Georgia Tech and Duke went into last week's games with high hopes, but they each were squashed by 31 points. While neither team was favored, the margin of defeat was a bit shocking, especially the Jackets' lopsided loss to Pittsburgh a week after dismantling North Carolina.
The two teams will look to get back on the winning track this Saturday when they meet up in Durham. With both programs hoping to be bowl eligible at the end of the year, this is an important game for both the 2-3 Yellow Jackets and the 3-2 Blue Devils.
Georgia Tech's 56-33 win in Atlanta last fall increased their edge in the series to 52-35-1.
Georgia Tech at Duke
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 9 at 12:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Georgia Tech -3.5
When Georgia Tech Has the Ball
A week after rushing for 261 yards versus North Carolina, the Jackets had just 73 yards on the ground against Pittsburgh. With Jahmyr Gibbs and Jordan Mason in the backfield, the rushing attack was expected to be a major asset for Georgia Tech this season. But the pair is averaging less than four yards per carry, and the big plays in the running game have come from sophomore Dontae Smith and quarterback Jeff Sims.
Speaking of Sims, it appears that he is back as QB1. Last week, the sophomore was 24-of-33 for 359 yards and was the primary component on offense. But he also threw interceptions on the first two series of the game that put the Jackets in a 14-0 hole. Turnovers were a major issue for Sims in 2020 and are something that needs to be cleaned up in a hurry.
Duke does have five interceptions on the season, so the Blue Devils are capable of causing Sims problems. But overall, they are 13th in the ACC in pass defense after North Carolina's Sam Howell threw for 321 yards this past Saturday. The rush defense, despite some improvement in Chapel Hill, has not been stellar either, so Georgia Tech may be able to move the football in different ways. Linebacker Shaka Heyward did have another nice statistical game and is tied for the league lead in total tackles.
When Duke Has the Ball
Early on in the North Carolina game, it appeared that Duke was going to be effective running the ball. Mataeo Durant had 88 yards on his first seven carries, and the Duke offense was moving the chains. However, his next 12 runs totaled just 26 yards, and the Devils' offense stalled. For Duke to be effective this week, Durant will have to be a threat for all four quarters.
Despite Durant's success early on, Duke still fell behind quickly. Quarterback Gunnar Holmberg was not able to stretch the field and a fumble when his arm was hit led to a Carolina scoop and score. The Blue Devils' offense is not explosive enough to come back from down two or more scores against a quality team, so a quick offensive start will be imperative this weekend.
The biggest surprise in the Pittsburgh-Georgia Tech game had to be the struggles of the Jackets' defense. The unit had been solid in its first four games and handled Howell and the UNC offense the week prior. But the Panthers put up 52 points and 580 yards in the decisive Week 5 victory. With Durant on the other side, stopping the run will be a major priority. But the Jackets have given up more than 300 passing yards in each of the past two games, though Holmberg is not on the level of the two previous quarterbacks Tech faced, Howell and Pitt's Kenny Pickett. Quez Jackson is tied with Heyward for the ACC lead in tackles, so Duke will have to know where he is at all times.
How well Sims protects the ball will be a major factor in the outcome of this game. The Yellow Jackets are a plus-three in turnover margin this year, but Jordan Yates has been the starting quarterback for much of the early season, and he has not thrown the ball to the other team. Sims is the more explosive player, but turnovers were a problem in 2020, and his two interceptions were costly last week. This Saturday, it will be the Georgia Tech defense that will benefit from giveaways. Duke's own woes in this department — the Blue Devils have not been on the plus side of the turnover margin since 2014 and are currently minus-two — will crop up again as Jacket defenders are able to apply pressure. In what will be a close game in the second half, Georgia Tech will lock things down with a late score.
Prediction: Georgia Tech 34, Duke 24
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— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.