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Jackets, Devils Prepare for Early Coastal Clash

By Carlos Pineda
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On Saturday, Georgia Tech plays at Duke in the first league game of the season for both teams.

"Last year we struggled early, lost a couple [of] close division games, and we dug ourselves a hole that was hard to get out of."
~Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson

Last year, Georgia Tech needed two fourth-quarter scores to secure a win over Duke, 42-28.

The Yellow Jackets became bowl eligible with the victory and after Miami self imposed another post-season ban, they secured their passage to the ACC Championship Game.

On Saturday, Georgia Tech plays at Duke in the first league game of the season for both teams.

The Yellow Jackets (1-0) opened the season with a 70-0 drubbing against Elon and had a bye in week two.

Sophomore quarterback Vad Lee passed for 189 yards and two touchdowns, and rushed for 49 yards and a touchdown against Elon in his first career start. Georgia Tech had 13 different players rush for a combined 368 yards.

Defensively, the Jackets forced a fumble and three interceptions to set a school record with 173 yards in interception returns. Linebacker Brandon Watts led the defense with a game-high nine tackles and Quayshawn Nealy added eight tackles.

The Blue Devils are 2-0 for the first time since 1998 after they picked up a 28-14 road win at Memphis last week, but will be without quarterback Anthony Boone, who broke his collarbone and was sidelined in the second quarter of the game. In his place, redshirt junior Brandon Connette will make only his second career start.

But on Wednesday, Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said playing Connette would not change the offensive approach heading into the game.

"Both Brandon [Connette] and Anthony [Boone], prior to his injury, worked in the same offense, practiced the same offense," he said during the ACC coaches teleconference. "They've been back-ups before and assess what's best."

Connette took over in the second quarter and completed 14 of 21 passes for 198 yards and tossed two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to break a 14-14 tie against Memphis.

Saturday is the 81st meeting between Duke and Georgia Tech, with the Jackets holding a 49-30-1 lead in the series. They have a 21-18 edge in Durham and have won the last nine meetings, and 17 of the last 18 games.

To make matters worse, Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson is 9-1 all-time against the Blue Devils.

Interestingly enough, Ted Roof guided Duke to its last win over GT in 2003, a 41-17 victory. Roof, who is the Jackets' first-year defensive coordinator, served as Duke's interim head coach in 2003 and head coach from 2004-2007.

Despite being a one-sided series, the Blue Devils have proved to be quite a challenge for Georgia Tech in the past three meetings. Last season, the game went back-and-forth for three periods before the Jackets scored 14 unanswered points in the fourth to secure the win.

Saturday's matchup features Georgia Tech's high-octane offense (557 yards per game) against the league's second-best total defense (210.5 ypg). Unlike last year, the Jackets are looking to avoid another slow start to the season.

"Last year we struggled early, lost a couple [of] close division games, and we dug ourselves a hole that was hard to get out of," Johnson said.

In 2012, the Jackets started September with a 2-2 record, including overtime losses to Virginia Tech and Miami.

For Duke, Connette has played at running back, receiver and on special teams. Despite starting only one game, he came up clutch for the Blue Devils last week. After only completing just three passes in the second quarter, he hit 11 of 14 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns in the second half. Receiver Jamison Crowder, who is averaging 101 receiving yards per game so far this season, is likely to become Connette's favorite target. Crowder had a career-high 11 catches for 140 yards against Memphis.

Saturday's game is the first in a tough stretch for the Ramblin' Wreck in the Coastal Division. Georgia Tech faces North Carolina and Virginia Tech at home, followed with a trip to South Florida to face Miami in the first weekend in October.

Carlos Pineda - Carlos Pineda is a featured writer for Southern Pigskin. He covered the UCF Knights football team for Florida Today in 2010. Carlos' work has been published in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald, Orlando Sentinel and Orlando Business Journal. He attended the University of Central Florida. Follow Carlos on Twitter @CarlosFPineda.