In Georgia Tech’s locker room Saturday night following the Jackets’ 30-24 loss to Georgia, coach Paul Johnson wanted to make one message very clear. It was the same message he had delivered every week during the regular season -- move on.
Both Johnson and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney will bring their teams to Tampa for Saturday’s ACC championship game hoping they leave their disappointment behind them after disappointing losses to their respective rivals on Saturday. Clemson fell out of the BCS standings following its 34-17 loss to South Carolina, and Georgia Tech dropped from No. 7 to No. 10.
Both coaches conceded on Sunday that there is a little bit of concern about the losses having a lingering effect, but both are intent on making the title game this week’s only focus.
“Well, it's always a concern,” Johnson said. “I think when you have a big game like that and you come out on the wrong end, and certainly it's a game that we all wanted to win and take very seriously, but you have to turn the page.”
Swinney said he’s more worried about his staff rebounding than he is the players.
“When we get older we're not quite as resilient as those players,” Swinney said. “Our players will bounce back. They always do. You just hate to lose. I mean, it just makes you sick.
“But you've got to look at the big picture. You've got to keep things in perspective. I know it's always difficult to lose a rival game. I've been here seven years, and we're 5-2 against Carolina, and I'm not going to let the bitterness of the two losses outweigh the great feeling of the five wins. I think you've got to be careful with that and keep things in perspective.”
Perspective, as Johnson points out, is in the eye of the beholder. Some might argue that the losses to their SEC rivals this past weekend will diminish the luster of the ACC title game on the national scale. The ACC entered the weekend 2-2 against the SEC, but was 0-for-3 on Saturday with losses to Florida, South Carolina and Georgia, the latter two which have struggled to finish with 7-5 records.
“I think a year ago we beat Georgia and Clemson beat South Carolina and nobody made a big deal about the SEC being diminished,” Johnson said. “So I think you can take whatever you want.
“We've played six SEC teams since I've been here, and I think we're 4-2. I can tell you Clemson has got players every bit as good as Georgia. Don't think for one minute they don't. It is what it is. Give them credit; we got beat [Saturday] night. But it wasn't -- I don't think it was a dominating steamroll performance. They played better than we did, and that's what happens. Last year we played better than them.
“And if you go back and look, Virginia Tech beat Nebraska; does that diminish the Big 12 championship game? Wake Forest beat Stanford; what does that say about the Pac-10? You could go through every league if you wanted to make a case probably.”
And Georgia Tech and Clemson can still make a case for the ACC’s most compelling title game to date. Georgia Tech hasn’t won the title outright since 1990. Clemson has never played in the championship game, and hasn’t won the title since 1991. Swinney says that should be motivation enough.
“We haven't won a conference here in 18 years, so these kids have an opportunity to do something that hasn't been done here in a long time,” Swinney said. “… So it's something that I think our guys will be excited about. They know that there's two teams out of 12 that are playing for the championship and the right to be the conference champion, so we won't have a hard time getting them refocused. I'd be very surprised with that. Same thing for Georgia Tech.”