December 5, 2014 - by
First and 10: No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 11 Georgia Tech

By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer
@Tim_Linafelt on Twitter

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Just one step remains between Florida State and a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff, and it’s a big one. The Seminoles face No. 11 Georgia Tech in search of their third straight ACC championship and maybe more. Here’s a look at the players, numbers and notes you need to know before the Seminoles and Yellow Jackets kick off.


2014 ACC Championship Game: No. 4 Florida State (12-0, 8-0 ACC) vs. No. 11 Georgia Tech (10-2, 6-2 ACC)

(Note: We’re using the College Football Playoff committee’s rankings since they will decide the matchups that determine the national championship.)

When/Where: Saturday, 8 p.m., Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. (73,778)

TV/Radio: ESPN/Seminole IMG Radio Network (103.1 FM in Tallahassee)

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Coach: Paul Johnson (57-34 in seven seasons at GT)

Last game: Zach Laskey’s two-yard touchdown run in overtime lifted the Yellow Jackets to a dramatic, 30-24 victory at Georgia. Kicker Harrison Butker hit a 53-yard field goal as time expired in the fourth quarter to send the game to overtime. Laskey ran for 140 yards and Synjyn Days added another 94 for the Jackets, who beat their archrivals for just the second time since 2001.

Last game vs. Florida State: Then-linebacker Karlos Williams grabbed his first career interception to stop Georgia Tech’s late rally and seal a 21-15 victory at the 2012 ACC Championship Game in Charlotte.  Sophomore running back James Wilder Jr. ran for two touchdowns and earned MVP honors.

Georgia Tech vs. Florida State all-time: Florida State leads the all-time series 13-9-1 and is 13-2 since joining the ACC in 1992.

Florida State vs. Georgia Tech

1952: No. 2 GEORGIA TECH 30, Florida State 0

1955: No. 13 GEORGIA TECH 34, Florida State 0

1958: GEORGIA TECH 17, Florida State 3

1962: No. 15 GEORGIA TECH 14, Florida State 14

1963: No. 17 GEORGIA TECH 15, Florida State 7

1970: GEORGIA TECH 23, Florida State 13

1971: GEORGIA TECH 12, No. 19 Florida State 6

1975: GEORGIA TECH 30, Florida State 0

1992: No. 6 Florida State 29, No. 16 GEORGIA TECH 24

1993: No. 1 FLORIDA STATE 51, Georgia Tech 0

1994: No. 8 Florida State 41, GEORGIA TECH 10

1995: No. 1 FLORIDA STATE 42, Georgia Tech 10

1996: No. 3 Florida State 49, GEORGIA TECH 3

1997:  No. 3 FLORIDA STATE 38, No. 21 Georgia Tech 0

1998: No. 6 Florida State 34, No. 20 GEORGIA TECH 7

1999: No. 1 FLORIDA STATE 41, No. 10 Georgia Tech 35

2000: No. 2 Florida State 26, GEORGIA TECH 21

2001: FLORIDA STATE 28, Georgia Tech 17

2002: No. 17 Florida State 21, GEORGIA TECH 13

2003: No. 10 FLORIDA STATE 14, Georgia Tech 13

2008: GEORGIA TECH 31, No. 16 Florida State 28

2009: No. 22 Georgia Tech 49, FLORIDA STATE 44

2012: No. 13 Florida State 21, Georgia Tech 15 (ACC Championship Game)

2014: No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 11 Georgia Tech, Saturday, 8 p.m.

