Virginia, Georgia Tech try to boost division hopes

ATLANTA (AP) Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson expects the next two weekends to provide clarity in the muddled ACC Coastal Division race.

The Yellow Jackets’ home game against Virginia on Saturday should help.

Georgia Tech (6-2, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) and Virginia (4-4, 2-2) are two of six teams in the Coastal Division with two or three ACC losses. First-place Duke (6-1, 2-1) is the division’s only team with only one conference loss.

”Duke right now is sitting at the top and they’ve put themselves in a good spot, but they’ve only played three games,” Johnson said. ”… It will sort itself out.”

The Cavaliers and Yellow Jackets can’t afford a third ACC defeat, especially since each team has lost to Duke.

Virginia is trying to end a two-game losing streak, including last week’s devastating 28-27 loss to North Carolina. Georgia Tech had lost two straight before last week’s 56-28 win at Pittsburgh.

”Their backs are up against the wall, as are ours, in the conference race,” Johnson said.

Georgia Tech, which overcame five turnovers for a 35-25 win at Virginia last year, has won four of the last five in the series.

Georgia Tech has converted 58.1 percent of its third downs – the best rate in the nation. Virginia’s defense is third in the ACC in three-and-outs.

”The key to that is you want to stay out of third-and-long against them,” Johnson said. ”They’re a good third-down team and they blitz a lot. They bring pressure. Most teams if you can get people in third-and-long, you’re going to be good on third down. To our credit, for the most part this year we’ve stayed out of third and longs.”

Here are some things to watch in the Virginia-Georgia Tech game:

STRENGTH AGAINST STRENGTH: Virginia has held five straight opponents under 375 yards, while Georgia Tech, led by speedy quarterback Justin Thomas, has topped 600 yards in back-to-back games. Virginia ranks ninth in the nation in rushing defense, while Georgia Tech ranks third in rushing. Cavaliers coach Mike London said experience helps when preparing for the triple-option threat in the Yellow Jackets’ spread-option offense. ”It’s important you have had guys in games that have played against that,” London said. ”It’s equally as important for us now to understand that their quarterback is a special player.”

LESS DEPTH AT RUNNING BACK: Georgia Tech will be without running backs Zach Laskey (shoulder) and Charles Perkins (knee). Laskey was a starter. Former quarterback Synjyn Days filled in for Laskey with a career-high 110 yards rushing against Pitt last week. The Yellow Jackets ran for 462 yards against the Panthers.

GOOCH GONE: Virginia senior receiver Miles Gooch will make the trip to his hometown of Atlanta but won’t play after leaving last week’s game with a knee injury. He was listed as out on the team’s injury report released on Thursday. Gooch has started every game and has 24 catches for a team-leading 371 yards. ”Obviously there are one or two players that are going to have to step up, provide some of that leadership, some of those play-making abilities, able to run those routes, a lot of those things that Miles was able to do,” London said.

TAKEAWAYS: The Yellow Jackets recovered six fumbles in the win over Pitt, providing a dramatic reminder of the importance of turnovers. Virginia ranks seventh in the nation with 20 takeaways. The Cavaliers are 9-3 against Georgia Tech since 1982 when winning the turnover battle.

HOMECOMING: Virginia quarterback Greyson Lambert is from Jesup, Georgia. Lambert threw for 261 yards and two touchdowns last week after missing three games with an ankle injury.