Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 11/8/11
Georgia Tech head football coach Paul Johnson looked dapper in his white collared, buttoned-down shirt and blue blazer when he met the very much under-dressed press corps Monday morning. He clearly looked like a man who was going someplace, someplace a lot nicer than the wake which had seemingly been arranged for his team following their second straight loss Oct. 22 at Miami (he actually had been guest speaker at a breakfast). There is no more talk of wakes for Georgia Tech. Only wake-ups. Johnson believes he and his Yellow Jackets have places to go in 2011, and, suddenly, talk of a berth in the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game on Dec. 3 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., as champion of the Coastal Conference is very much a possibility. The first step toward realizing that possibility is Thursday night at Bobby Dodd Stadium, when the No. 2019 Yellow Jackets meet No. 109 Virginia Tech. It will be Tech's first game since their rousing 31-17 win over Clemson on Oct. 29 and second straight game for the Yellow Jackets against a top-10 opponent. But there was no need to hype the game up. With Tech vs. Tech there never is. "Since I've been here, this game has been a big, big game every year," said Johnson, who is 7-4 against ranked teams. "This game has been a big part of the division race. It is again this year. If we lose we're out of the race, so to speak. So it's a big game for us." It was actually a big game before he got to Atlanta, as the Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech game has become the annual battle for the Coastal Division. Since the ACC went to the two divisions in 2005, the winner of Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech has represented the Coastal in the ACC Championship Game the Hokies in 2005, '07, '08 and '10, the Yellow Jackets in 2006 and '09. This season should continue that trend, as Georgia Tech (7-2, 4-2) is a game behind Virginia Tech (8-1, 4-1). A win for the Jackets and they'll put themselves in the driver's seat, with only one conference game remaining (next week at Duke). A Hokies win pretty much seals the division outright. It eliminates Tech, but keeps the door open a crack for Virginia, which is 6-2 in the conference and hosts Va. Tech to finish the season on Nov. 26. The Jackets feel much better about their chances since righting the ship against Clemson and even better about themselves physically coming off their bye week. "I think our guys had a weekend to get recharged," said Johnson. "I really think it came at a good time for us. If we'd have had to play again Saturday I doubt we would have had (starting center) Jay Finch back, we may not have had (tackle) Will Jackson back. We had a bunch of guys that were banged up and beat up. Now they should be good to go for this game. So it was probably a blessing in disguise that we had an off-week. You just never know. Sometimes you want to keep going, other times it's good to stop. I think this one came at a good time for us." Able bodies and recharged batteries for players and coaches alike, as the coaching staff also got time off mean more to Johnson than extra time in the "war room" to prepare for Frank Beamer and Co. "I think it helps you more physically probably than mentally," he said. "Just to kind of get over some bumps and bruises, and those kinds of things. Most people pick up an extra day of preparation. That's about what you pick up. We took Monday off and then we practiced early Friday morning, so they took Saturday off. So we'll pick up a day. I think they did it the other way. They took Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday off and then practiced through the weekend. They probably picked up a day, too. I don't think it's as big a deal as people make it to be." Johnson, who has a nice record with extra time 27-13 career, 9-5 at Tech is counting on the improved play of both quarterback Tevin Washington and the defense, which will have its hands full with junior tailback David Wilson. Washington set a school record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 176 against Clemson and looked sharper throwing the ball even though he only threw it nine times and had one picked off. He'll be making his first start against the Hokies and should be a different quarterback than the one Va. Tech saw last Nov. 4 in Blacksburg, when he took over late in the first half following an injury to starter Joshua Nesbitt. Washington is a lot more settled in at starter and, Johnson hopes, a lot more settle down since Clemson. "Hopefully he got some confidence back," said Johnson. "I thought he did some things really well. You don't know until you play. I don't know that Tevin's ever really lacked for confidence. But anytime you play well it's got to be a plus." The biggest plus for Johnson may well be the crowd, which may be recharged and reinvigorated as well. He sited them as an important factor in the game against the Tigers. "Clearly when you run out and the stadium is packed and the crowd's into it, you can kind of feel the atmosphere," he said. "When things started going well and the fans got behind them, I think you feed off that. Whether the players talked about it a lot, they know it's there and they know that it's fun to play. It's fun to be out there when that's going on." Tech is 5-0 at home in 2011, and is 6-0 under Johnson at home against ranked teams. That includes the 2009 upending of the No. 4 Hokies, 28-23, which put the Jackets on their way to the ACC Championship Game and a 39-34 victory over Clemson. A win Thursday would likely set up another rematch with Clemson in the title game, only this time in Charlotte. So put on a jacket and maybe even a tie. Thursday night is going to be a big night in Atlanta.
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