ATLANTA — Georgia Tech is on the verge of securing a spot in the ACC championship game in only its second season under Paul Johnson.
And Johnson thinks the Yellow Jackets' first complete game of the season would be the best way to wrap up the trip to Tampa, Fla.
Georgia Tech, No. 7 in this week's Top 25 for its highest ranking in 10 years, would win the Atlantic Coast Conference's Coastal Division with a victory against Duke on Saturday.
Georgia Tech is 7-0 since its 33-27 loss at Miami on Sept. 17 despite allowing almost 25 points per game. Six opponents have scored 27 or more points against the Yellow Jackets, who beat Wake Forest 30-27 in overtime last week.
Johnson hopes to use the scary win over the Demon Deacons as a warning for the trip to Duke.
"I hope that we learned some lessons because we didn't play as well as we could," Johnson said Tuesday. "Whether it was nerves, whether it was focus, whatever. We were fortunate.
"I told our team on Monday we got away with one. Now sometimes if you're going to have a special season, you need that to happen. Let's make sure we don't do it again. Let's make sure we play our best game next week."
Jonathan Dwyer, who has 375 yards rushing and four touchdowns the last two weeks, has topped 1,000 yards rushing for the second straight year. Quarterback Josh Nesbitt has 817 yards rushing and is on pace to give the team two 1,000-yard rushers for the first time in school history.
The Yellow Jackets lead the ACC with 34.7 points per game but rank a modest eighth in scoring defense.
They had to overcome seven penalties for 78 yards to beat Wake Forest.
"Penalties hurt us and thankfully it didn't cost us the game," Dwyer said. "We have to work hard this week and fix those mistakes."
The Yellow Jackets have made the rapid climb in the conference standings with a dominant running game and spotty play on defense and special teams.
"I think we've gotten better in most aspects of the game," Johnson said. "We haven't been as consistent as we would like. Honestly, we've been hot and cold on defense. At times we look like we're pretty good and at times we haven't."
The Yellow Jackets (9-1, 6-1) rank second in the nation with almost 315 yards rushing per game.
The dominant running game allows the Yellow Jackets to lead the league with 442.7 total yards per game despite ranking last in passing. They rank only 10th in pass defense.
"We played pretty good defense in the third quarter Saturday," Johnson said. "We've played a lot of good offensive quarters during the year. We've yet to put together a complete game where we've played great on offense, great on defense and great on special teams. That's what you've got to strive for."
Johnson used his weekly news conference on Tuesday to make a pitch for a playoff system. He said he's been telling his players they've been in a do-or-die playoff mode for almost two months.
"Since we lost to Miami, I told our guys every Monday that this week's game is single elimination," he said. "It's like the playoffs. That is the way we've tried to go at it."
Georgia Tech is playing for its second appearance in the ACC championship game in four years. Wake Forest beat Georgia Tech in the 2006 game in Jacksonville, Fla.
The Yellow Jackets fell to 7-6 overall and 4-4 in the league in 2007, Chan Gailey's last season as coach. Johnson took the team to a 9-4 record and a spot in the Chick-fil-A Bowl last season.
A loss at Duke would leave Georgia Tech hoping to win a complicated tiebreaker for first place in the division.
"We're getting closer to the finish line as far as the conference race goes," Johnson said. "We've got it in sight now. It's one game to clinch our division and get a spot in the championship game, so it's a huge game for the team and program."