Georgia Tech takes step forward in Coastal

Georgia Tech-Miami is the game that will define the ACC’s Coastal Division race this year.

Or maybe it’s Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech, as history tends to repeat itself.

Then again, Pittsburgh found a pulse again in Saturday’s 49-27 win over New Mexico, and North Carolina’s season didn’t end with the loss to South Carolina.

What we do know about the clustered Coastal Division after just three weeks: Georgia Tech’s 38-14 win over Duke on Saturday afternoon provided the first hint of any semblance of order in the division, and Miami’s upset of then-ranked No. 12 Florida last week was the most impressive win to date. A Jackets-Canes showdown to get to Charlotte is the popular pick right now, but none of these teams have played their best football yet. Miami can’t continue to go 1-for-11 on third downs, rush for 50 yards and win the division. Virginia Tech’s defense can’t score enough points off turnovers to keep up with the Tar Heels’ Fed Spread. Maybe it was the lackluster lineup in the ACC this week, or the fact that five teams had byes -- including ranked Clemson and Miami -- but the conference had a rather pedestrian look in Week 3.

Even Georgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee, who threw for four touchdowns and ran for another, thought the Yellow Jackets left points on the field at Duke.

“I honestly thought I could play a lot better, to be honest with you,” said Lee, a native of Durham, N.C., who said he had about 50 friends and family members at the game. “I missed a couple of passes, I fumbled the ball once. Obviously those plays are sticking out more than the great plays, but I’m happy I was able to settle down in my hometown, get the ball rolling and score some touchdowns.”

So were his teammates. It's one down, three to go in what could be a season-defining four-week stretch for Georgia Tech, and in turn the entire division race. The win gave the Jackets positive momentum heading into next week’s game against North Carolina. With a much-needed bye week to prepare for the Jackets, though, North Carolina’s defense should give the Jackets their first true test of the season -- which is why a 2-0 start was so important to Georgia Tech.

“It’s great because our schedule doesn’t get easier from here, it gets harder,” Lee said. “We’re 1-0 in the league, and I’m excited to go get another North Carolina team next week. This will be the third one in a row. I’m excited to play them and try to get another win.”

The UNC-Georgia Tech game will be the headliner for the Coastal Division next week, followed by Pitt-Duke. We still don’t know the true identity of Pitt, which was down against Florida State and then up against a lesser opponent in New Mexico. It's likely the Panthers lie somewhere in between those two results.

We know the identity of the Hokies -- all defense -- but still can’t tell if it will be enough to get the program back to Charlotte. Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech looked like the best teams in the ACC in Week 3 -- along with Florida State, of course -- but Miami had a bye. The Hurricanes should remain ranked in the near future, as FCS Savannah State is the Canes' opponent next week.

Don't be surprised to see the Jackets joining them in the rankings at some point, though.

“I feel like we’re pretty good,” Lee said. “I think we’re a pretty good team. We work hard in practice; our chemistry is getting a lot better, especially in the receiving corps. We’re coming along in that aspect. We have great running backs, offensive line. I think we can be a pretty good offense if we put our minds to it. I think we could’ve played a lot better today, but this was a great win, and it’s great practice film. It’s great film to look at going into North Carolina.”

The ACC’s Atlantic Division gets the bulk of the spotlight because that’s the home of the league’s top-ranked teams, Clemson and Florida State. But the Coastal Division should have the more compelling race.

For now, Georgia Tech is one step ahead.