NCF Nation: Atlanta 0810

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

 
 Dale Zanine/US Presswire
 Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson talks to tackle Nick Claytor (75) as he comes off the field during Saturday's 31-28 win over Florida State.

ATLANTA, Ga. -- Georgia Tech defensive end Michael Johnson trudged into the interview room after his team's dramatic, last-minute 31-28 win over Florida State with a scowl on his face. All 6-foot-7of him looked miserable.

"We gave up 28 points," he mumbled.

The standards at Georgia Tech have changed under first-year coach Paul Johnson.

Yes, with its seven wins Georgia Tech has officially surpassed preseason expectations so low you could trip over them. And yes, the Yellow Jackets became bowl eligible on Saturday for the 12th straight season.

But c'mon, going to bowl games?

"That's old news, going to a bowl," Michael Johnson said. "We're trying to compete for championships around here now."

With a little help from Miami this weekend, they're still able to. And they're looking way ahead of schedule in the process.

Georgia Tech fell a step behind in the Coastal Division standings with its loss to Virginia last weekend, but as soon as the Hurricanes defeated Virginia 24-17 in overtime, Georgia Tech shot back up to the top of the division standings. The score in Charlottesville was one of the first things Paul Johnson told his team in the locker room after their game.

In order for it to matter, though, Georgia Tech had to take care of its own business first.

"It was a big win for us," Johnson said. "I think that everybody when the season started wrote us off, said we were going to win three games, four games. Then when we started out pretty good, then everybody jumped on the bandwagon. And then when we lost last week, they couldn't get off fast enough. And so it was good for the guys to win. I don't know if we'll win another game, but I know this: I know we've won seven, and that's more than anybody thought we'd win, so I'm proud of it."

The doubts came in large part because of Johnson's old-school triple-option offense (which has really blown the whole three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust stereotype right out of Bobby Dodd Stadium), not to mention an entirely new defense, too. But those within the program -- and coaches throughout the league who have failed to stop the Jackets' offense -- are true believers.

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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

ATLANTA, Ga. -- Florida State coach Bobby Bowden remembered 1992, when Charlie Ward lined up in the shotgun and the Seminoles came from behind to win 29-24. Bowden considered it one of the best comeback wins the program has had since he's been there.

But pulling it off on Saturday afternoon, he said, would have been even better.

"Today I think would've been much bigger, if we could have come back today, because today we had to come back time after time," Bowden said. "We were down 14 one time, I think, and down 11, and we could've come back and won the dadgum ball game."

But they didn't.

For the first time in three games, Florida State (6-2, 3-2) couldn't play its way out of a deficit and lost 31-28 to Georgia Tech. Not only did they turn the ball over on their final, harried possession which ended with a fumble in the end zone, but the Seminoles squandered their share of the Atlantic Division lead.

Now, first place belongs solely to Maryland, and Florida State, a program trying desperately to improve upon its back-to-back 7-6 seasons, is still one win shy of bowl eligibility. The Seminoles have no choice but to win out, and unless Maryland and Wake Forest wind up with worse conference records, even that won't be enough.

Their season of comebacks likely ended today.

Three straight Atlantic Division opponents -- including Maryland -- remain on the Noles' schedule before their season finale against Florida.

"We're trying to encourage the other players to keep your head up, stay motivated and overall as a team we know what we've got to do," said running back Jermaine Thomas. "We have to finish out this season, and we're going to go to practice on Monday and continue to get better."

Florida State had trailed by as many as 10 points in each of their past two games, and fell behind by as much as 14 at Georgia Tech, trailing 24-10 in the second quarter.

"We fought back real hard, we just made a couple of mistakes," said Thomas. "We thought we should've done better but we all have the mindset of going to practice on Monday and working hard and putting this game behind us.

"We win together, we lose together," he said. "We thought we had it. This is an experience we'll learn from and get better from. We all have each other's backs. We're trying to keep each other's spirits up and move forward."

Florida State brought the nation's No. 7 rushing defense into Bobby Dodd Stadium but still could not stop Georgia Tech's triple option offense. The Noles were holding opponents to 79.9 rushing yards per game, and the Yellow Jackets finished with 288.

