ATLANTA — When the Techs get together, there's usually a division title on the line.
No difference this year.
No. 10 Virginia Tech controls its fate in the Atlantic Coast Conference, while No. 20 Georgia Tech is in good shape though still needing a bit of help to get to the championship game.
But this much is clear: The winner of tonight's game in Atlanta will take a major step toward claiming the Coastal Division title.
"You definitely have a leg up," said Georgia Tech running back Roddy Jones. "In order to have that conversation, we have to win. So we're approaching this as the biggest game of the year. It's kind of like our championship game."
That's the way it's been ever since the ACC split into a pair of six-team divisions in 2005. The team that comes out on top in this contest has gone on to win the division every time, with Virginia Tech taking four titles, Georgia Tech the other two.
The Hokies (8-1, 4-1 ACC) merely need to win out to take the crown and earn a spot in the Dec. 3 ACC championship game at Charlotte, N.C. The Yellow Jackets (7-2, 4-2) have to win their final two conference games and get a little assistance — Virginia would have to lose one more time in a tough closing stretch that includes a trip to Florida State and the traditional season finale against its state rival.
At the moment, the Hokies are the only team that matters to Georgia Tech.
"Virginia Tech is always a great team," Jones said. "Anytime you want to win the Coastal Division, you know you're going to have a battle against them."
Even before the season opener, Jones and his teammates took note of that prime-time contest late in the year.
"When we saw VT in November, we wanted to be in position where it was a big game and it mattered. It does," Jones said. "It's an elimination game. People want a playoff. Well, we're kind of in a playoff format right now."
While the home team normally has a big edge, leaving Blacksburg hasn't been much of a problem for the Hokies. They've won 11 straight road games — an ACC record, as well as the longest current streak in the nation. Plus, this is the time of year when Virginia Tech normally shines, going 24-2 in November since 2004.
"We want to finish out strong," Hokies offensive tackle Blake DeChristopher said.
Georgia Tech comes in with the ACC's best rushing attack, averaging 328 yards per game out of a triple-option scheme that's a throwback to the wishbone of the 1970s. While the Yellow Jackets usually line up only guy behind quarterback Tevin Washington, they have two other de facto running backs that play out of the slots, ready to block or swing around to take a pitch.
Actually, Washington has done the majority of the running himself, leading the team in both carries (168) and yards (639) and tied with Orwin Smith for rushing touchdowns (10 apiece). While defenses generally prefer for the junior to keep the ball rather than get it outside to speedier B-backs such as Jones or Smith (who's averaging 11.3 yard per attempt), that strategy backfired on Clemson.
In Georgia Tech's last game, Washington ran for 176 yards — the most in school history by a quarterback — and broke off the two longest gains of his career in a 31-17 upset of the then-unbeaten Tigers.
"You need to be able to move the ball and keep the ball away from them, but you've got to get some points," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "If you can ever get them behind, you've got an advantage there. But it's a tough outfit to play one time a year and try to prepare for it and get your kids where they need to be."
Virginia Tech has certainly been stingy on the defensive side, allowing the fewest points (15.4 a game) and the second-fewest yards rushing (86.3) in the ACC. But the option presents plenty of unique challenges in an era when teams are used to facing the spread or pro-style passing offenses.
"They make you be very exact," Beamer said. "It happens very fast and very quick and if you've got a wrong step in there, they've probably got you."
The Hokies will try to control the clock with an offense built around first-year starting quarterback Logan Thomas and junior running back David Wilson, who's ripped off six straight 100-yard games — the longest streak in Beamer's quarter-century as coach.
A bit undersized in its 3-4 scheme, Georgia Tech has been vulnerable against a power running game. In an upset loss to Virginia — a game that could come back to haunt the Yellow Jackets in a tiebreaker situation — the defense surrendered 272 yards on the ground. Overall, they rank eighth in the conference against the run.
"With David, the sky's the limit," DeChristopher said. "Any game is an opportunity for him to break out, but he's been having 100-plus games for us. As an offensive lineman, that's definitely a win for us. We just like seeing that. So I'm sure he'll finish off the year strong."