ATLANTA — It’s safe to say Georgia Tech football fans have gotten used to their team beating Duke, with the Yellow Jackets having won nine straight meetings with the Blue Devils, and 17 of the last 18.
But head coach Paul Johnson had a message for any Tech fans who are expecting the Jackets to easily add to those totals when the two teams square off today at 3:30 p.m. in Durham, N.C.
Forget what you know. Forget Tech’s recent domination of the series, which includes winning 10 of the last 11 games at Wallace Wade Stadium. Forget that Duke will be playing backup quarterback Brandon Connette after starter Anthony Boone went down with a fractured collarbone last week.
Instead, Johnson has reminded the Jackets (2-0) players that today’s game is not only their Atlantic Coast Conference opener, as well as the start of a stretch of four straight Coastal Division games, and that the Blue Devils are off to their first 2-0 start since 1998.
“Our big challenge this week is to go up there and play like Georgia Tech can play — take care of the ball,” Johnson said Tuesday during his weekly press conference. “We’ll find out a little bit more about where we’re at this week.”
True, Duke’s two opponents so far this season, North Carolina A&T and Memphis, won’t be found among the nation’s top teams.
Still, the Blue Devils’ defense has been pretty stout, allowing just 210.5 yards and seven points per game.
Leading the way have been linebackers Kelby Brown and David Helton, who lead the team with 14 tackles apiece, while Duke has also been getting contributions for youngsters like true freshman and recent Archer grad Deondre Singleton, who has three stops, including an assist for loss, on the young season.
“Certainly if you look at the stats, defensively, they jump off the page at you,” Johnson said. “They’ve given up a little over 200 yards per game. Third-down conversions are down in the low 20s against them. They’ve given up seven points in two games defensively.”
Of course, that defense will be facing its biggest challenge of the young season in a Tech offense that put up 70 points and 557 yards in its season opener against Elon, led by sophomore quarterback, and Durham native, Vad Lee, who had 238 total yards and accounted for three touchdowns.
On the other side of the ball, the Tech defense also will be looking to prove something in its second game under defensive coordinator Ted Roof, who will be returning to Duke after serving as Blue Devils head coach from 2004-07.
It will try to do so against a Duke offense with a different leader in Connette, who came on in relief of Boone last week and led a pair of touchdown drives that helped the Blue Devils secure the victory at Memphis.
But while the man under center will be different, Johnson doesn’t expect that much different a look from the Duke offense.
“They’ve gone to more of a spread option attack,” Johnson said. “I know their starting quarterback, Boone, is out with a broken collarbone, but Connette has been kind of splitting time in the first couple of games, anyway. He played against us down here in (2010), so he’s been in the (Duke) program a long time. So, I’m sure it won’t vary much of what they do.”