three games. North Carolina State QB Russell Wilson has thrown eight touchdown passes without an interception in his last four games. Virginia TE John Phillips has caught at least five passes in four consecutive games. Virginia Tech DE Orion Martin has recorded a sack in four of his last five games. Wake Forest LB Aaron Curry has five tackles for loss in his last three games. Wake Forest CB Alphonso Smith has three interceptions and seven passes defended in his last four games.

  • Who's not
  • Boston College RB Montel Harris, who had a pair of 100-yard games earlier in the season, has rushed for just 37 yards on 15 carries in his last two games. Boston College kicker Steve Aponavicius has made just one of his last four field-goal attempts. Clemson RB James Davis has rushed for a total of 103 yards on 33 carries over his last three games, though he did have a 23-yard touchdown run against Boston College last week. Virginia kicker Yannick Reyering has made just two of his last five field-goal attempts.

  • What they're saying
  • "I'm at Duke (and) staying at Duke."
    - Duke coach David Cutcliffe about the possibility he might pursue the opening at Tennessee. Cutcliffe served two stints as Tennessee's offensive coordinator.

    "I just want to go out and win the game. People will think that, 'Oh well, you're going to try to beat them bad because they fired your son.' No I'm not. No I'm not. He had 10 wonderful years at Clemson. He will tell anyone that. I really have no animosity toward them."
    - Florida State coach Bobby Bowden on whether he would have additional motivation to beat Clemson now that his son Tommy has lost his job as the Tigers' coach.

    "It's just a terrible feeling. I'm going to work as hard as I can not to have this feeling again."
    - Virginia QB Marc Verica to The Roanoke (Va.) Times after the Cavaliers' 24-17 overtime loss to Miami.

    "It was actually a Tech dude. I think he had been a little overserved when he came out."
    -Georgia Tech DT Darryl Richard to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the fan who hit him in the lip during a celebration after the Yellow Jackets' 31-28 victory over Florida State.

    "No matter how you cut it up, we control our own destiny. When everybody is playing everybody else these last four games, there are a lot of things that can happen. One of the things I was telling my players on Sunday was you never know when that play is going to come up that determines who the champion is. Sometimes I think people don't realize that."
    - Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen.

    "We've still got a little time before the game. We'll figure it out in warm-ups."
    - Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer about his quarterback situation for Thursday night's game with Maryland. Tyrod Taylor and Sean Glennon have both practiced after injuring their left ankles two weeks ago against Florida State, but the status of both players remains uncertain. Cory Holt would start if Taylor and Glennon aren't ready.

  • Etc.
  • Georgia Tech OT Andrew Gardner, a first-team all-ACC selection last year and a two-time ACC offensive lineman of the week this season, will miss the rest of the year with a torn labrum in his left shoulder. The injury effectively ends his college career. Georgia Tech QB Josh Nesbitt has returned to practice after spraining his right ankle against Florida State, but his status for the North Carolina game remains uncertain. Wake Forest K/P Sam Swank didn't practice early this week and is officially listed as questionable for Saturday's game with Virginia. Swank has missed four games with a quadriceps injury. All four ACC games that took place last week were decided in the final 1:46 of regulation or in overtime. The ACC is the only conference in the nation that boasts 11 teams with records at .500 or above. Boston College is unveiling a statue of 1984 Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie outside Alumni Stadium on Friday. The statue shows Flutie releasing his Hail Mary pass in a 1984 victory over Miami. Boston College puts an NCAA-leading 20-game non-conference winning streak on the line Saturday against Notre Dame. The Eagles have beaten Notre Dame five consecutive times. Georgia Tech SS Morgan Burnett is tied for the NCAA lead with six interceptions, while Wake Forest CB Alphonso Smith leads the nation in passes defended. Clemson WR Aaron Kelly's late-season surge has given him 202 career receptions. He is 15 catches away from breaking former Wake Forest player Desmond Clark's ACC career record.

    MORE PREVIEWS: Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC

    Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.

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