ATLANTA - Georgia Tech's hopes of ending a four-year bowl drought ride on whether the team can win the remaining games it should win. One such contest comes tonight at 8 when struggling Duke visits Bobby Dodd Stadium for an ESPN Thursday night special.
Tech (2-1 overall, 2-1 ACC) will try to rebound from last Saturday's 16-0 loss at No. 11 North Carolina. Duke (0-3, 0-1) has been outscored 117-37 by Florida State, Northwestern and Army.
"We're not going to let ourselves get down after one loss," said Tech cornerback Nate Perryman. "We have a goal this year of going to a bowl game, and if we stay focused and don't let down against teams we're better than like we have in the past, we'll achieve our goal."
If Tech can beat Duke, Navy and Central Florida at home and either Maryland, Clemson or Georgia on the road it would have the six Division I-A wins necessary to qualify for a bowl. The Yellow Jackets' last postseason appearance was an 18-17 victory over Stanford in the 1991 Aloha Bowl.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Joe Hamilton will have to overcome his first rocky outing - 4-for-14 for 63 yards with three interceptions against North Carolina. He played well in victories over North Carolina State and Wake Forest and never really had a chance against the Tar Heels' pass rush.
Running back C.J. Williams also had a tough day at Chapel Hill, totaling only 27 yards on 19 carries. Williams will be counted on even more now that fullback/tailback Charles Wiley, the team's best inside runner, is probably out for the season with with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Virgil Johnson, a 6-2, 225-pound freshman from Fayetteville, N.C., will start in Wiley's place at fullback. Sophomore Phillip Rogers, who missed the first two games with a neck injury, will back up at both positions. Sophomore Charlie Rogers, who ran for 99 yards against Wake Forest, also could play some at tailback.
Tech's defense has improved each week and was excellent against the Tar Heels, although North Carolina had a 5-0 advantage in takeaways.
Led by inside linebackers Ron Rogers and Keith Brooking, the Jackets have held opponents to 82 yards rushing per game (18th nationally) and 289 yards total per game (29th).
An improved pass rush has netted 11 sacks, including three by Jermaine Miles. A year ago, the Jackets totaled only 21 sacks in 11 games.
The secondary, with the exception of safety Mike Dee, also has played well. Dee has been directly involved in two of the four touchdowns Tech has allowed.
"We're playing fast, we're playing with pretty good execution, we're putting some pressure on the quarterback," coach George O'Leary said. " We just need to continue doing that.
"Offensively, we're just out of sync. We didn't play well up front last week. As I walked off the field Saturday, I thought Joe Hamilton had a bad day. But when you look at the game film and see what took place there, he really didn't play that bad. He had three picks, but one should have been caught, another he got hit on the throw and on the third one, he was trying to make a play."
Duke plays two quarterbacks - junior David Green, who is expected to start, and sophomore Matt Rader, who has a team-leading 447 yards passing with two touchdowns and three interceptions. Junior Laymarr Marshall is the Blue Devils' leading rusher with 94 yards on 44 carries (a 2.1-yard average).
After winning its first seven games under coach Fred Goldsmith in 1993, Duke has lost 15 of its last 19 games.
Tech has won five of the last six meetings with Duke and leads the series 33-29-1. The teams have played every year since 1933, making this Tech's second oldest continuous series behind Georgia.