  • Florida State can claim its third straight ACC title with a win over Georgia Tech. The Seminoles are also seeking a second straight 13-0 start and, with it, a likely berth in the College Football Playoff. FSU has 14 ACC championships since joining the league in 1992.
  • FSU has a date with its sporadic rival from Atlanta. Despite being FSU’s nearest ACC opponent, the Seminoles and Yellow Jackets haven’t met since the 2012 ACC Championship Game, and they haven’t played in the regular season since 2009. The two are scheduled to meet again, at Georgia Tech, next season.
  • This is Florida State’s last chance to impress the College Football Playoff committee. The Seminoles dropped again, this time to No. 4, after last week’s win over Florida. As of now, FSU is slated to face No. 1-seed Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1. Oregon and Texas Christian are the other two teams currently in the field. The final four teams will be revealed during a selection show on Sunday at 12:30 p.m.
  • Florida State defensive coordinator Charles Kelly will be front-and-center on Saturday. Kelly served on staff at Georgia Tech from 2006-2012, and was the Jackets’ defensive coordinator when he agreed to become the linebackers coach at FSU. Kelly’s familiarity with Tech’s spread-option offense could be an ace up FSU’s sleeve.
  • Injuries will thrust a pair of FSU freshmen into action. Running back Karlos Williams (concussion) is out and linebacker Terrance Smith (knee) is doubtful. Which means bigger roles for Dalvin Cook (124 carries, 728 yards, 7 TDs) and Matthew Thomas (17 tackles). Cook ran for a career high 144 yards on 24 carries last week. Thomas will be making his first career start.
  • Preparing for Georgia Tech’s unorthodox, run-heavy offense can be a challenge for most teams. But, in addition to having Kelly on staff, FSU also has the benefit of having seen a similar offense earlier this season. The Citadel, which FSU played on Sept. 6, runs an offense that coach Jimbo Fisher said is “first cousins” in relation to Georgia Tech’s.
  • The Jackets run a ton, but quarterback Justin Thomas isn’t afraid to throw when necessary. He’s got 16 TD passes against just four interceptions and his 154.3 passer rating is among the best in the ACC. But Thomas will be missing his favorite target, DeAndre Smelter, who tore his ACL in last week’s win over Georgia. Smelter, a senior, has 35 catches for 715 yards. Tech’s next-leading receiver has just 16 for 255.

One offensive and defensive player from each team who could swing the game

Smelter wasn’t just Tech’s top pass-catcher, he was also its best blocking receiver, which is crucial for runs around the edge. So the next man up, Darren Waller, has a big part to play, both in keeping FSU’s defense honest in the passing game and holding his blocks when the Jackets run.

Senior linebacker Quayshawn Nealy garners most of the attention, but fellow linebacker P.J. Davis, a sophomore from nearby Cairo, Ga., actually leads the Jackets in tackles (97), has eight TFLs and four sacks and has the most forced fumbles (three) on a team that has 10.

Obviously quarterbacks can be the key to any game, but it feels especially true for Florida State this week. Jameis Winston is coming off one of the most difficult outings of his career, having thrown four interceptions in last week’s win over Florida. This will be the first time that Winston has to bounce back from that type of game, and how he responds could go a long way in determining the outcome on Saturday.

FSU defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. deflects a pass from Florida quarterback Treon Harris.

Mario Edwards Jr. raised eyebrows two years ago with a breakout performance against Georgia Tech. Making the first start of his career, Edwards defended the triple-option almost perfectly. It turned out that Edwards had often seen that type of offense as a high school player and now exactly how to handle it. He said earlier this week that it doesn’t look like the Jackets have made any changes to what he saw in their last meeting.

 

Total Offense: FSU: 430.3 YPG (46th nationally); GT: 469.1 YPG (23rd)

Scoring Offense: FSU: 34.6 PPG (29th); GT: 37.2 PPG (15th)

Passing Offense: FSU: 299.1 YPG (13th); GT: 135.3 YPG (120th)

Rushing Offense: FSU: 131.2 YPG (102nd); GT: 333.8 YPG (3rd)

Total Defense: FSU: 371.1 YPG (46th); GT: 388.8 YPG (58th)

Scoring Defense: FSU: 22.0 PPG (27th); GT: 24.1 PPG (42nd)

