Planning for success: Georgia Tech

Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech have never faced each other before on the football field, and yet, there will be an obvious sense of familiarity when the two get together Saturday in Atlanta.

Tech coach Paul Johnson was an assistant at Georgia Southern in the mid 1980s, and he returned in 1997 and served as head coach, winning 62 of 72 games there. He departed in 2001, but the option remained a staple of Georgia Southern football for another four years. In 2010, Southern hired away one of Johnson's top assistants, Jeff Monken, to revive the options. He left after last season, but the offense remains.

"We're against that offense a lot," Georgia Tech linebacker Quayshawn Nealy said. "That's going to play a part in the game. We know the cut blocks, and I feel like we'll have an advantage knowing the different reads. You don't get to see the option all the time, but being at Georgia Tech, we see it."

For Georgia Tech's defense, some familiar terrain might be nice, but it's not a guarantee of success.

In the Yellow Jackets' opener, Wofford's option offense racked up 271 rushing yards and, with 9:49 to go in the game, pulled to within 5 of taking the lead. It was hardly an indication Tech's D was ready for more serious competition.

Last week, the Jackets traveled to Tulane and got their first taste of a true aerial attack, and the results were mixed. The Green Wave jumped out to a 21-14 lead midway through the second quarter before succumbing to a host of turnovers that boosted Tech to a 38-21 win.

In the first two games, Georgia Tech is allowing 5.1 yards per carry on the ground -- 110th nationally.

Still, Nealy's interception return for a touchdown sparked the defensive effort against Tulane, and Tech found the end zone after all three of its takeaways. That and a strong second half provided the good news, Nealy said, even if there's still a lot of work to be done.

"The first game we had a rough going. Last week we made strides to get better," Nealy said. "The first half wasn't as pretty as we wanted, but we finished the second half with a shutout, and I feel like we're going in the right direction."

There might not be much more time to improve if Georgia Tech wants to move to 3-0 on Saturday.

If the tense games against Wofford and Tulane weren't enough to ensure Tech was ready for a battle Saturday, Georgia Southern's history certainly should be.

The Eagles came within 1:37 of upending another ACC team, NC State, in Week 1, and they pulled off one of 2013's biggest upsets when they toppled SEC power Florida last November.

Even if it's not a true giant killer just yet, Georgia Southern has weapons. Last week against Savannah State, the Eagles racked up 599 yards rushing en route to an 83-9 win.

In other words, the Jackets know exactly what they're up against.

"They're definitely on the rise, and we see that. We're not taking them lightly. I think it's going to be a good game, but we're focused on ourselves, taking care of business."

Of course, for the Jackets, focusing on themselves also provides a nice template for the team they'll see Saturday.