- Associated Press - Friday, September 12, 2014

ATLANTA (AP) - When Georgia Tech faces Georgia Southern for the first time Saturday, one thing is certain.

Both teams will run, run, run - and run some more.

The Yellow Jackets (2-0) are averaging 285 yards per game on the ground, which is about right for coach Paul Johnson’s triple-option offense. Georgia Southern (1-1) put up a staggering 599 yards in last week’s 83-9 blowout of FCS school Savannah State, showing the Eagles intend to remain a run-oriented team even as they move up to the NCAA’s top division.

“Georgia Southern has got to be only place in America where 599 yards of rushing offense is not a school record,” first-year Eagles coach Willie Fritz said. “I’ve never been part of a team that rushed for that much.”

For the first time, Johnson will be facing the team he led from 1997-2001, a tenure that included a 62-10 record, five straight Southern Conference titles and two FCS champions.

The Eagles are in the first year of the transition to FBS, but they’ve already shown they can hang just fine with the big boys. Last year, they pulled off a stunning upset of Florida at the Swamp; in this year’s opener, Georgia Southern had a 10-point lead on North Carolina State in the fourth quarter before losing 24-23.

“There may not be many possessions,” Johnson said. “You’ve got to maximize what you get. You’d like to get off to a good start, get an early lead. That would help.”

So far, Georgia Tech has been sluggish out of the gate, trailing FCS school Wofford late in the first half before pulling away for a 38-19 victory. Last week, the Yellow Jackets again trailed in the second quarter at Tulane, but another strong performance after halftime carried them to a 38-21 victory.

Georgia Southern averaged 11.3 yards per carry against Savannah State, a team that had no business being on the same field against the Eagles. Still, the massive numbers got Johnson’s attention.

“When you play a team like that, you need to be able to get them off the field so you’re the one churning the clock and keeping it away from them,” the Georgia Tech coach said.

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Here are some things to watch for when the Yellow Jackets take on the Eagles:

THEY CAN THROW, TOO: With opposing defenses stacking the line, there are opportunities to pick up big yards through the air. Georgia Tech’s top receiver, DeAndre Smelter, has five catches for 132 yards, with two of those receptions going for touchdowns. Georgia Southern senior Kentrellis Showers hauled in a pair of scoring passes against Savannah State. “To finally get an opportunity to show a little bit what I’ve got, and show a little bit what this receiver corps has, that’s just amazing for us,” Showers said.

PLENTY OF WEAPONS: Quarterback Justin Thomas and fullback Zach Laskey have gotten the bulk of Georgia Tech’s carries through the first two games, but this might be the week to start working more on the outside. Tony Zenon is averaging 8.4 yards per carry, and three other players are picking up more than 7 yards every time they touch the ball. “They’re a machine offensively,” Fritz said. “They do a great job of spreading it around to different people.”

KICKING WOES: Georgia Tech sophomore Harrison Butker still must prove he can be a reliable kicker. He’s only made two of four field goal attempts, missing from 30 and 46 yards.

WHO’S THE HOME TEAM: Georgia Tech has struggled to fill 55,000-seat Bobby Dodd Stadium, and Georgia Southern fans have been eager to get a shot at their fellow state school. There were only limited tickets available Friday, meaning there could be lots of blue - the Eagles’ color - in the stands. “This is a game I think they’ve wanted for a long time,” Johnson said. “It’s finally on schedule. They’ll get their opportunity.”

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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