by Mike Potter
Duke will have to believe in miracles on Saturday.
The math says that the Blue Devils are still in the race to win the ACC's Coastal Division and somehow wind up in a BCS bowl. But Coach David Cutcliffe's club would have to pull off a couple of big-time upsets to accomplish that.
The challenge in front of their noses comes on Saturday as the Blue Devils (5-4, 3-2) who had their three-game winning streak snapped in a 19-6 loss at UNC in the annual Battle for the Victory Bell, host a No. 7 Georgia Tech team (9-1, 6-1 ACC) that is on a seven-game winning streak and still has a smidgen of hope for playing for the National Championship.
Tech has won 13 of the last 14 meetings, each of the last five, and rolled Duke 27-0 in Atlanta last year. So a Duke victory would be one heck of a big upset.
"When you're playing a team that possesses the ball as well as Georgia Tech does, the best way to prevent them from dominating the ball is try to stay on the field yourself," Cutcliffe said. "Your offense is not just playing their defense, your offense is playing their offense. You don't want to put your defense right out on the field after they've just put together a 12-14 play drive. Last year we just couldn't generate much offense against them.
"With the wishbone offense, what you try to have, and I think it's a necessity, you've got to have a quarterback who can operate and they've got that (in Josh Nesbitt). You've got to have a fullback who is tough, durable and a big-time threat. They have that (in Jonathan Dwyer). And to me the other great variable is to have a great wide receiver (like Demaryius Thomas) that's a difficult one-on-one matchup."
Georgia Tech dodged a bullet last week in its 30-27 overtime win over Wake Forest, and Coach Paul Johnson said he made his team quite aware of that.
"Since we lost to Miami, I told our guys every Monday that this week's game is single elimination," he told The Associated Press. "It's like the playoffs. That is the way we've tried to go at it. ...
"We're getting closer to the finish line as far as the conference race goes. We've got it in sight now. It's one game to clinch our division and get a spot in the championship game, so (the Duke game) is huge game for the team and program."
The point man in keeping Duke's offense on the field is quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, who was held to 113 yards passing last week.
"We're playing the No. 7 team in the country, and that's enough to get us up for this game," Lewis said. "If we win two out of three we're bowl-eligible. But we don't want to settle and be content with that. We want to try to go out and take it one game at a time and the first test is Georgia Tech this Saturday.
"This is very important. The way we performed against those guys last year, it wasn't Duke football. We know where we came from. We have a great opportunity on Saturday to keep the Coastal Division open and not let it be closed out. We can move it on to the next chapter."
Duke (5-4, 3-2 ACC) vs. No. 7 Georgia Tech (9-1, 6-1)
[Saturday, noon, Wallace Wade Stadium]
Georgia Tech leads series 45-30-1
Audio: WDNC-620, GoDuke.com, Sirius 211, XM 190
Key stats ...
Duke: Team scoring 26.9 to opponents' 23.6. Rushing 68.2 to 139.2. Passing 301.6 to 184.0. Individual leaders - (rush) Desmond Scott 44-182 1 TD, (pass) Thaddeus Lewis 204-329-5-2428 15 TD, (receive) Donovan Varner 44-674 5 TD, (tackle) Vincent Rey 76 with 1 int., 1 fum. rec.
Georgia Tech: Team scoring 34.7 to 23.6. Rushing 314.9 to 126.4. Passing 127.8 to 226.7. Individual leaders - (rush) Jonathan Dwyer 164-1093 9 TD, (pass) Josh Nesbitt 52-115-4-1223 6 TD, (receive) Demaryius Thomas 37-861 5 TD, (tackle) Brad Jefferson 67 with 2 forced fum.
Best message board tidbit on the game:
Crossoveryp on DeviIsIllustrated.com "I don't think Thad (Lewis) will get as pressured in this one as the UNC game (at least I'm hoping he won't). UNC's defense is probably the best all around defense we'll see in the remaining games. If Thad does get pressured and we can't slow down the run, then this is going be another long day. Paul Johnson will have Georgia Tech ready and I think he has it in for Duke since dating back to the Navy days. My heart is hoping for an upset and believing in it, but my head knows we just don't have what it takes to make an upset against a team that is more talented than both Virginia Tech and UNC. I'm hoping like crazy and will be screaming my head off for a miracle, but I'm not expecting it."
Duke will win if ... As Cutcliffe has said, the Blue Devils play their best game of the season in all three phases. Lewis has to have a great game, as the longer Duke keeps the ball away from the Yellow Jackets the better the chances for an upset. A turnover margin of +2 and at least 50 yards rushing would be big positives.
Georgia Tech will win if ... The Yellow Jackets just play their normal game. Duke already played against a wishbone-style offense at Army, but those were some talented military cadets and not nationally coveted athletes running it. If Dwyer and Nesbitt combine for 200 yards rushing between them and Thomas completes five passes, Duke probably can't win.
Can the French Blue Devils finally get past that ol' Ramblin' Wreck? If they combine the defensive effort of the Maryland game with the offensive effort of the ACC game, there's a chance. If they pull the upset, it will probably be the lead on SportsCenter. Georgia Tech may well be the best team in the country that has actually lost a game.
Players to watch ...
Duke: #3 DT Vince Oghobaase, #9 QB Thaddeus Lewis, # 31 MLB Vincent Rey, # 83 WR Austin Kelly.
Georgia Tech: #1 S Morgan Burnett, #8 WR Demaryius Thomas, #9 QB Josh Nesbitt, #21 RB Jonathan Dwyer.
Injury report ...
Duke: QB Thaddeus Lewis (leg) probable, LB Damian Thornton (neck) probable, WR Donovan Varner (knee) probable, WR Conner Vernon (head) probable, WR Johnny Williams (knee) probable, LB Abraham Kromah (leg) questionable, OG Mitchell Lederman (foot) questionable, LB Vincent Rey (leg) questionable, K Will Snyderwine (leg) questionable, DT Vince Oghobaase (leg) - doubtful.
Georgia Tech: OT Austin Barrick (heel) OUT, WR Kevin Cone (ankle) OUT, DE Robert Hall (knee) OUT.
Vegas line: Georgia Tech by 12.
Score prediction: Georgia Tech 35, Duke 27.