As the college football season progresses, a team’s postseason goals change. What once were national championship dreams become conference title thoughts. When that is gone, making a very good bowl game comes next. Simply becoming bowl eligible is the last of the postseason targets.
Perhaps national championship thoughts were always a stretch for both Duke and Georgia Tech. But with five games remaining on each schedule, getting to six wins is all that is left. With Duke sitting at 3-4 and Georgia Tech at 4-3, this matchup between the two programs on Saturday afternoon is crucial for both teams’ bowl aspirations.
Georgia Tech leads the all-time series 50-32-1. Duke has won the last two after losing 22 of the previous 24 meetings.
Duke at Georgia Tech
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 29 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ACC Network/WatchESPN
Spread: Georgia Tech -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Stopping Dedrick Mills
When Georgia Tech finished No. 8 nationally in rushing offense in 2015 it was considered a bit of a disappointment based on the past results of the Paul Johnson era. But at No. 22, the Jackets are even worse this season and are down about 22 rushing yards per game. But Mills has been the key cog as the B-Back in the ground game. The freshman from Waycross, Ga., leads the team with 446 rushing yards and is the first option that Duke must contain.
2. Pressuring Daniel Jones
Georgia Tech is last in the ACC – and tied for 119th in FBS – with just seven sacks. The Yellow Jackets would love that to change this week. Jones has done a nice job replacing the injured Thomas Sirk as Duke’s starting quarterback, but the redshirt freshman also has been prone to mistakes. Not only has he thrown eight interceptions, he also lost five (out of six total) fumbles. Along with the fewest sacks in the ACC, Georgia Tech also has forced the fewest turnovers (six). But Duke has given it away (18 turnovers) more than any other conference team with Jones responsible for the majority of his team’s miscues.
3. Kicking Game
Georgia Tech kicker Harrison Butker gives the Yellow Jackets a big edge in the kicking game. The senior is four of five on field goal attempts and his kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks 73 percent of the time. Duke’s Shaun Wilson is one of the top kick returners in the country but Butker can negate his effectiveness by booting it into the end zone. Meanwhile, Duke kicker A.J. Reed has connected on just three of his seven field goal attempts this season with only one of his make coming from beyond 30 yards. Punter Austin Parker handles the kickoffs for the Blue Devils and has just four touchbacks on 28 kicks.
With Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Miami remaining on Duke’s schedule, the Blue Devils must win this game to keep their postseason hopes alive. While Georgia Tech’s remaining games aren’t quite as daunting, the Yellow Jackets still have to play the Tar Heels and Hokies before finishing up with Virginia and Georgia to end the regular season. The loser of this game will face an uphill battle to get to bowl eligibility, especially if it is Duke (3-4). In a hard-fought, defensive game, the Blue Devils will come up short again as the home team takes one step closer to bowl eligibility with its fifth victory of the season.
Prediction: Georgia Tech 20, Duke 14
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.