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Georgia Tech was knocked out of the conference race so quickly – three losses in four weeks, to Boston College, Virginia and Maryland – it’s been too easy to relegate the Jackets to the junk heap without a second thought. They’ll be fortunate to win eight games (that’s with Notre Dame, Samford, Army and Duke on the slate), break even in the conference and fly out for the Emerald Bowl.

This overlooks a couple facts. One: Tashard Choice, leading rusher in the ACC and all-around engine of the offense, missed much of the loss to Boston College and virtually all of the loss to Virginia (five carries for 19 yards), and Tech has unapologetically ridden his half-broken body to tough wins over Clemson and Miami since. Two: on paper, out of context, Tech is one of the most impressive-looking teams in the nation.

GT in the Top 20 (Ntl. Rank in Parentheses)
Overall (5-3) vs. ACC (2-3)
Rushing Offense 219.0 (13) 162.4
Rushing Defense 87.0 (8) 100.4
Total Defense 287.9 (7) 335.0
Scoring Defense 15.5 (6) 19.4
Kickoff Returns 25.6 (11) 22.9
Turnover Margin + 0.88 (17) + 0.2
Sacks 3.6 (T-4) 3.1
Tackles for Loss 9.5 (2) 8.3
Sacks Allowed 0.75 (3) 0.6

The Jackets are also number one nationally in net punting, for the record, which is not insignificant for the kind of field position slog they’re bound to in most ACC games. What you have, then, is a team that can ostensibly run on offense, can stop the run on defense, can protect the passer, can rush the passer and takes care of the ball. That’s the generic profile of a winner.

But that’s been true of Georgia Tech throughout Chan Gailey’s tenure, and here we are again, at the dreaded equilibrium. If mediocrity for the last four years falls disproportionately at the feet of Reggie Ball (just like most of his passes – zing!), the current malaise has to fall on the erratic shoulders of Taylor Bennett, owner of the nation’s 113th-ranked passer rating. If ever the middle-seeking, NFL-bred risk aversion that guides Gailey’s philosophy was most evident, it’s in this number: through eight games and 212 pass attempts, Bennett has only thrown three interceptions, as few as anyone who’s thrown 200 passes, but he’s countered with two touchdowns. That seems almost impossible: 106 attempts between touchdowns? He’s not killing the Jackets with mistakes, but he’s not doing much good, either. So what is he doing?

The good news for GT is that it runs into an offense tonight in Virginia Tech that’s in even more thrilled to curl up into a ball: the Hokies have a quarterback they don’t trust much, but – Branden Ore’s first murmurs of life last week against Boston College notwithstanding – they do not have a force like Choice in the backfield. This is the situation that best suits Georgia Tech: an opponent equally content to run-run-pass-punt and ride the narrowest advantage into oblivion. Oh, it will be ugly. But Georgia Tech’s defense and kicking game rivals Virginia Tech’s, and if Choice can stand up to another four quarters’ worth of pounding (before catching a break last week against Army, he carried oer 30 times in three straight games), the Jackets are built specifically to win this sort of field goal fest.

Georgia Tech 16 Virginia Tech 12