Passing Defense: FSU: 225.3 YPG (62nd); GT: 220.8 YPG (57th)

Rushing Defense: FSU: 145.8 YPG (43rd); GT: 167.9 YPG (70th)

 “I’ve seen a lot of people come at Jameis in bad ways. I’ve seen people call him everything but a child of God. You see all the negative things, but nobody sees the good things he does. It’s definitely something that he understands now. He doesn’t have the stats that he had last year, but he’s a tremendous leader and great quarterback.” – FSU offensive lineman Cameron Erving on quarterback Jameis Winston

“We had the confidence there from the beginning of the season, but, yeah, definitely beating Clemson and beating UGA back‑to‑back weeks, whether people are going to say it or not, definitely gives you a lot more confidence. Those are two pretty big‑name schools.” – Georgia Tech RB Synjyn Days on the Yellow Jackets’ recent hot streak

“Eyes are the greatest thing any athlete has, bar none. … I say it’s not how good a player you are.  If you’re looking at the wrong thing, you might as well have them shut.” – FSU coach Jimbo Fisher on the importance of eye discipline against Georgia Tech

“Winning is hard, and you look and they’ve won 28 consecutive games. I mean, that’s really hard to believe in this day and age. …You know, they haven’t blown as many people out as maybe a year ago, but they’ve still got a really fine football team, make no mistake about that.” – Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson on detractors of FSU’s unbeaten run

  • FSU has faced five opponents who rank in the Top 15 nationally in total defense – Clemson, Miami, Louisville, Boston College and Florida. The Seminoles outperformed each of those teams’ yards-per-game average.
  • The Seminoles last week became the first FBS team to win a game this season after committing four or more turnovers. Teams had previously been 0-20.
  • Rashad Greene needs one more catch to set the FSU record for receptions in a single season. His 88 are currently tied with Ron Sellers (1968).
  • Saturday will mark FSU’s fifth appearance in the ACC Championship Game since its inception in 2005. The Seminoles have wins over Virginia Tech (2005), Georgia Tech (2012) and Duke (2013) and a loss to Virginia Tech in 2010.
  • Georgia Tech is tied for 10th nationally in turnover margin and has forced 17 turnovers in its last five games. The Jackets have 17 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries on the season.

 

Georgia Tech might have the most underrated fight song in the country. Any song that make references to whiskey and takes clear shots at a heated rival are OK in my book.

 And since it’s the postseason, here’s a bonus video. Everyone associates Charlie Ward with his Heisman-winning season in 1993, but, in many ways, his legend began with a comeback victory at Georgia Tech in 1992. You can relive it here:

 

ESPN.com’s David Hale has a neat story about the first time Jameis Winston and Justin Thomas met – in the 2005 Alabama Pop Warner football championship game

FSU’s Charles Kelly gives Seminoles edge against Georgia Tech, writes Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel

Winston is so good we’re all stunned he could have a bad game, writes Corey Clark of the Tallahassee Democrat

Tech taking confidence from 2012 title game, writes Ken Sugiura of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Everything that Florida State has accomplished over the last two years – the 28-game winning streak, the national championship, and the two ACC titles – began here in Charlotte against the Yellow Jackets on Dec. 1, 2012.

So it feels appropriate that Georgia Tech is FSU’s next obstacle.

The Yellow Jackets are really good, maybe the quietest 10-2 team in the nation, and have really clicked since back-to-back losses midway through the season.

And Tech’s strengths – running the ball, third-down conversions and time of possession – seem to play into FSU’s weaknesses.

But the Seminoles have succeeded against run-heavy offenses in recent weeks and have some experience against triple-option offenses after playing the The Citadel earlier this season.

The defense doesn’t need to be perfect, just good enough. And if Jameis Winston is back in his usual form after last week’s aberration, then the Seminoles’ offense should be able to move the ball against one of the statistically weakest defenses it’s faced in recent weeks. 

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