- Associated Press - Friday, October 10, 2014

ATLANTA (AP) - Georgia Tech has positioned itself to have a special season.

To keep it going, the No. 22 Yellow Jackets must get past Duke, a team that knows a thing or two about making an unexpected run to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.

One of only 10 unbeaten teams left in the Football Bowl Subdivision, Georgia Tech (5-0, 2-0 ACC) puts its perfect record on the line Saturday when it hosts the Blue Devils (4-1, 0-1).

The Yellow Jackets were an afterthought in the preseason rankings, but first-year starting quarterback Justin Thomas has the triple-option offense running to perfection. Last week, Georgia Tech held the ball for more than 40 minutes in a victory over Miami.

“Our quarterback has gotten better each week,” coach Paul Johnson said. “He has a good skill set for what we’d like to do.”

What the Yellow Jackets like to do, of course, is run the football. They are averaging more than 297 yards per game on the ground, ranking second in the ACC and 11th nationally. Thomas leads the team with 470 yards rushing, averaging 6.0 yards per carry, while fullback Zach Laskey is coming off a 133-yard, 29-carry performance against the Hurricanes.

That win propelled Georgia Tech into the Associated Press rankings for the first time this season, but Johnson knows it won’t last long if the Yellow Jackets stumble against Duke.

As the coach told his players at the start of the week, “You worked five weeks to get there. If you don’t take care of business, you’ll be gone in one.”

Duke had last week off after dropping its ACC opener to Miami. The Blue Devils are the defending Coastal Division champs and figure a win over Georgia Tech would jump-start their hopes of winning a second straight title.

“Last year, it was the same thing early on, and it came down to the wire at the end,” said quarterback Anthony Boone, remembering how Duke overcame an 0-2 start in conference play a year ago. “We take every Saturday like it’s a championship game, like it’s a playoff game for us. Hopefully by the end of the year, everything will take care of itself.”

Adding a little fuel to the fire, Duke coach David Cutcliffe ticked off Johnson when discussing the challenges that Georgia Tech faces in recruiting because of its run-oriented offense.

“It’s a little more difficult to recruit high-end players,” Cutcliffe said. “If I’m a receiver, why (would you go to Tech)? If I’m a big-time back, I’m still not doing anything like I hope to do in the National Football League. … Hats off to them for doing a great job of getting players to fit their system.”

Johnson shot back that he’s sent more receivers to the NFL than Cutcliffe has, and advised the Duke coach to worry about his own program.

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Here’s some things to watch for when Georgia Tech hosts Duke:

BIG-PLAY SMELTER: The Yellow Jackets don’t throw it much, but keep an eye on DeAndre Smelter when they do. The 6-foot-3, 222-pound senior usually draws single coverage, which has allowed him to haul in 14 receptions for 339 receiving yards and four TDs. No other Georgia Tech player has more than five receptions.

TURNOVER BATTLE: Both teams rank among the ACC leaders in turnover margin. Georgia Tech tops the conference with a plus-5 differential, while Duke is right behind at plus-4. “That’s a nice little collision waiting to happen,” Cutcliffe said. “It’s going to be fun to see who wins that battle.”

LEAKY DEFENSE: Duke has allowed 186.4 yards per game on the ground, which ranks last in the ACC and doesn’t bode well against a run-oriented team such as Georgia Tech.

TAKING THE THIRD: Georgia Tech has converted 58.1 percent of its third-down plays (36 of 62), which leads the nation. For good measure, the Yellow Jackets have converted 6 of 7 times on fourth down, which is tied for eighth in the country.

BLUE DEVIL BLUES: Georgia Tech has won 10 straight games against Duke, including a 38-14 romp in Durham last season. The Blue Devils have really struggled at Bobby Dodd Stadium. You have to go all the way back to 1994 to find their last victory over the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta.

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Associated Press Writer George Henry contributed to this report.

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

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