ATLANTA — Georgia Tech can add to its strong start in the Atlantic Coast Conference when it plays Virginia Tech on Thursday night in the rivalry that often decides the Coastal Division.
Virginia Tech (3-1, 0-0 ACC) or Georgia Tech (3-0, 2-0) has played in every ACC championship game.
In most years, the winner of the rivalry game has won the division. Last year was an exception. Virginia Tech beat the Yellow Jackets 20-17 in overtime, but Georgia Tech still played in last year's ACC championship game.
Still, coach Paul Johnson said Virginia Tech's longer list of five Coastal Division titles makes it the favorite. Georgia Tech has won the other three division titles since the debut of the ACC championship in 2005.
"Clearly in my mind they've been the team to beat in the Coastal Division since I've been here," Johnson said. "Until somebody beats them, that's the way I will look at it."
The Hokies have won straight and five of six in the series.
"We've had some great games," Johnson said. "The last three or four years have been really close. We've got to find a way to get over the top on them. We've been close but we've got to close the deal."
Each team has had a short practice week after playing on Saturday. It could be particularly tough for the Hokies' defense to prepare for the Yellow Jackets' offense with its triple-option plays and quarterback Vad Lee's strong start as a passer. Lee already has seven touchdown passes.
"It just adds a threat to their offense," said Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller. "He's a good athlete, can run the ball. But he's shown that he can throw the ball just as good. So we're ready for that."
Here are five things to watch as Virginia Tech looks for its fourth straight win over Georgia Tech:
BACK TO BASICS: Johnson rarely will acknowledge he is satisfied with his team, especially so early in the season. He sounded especially displeased this week when he talked about his offense being asked to do too much. After early experiments with a new diamond shotgun formation, it sounds like Johnson plans a return to his spread-option basics against the Hokies. "We've got too much stuff going on," he said. "We're doing too much stuff and we're not good at any of it. That's not the way I like to play."
SPOTLIGHT ON THOMAS: Logan Thomas, the Virginia Tech senior, trails only Tyrod Taylor on the school records for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback and passing yards, but he has struggled at times this year. Thomas has completed only 48.5 percent of his passes with only four touchdowns and six interceptions. Thomas threw two interceptions before running for a touchdown and a 2-point conversion in last week's 29-21 triple-overtime win over Marshall.
RUNNING ON EMPTY: Endurance will be a factor as each team will be playing its third game in 12 days and its second game in six days. Johnson has bad memories of a similar stretch that ended with a loss at Miami in 2009. "The last time we played three games in 12 days, the last game down in Miami we looked like we were running in sand," Johnson said. "We were just kind of spent, so you hope that's not the case."
STRENGTH AGAINST STRENGTH: The game matches Johnson, the master of the spread-option offense, against Virginia Tech's longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster. The Hokies rank 15th in the nation against the run and fifth in total defense. Georgia Tech ranks fourth in rushing yards, topping 300 yards in each of its three games. Virginia Tech's defense played well even in its 35-10 opening loss to No. 1 Alabama, which had two special teams touchdowns and returned an interception for a score.
BEAMER BALL: Lee lost a fumble last week against North Carolina but has thrown only one interception. Virginia Tech's defense ranks second in the nation with nine interceptions. The Hokies also have one fumble recovery. After the struggles against Alabama, the Hokies came up with big plays on special teams last week, which has been typical for coach Frank Beamer's teams. Fuller blocked a punt that was returned for a touchdown and Hopkins blocked a field goal attempt in the win over Marshall.