Three keys for a Georgia Tech win vs. FSU

The general belief is that Georgia Tech with its 6-6 record has no chance at knocking off No. 13 Florida State on Saturday night in the ACC Championship Game.

But the Yellow Jackets that lost earlier this season at home to Middle Tennessee State by 21 points, 41-17 to BYU without scoring an offensive touchdown, and just last week by 32 points at rival Georgia can actually secure a spot in the Orange Bowl with 60 quality minutes of football against the Seminoles.

The odds, however, are stacked against the Jackets, even though Florida State (10-2, 7-1 ACC) didn’t play well in falling at home to Florida last weekend and has a loss at pedestrian North Carolina State on its resume.

Georgia Tech tied Miami and North Carolina for the Coastal Division title with 5-3 ACC marks. But UNC was banned by the NCAA from playing in a bowl game this season and Miami self-imposed a bowl ban for the second consecutive season, thus Paul Johnson and his triple option offense will be there, and while the nation doesn’t see an upset happening, it isn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility.

The following are three keys for Georgia Tech to upset FSU:

1. Win the turnover margin

This is doable, as the Seminoles rank 95th nationally in turnover margin and are coming off a five-turnover affair in a loss at home to Florida. The giveaways were paramount in their defeat.

This is particularly crucial for the Yellow Jackets because they allowed 40 or more points six times and Florida State has scored 40 or more seven times. So if the Jackets’ defense can’t get off the field conventionally, it must force turnovers and get off that way.

Then, if Georgia Tech can string together some first downs to keep Florida State’s offense from getting into a rhythm, it increases the likelihood that E.J. Manuel and company may turn it over even more.  

2. Hidden yardage

Offenses scoring in bunches was one of the storylines of this ACC football season, right behind it ought to be the number of special teams touchdowns.

ACC squads registered 18 touchdowns on either punt or kickoff returns – nine each – including a pair of kickoff returns by Georgia Tech’s Jamal Golden. Florida State ranks 109th in the nation in net punting while the Yellow Jackets are 30th in punt returns and 27th in kickoff returns.

Given that Tech’s defense ranks 59th overall and 78th against the pass, it stands to reason that the Seminoles, which have the ACC’s second-best offense behind Clemson, will score. But getting long punt and kick returns to give the offense positive starting points can help balance that. Putting points on the board via returns could be game-changers.

3. Hit some passes

The first two keys could well come into play, as they hit Florida State’s weaker areas. Georgia Tech connecting on some important pass plays is essentially a stab in the dark. But for major upsets to occur, something quite out of the ordinary usually happens.

What the Jackets have going for them is the element of surprise. They run a triple option offense in which they run the ball nearly 81 percent of the time. If not for so many blowout losses, that figure would be more around 87 percent.

Because of the emphasis teams put on stopping the run, Georgia Tech has always been able to hit on long pass plays. That again has been the case this fall.

Georgia Tech averages 17.7 yards per reception, with 10 completed passes going for scores. The 10 touchdowns have been by an average of 36.3 yards per reception, including one for 70 yards and another for 82.

Florida State is ranked second in the nation defending the pass, so the odds aren’t in the Yellow Jackets’ favor. But as potential upsets go, this is an area to keep an eye on.