Since he arrived at Georgia Tech, Paul Johnson's teams have traditionally performed very well in their Homecoming games. (Those eight Homecoming games have included three wins over previously-undefeated top-10 teams, and an overall record of 6-2.) For his sake, and for the sake of his 2016 team, that trend has to continue this weekend. Here's why, in order of increasing importance:
1. Momentum from before the bye week needs to be maintained.
Two weeks ago, the Yellow Jackets broke out of a three-game losing streak with a very strong performance in a home win over Georgia Southern. The offense has looked its best all year in the last two games, putting up a nice 69 points in those two games and overall moving the ball well after struggling to consistently perform well over the first five games of the year. The defense has struggled over the last several games, specifically with regards to efficiency, third down conversions, and in creating turnovers, although there have been rumors over the past two weeks of some defensive changes we’ll see this week to address those issues. This weekend, they come off of a bye week with 5 games remaining on the schedule in a 5-week span. If the team is going to finish the year strong, it has to begin this weekend in one of its two likely wins remaining on the schedule. That piece in particular is crucial, because...
2. Restarting the bowl streak depends on winning this game.
At 4-3 with five games remaining, if Georgia Tech is to win 6 games this year and restart their bowl streak after a quiet December of 2015, it absolutely has to win this game. A loss here requires the team to win two of its games against UNC, Virginia Tech, UVA, and georgia -- and they'd only likely be favored in one of those. Losing to an inferior Duke team could be devastating for the team's confidence and send them into a bit of a tailspin over the final third of the season, resulting in another year without a Bowl game. That would be a huge deal, in no small part because...
3. Paul Johnson's support might depend on this game.
After a rough 2015 season that really functioned as a shot to the pride of several Georgia Tech alumni and fans, it was critical in 2016 to bounce back and make a bowl game at the very least. Sure, last year could be attributed to injuries and youth, but without such issues hampering the 2016 team, the results had to be better this season. So far, the jury is still out on how the 2016 Georgia Tech team will finish the year. A loss on Saturday would be a major blow to the team's fortunes this season. To do that, against a very beatable Duke team, would be bad. You know what would make it worse? Doing it in the Homecoming game, in front of thousands of alumni in attendance for perhaps the only game they'll be at this year. A loss in this situation, with all eyes on the team and an expectation of victory, could totally wreck whatever support (financial and otherwise) Paul Johnson has been hoping to gain for his program from fans and alumni.
We learned on Thursday that Georgia Tech will be without its starting B-Back (Dedrick Mills) and one of its best players on defense (P.J. Davis) in this game, meaning it's really going to be up to Marcus Marshall and a small group of linebackers to step up and perform in this game. The Blue Devils are a very beatable team this year, but far from a sure win (as Georgia Tech has seen over the past two years).
The home stretch starts now. Here's to hoping Georgia Tech starts to finish strong. For the sake of the season, they have to.