Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich
ATLANTA -- Grown men joined the Georgia Tech students in hurling themselves over the eight-foot wall separating the fans from historic Grant Field at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Defensive end Derrick Morgan winced in pain as ecstatic nameless fans continued to pat him on his sore back. The goal posts weren’t just torn down, they were dismantled and have already made their way out the stadium gates and into a frat house -- or the university president's front lawn (there have been conflicting reports, but it's no longer here in the stadium.)
The Yellow Jackets’ 28-23 upset of No. 4 ranked Virginia Tech in front of the largest home crowd of the season was bigger than any one player who was swept away in the postgame euphoria, and it was bigger than last year’s road win over Georgia, said quarterback Josh Nesbitt -- “by far.”
“It’s the biggest thing that’s happened since I’ve been here,” Nesbitt said.
That’s because this one has bigger implications both within the conference and on the national scale. Since the Hokies joined the league, all roads to the ACC championship have gone through Blacksburg, and this year, the Yellow Jackets got a taste of what it’s like to beat the one team that’s dominated the conference over the past five seasons. With the win, No. 19 Georgia Tech knocked the Hokies out of the running for the national title and should be rewarded with a high top 15 ranking by the Associated Press poll. That should be reflected when the first BCS Standings are released on Sunday, but a top 10 ranking might be too much for Jackets’ fans to hope for at this point.
After all, Georgia Tech isn’t even leading the Coastal Division -- yet.
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson reminded his players in the locker room immediately after the game where they stand -- behind Virginia in the tightly contested Coastal Division standings. Georgia Tech hasn’t defeated Virginia in Charlottesville since 1990, so there is no sense of security in the locker room considering that’s where the Jackets are headed next.
The ACC -- once again -- is as comfortable as a crowded elevator.
“There are still games left to play, so all you focus on is Virginia,” said Johnson. “Because we’ve got to go up there and win the game. We know we already have a loss and I don’t think you’re going to win our side with two. I think somebody with one loss is going to win. What we did tonight is we stayed alive, and we put everybody else back in it.”
They stayed alive with a remarkable turnaround on defense. After giving up an average of 37.5 points and 513 yards over the past two games, Georgia Tech held the Hokies to 334 yard of total offense and, with the exception of a 66-yard touchdown run, kept running back Ryan Williams in check most of the night. Morgan said the defense felt “an obligation” to finally help its offense.
“We owed it to the offense because they were taking care of business the last two weeks,” Morgan said. “They were like a machine. Our main focus was we can’t leave them out there to dry.”
They didn’t, and despite completing just one pass the entire game -- a 51-yard heave to Demaryius Thomas in the second quarter -- the offense held up its end of the deal, too.
Defensively, Virginia Tech came out with a different look than it did a year ago. Last year the Hokies lined up in an eight-man front the entire game, and this year they played a 4-3 or 6-1 and rolled a safety into the boundary. In the first half, Georgia Tech was running “right into the teeth of where they were lined up,” Johnson said. In the second half, though, they adjusted while Virginia Tech stayed the same. The difference was noticeable, as Georgia Tech ran for just 37 yards in the first half and piled up 272 in the second.
“The lined up a little differently than they played last year, and we acted like we had never seen that defense,” Johnson said. “Once we got settled down at halftime and understood where everybody was supposed to go, we executed a little better in the second half.”
None of it will matter much, though, if Georgia Tech can’t stop its losing streak in Charlottesville next weekend.
“With this win, this helps us a lot, but like coach Johnson said, after this game, that makes the Virginia game even bigger,” said safety Morgan Burnett. “That just shows you the competitiveness in the ACC conference. You can’t get relaxed or satisfied. You have to keep pushing and stay hungry.”
Only then do the wins somehow keep getting bigger.