"I'm proud of our boys for fighting back," Bowden said. "We simply couldn't stop the wishbone. We could not stop it. They just get too far ahead. That's the last time we'll see it this year."

They only needed to see it once to change the course of their season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

ATLANTA, Ga. -- It came down to one fumble, and shockingly, it wasn't Georgia Tech that lost the ball.

When Florida State fumbled the ball in the end zone with 45 seconds remaining, the Seminoles turned over the ball, the game and their chance at running the table in the Atlantic Division -- what they needed to do in order to win it.

Maryland was the biggest winner this weekend, and the Terps didn't even play.

The Seminoles' loss put Maryland in sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division and made life a lot more difficult for Florida State. Georgia Tech's 31-28 win over Florida State, combined with Miami's, made the Coastal Division a mess.

With star running back Antone Smith used sparingly because of his bruised ribs, the Seminoles offense couldn't match Georgia Tech's running game, nor could the defense stop it. With two conference losses, including one to Atlantic Division opponent Wake Forest, the Seminoles are going to need some help getting back into the race.

With two of the nation's top defenses being featured today at Bobby Dodd Stadium, a high-scoring game didn't seem likely, but it wasn't until late in the game that the Yellow Jackets started to play aggressively on defense.

This is what Georgia Tech can do when it puts together a complete game. They won the field position battle, forced Florida State into just enough mistakes and scored enough to win. Call it an upset if you want, as Florida State is No. 15 in the BCS standings and the Yellow Jackets aren't ranked, but this game was just further proof of the parity in the ACC.

Heading down to the locker room now. Check back later.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

ATLANTA, Ga. -- This game has been a microcosm of the entire league, with the momentum shifting back and forth and it being impossible to truly grasp who's going to come out on top.

Statistically, they've been very evenly matched, so odds are it will depend on whose offensive line grades out better in these run-based offenses, which defense can limit the big plays and who doesn't turn it over.

Neither team has been a one-man show, as four different players have scored for Georgia Tech, and Florida State has made use of both its quarterbacks. D'Vontrey Richardson has been used soley for his feet. Georgia Tech has started to get more pressure on Christian Ponder, though, and has forced him into some poor throws.

Both teams are getting a lot out of their usually overshadowed backs, as Florida State's Jermaine Thomas and Georgia Tech's Roddy Jones have both played integral roles so far.

So far, Georgia Tech has made enough plays in all three phases that it could be the team that knocks the Noles out of the hunt for the Atlantic Division. Florida State's defense has definitely been challenged. It hasn't given up three rushing touchdowns in a half since the 1997 Sugar Bowl. Still, the Noles continue to be one of the toughest teams to beat on third downs.

We knew turnovers would be key going into this game, and Ponder's interception in the second quarter dramatically swung the momentum in Georgia Tech's favor, but it didn't last long.

Florida State has had to come from behind in each of its past two wins, though, so this is nothing new for them.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

  

Hello from Bobby Dodd Stadium, where it is a perfect, sunny day and the Florida State fans are out in full force. A crowd nearing the capacity 55,000 is expected today. Florida State is planning on starting Preston Parker at wide receiver, unless he doesn't warm up well. He's got a deep thigh bruise and hasn't practiced the past two days.

A few changes in Georgia Tech's lineup ... Cooper Taylor will make his first career start at free safety (Dominique Reese is injured and won't play), and Nick Claytor will start in place of injured right tackle David Brown.

Here are a few keys to today's game:

Florida State's young offensive line against Tech's veteran defensive linemen: This will be the biggest matchup of the afternoon. The Seminoles will probably need tight end Caz Piurowski to help with the blocking. Georgia Tech's defense, though, is coming off a performance in which it missed 30 tackles.

Georgia Tech's rushing offense against Florida State's rushing defense: The Yellow Jackets are ninth nationally in rushing offense, averaging 236.6 yards, while the Seminoles rank seventh nationally in rushing defense, limiting opponents to 79.9 yards per game.

Turnovers: Georgia Tech needs to hold onto the ball while at the same time continue its knack of grabbing interceptions. Tech has only thrown three interceptions all season, but it's had a case of fumbleitis. On the flip side, Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder hasn't thrown an interception in the past two games.

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