Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech try to keep their bowl hopes alive

Georgia Tech and visiting Virginia Tech will each look to take a much-needed step toward becoming bowl eligible after recent skids derailed their seasons when they meet on Saturday in Atlanta.

The Yellow Jackets (3-4, 2-3 ACC) and Virginia Tech (3-4, 1-2) are well off the pace set by Pittsburgh (6-1, 3-0) atop the ACC’s Coastal Division.

Georgia Tech has lost two of its past three games after a 48-40 setback at Virginia last week. Virginia Tech extended its losing streak to three games following a 41-36 defeat to visiting Syracuse.

Teams must win six games to be eligible to play in a bowl. After Saturday, the Yellow Jackets close at Miami (3-4, 1-2), home against Boston College (4-3, 0-3), at No. 11 Notre Dame (6-1) and home against top-ranked Georgia (7-0).

Virginia Tech has games left at Boston College, home against Duke (3-4, 0-3), at Miami and at Virginia (6-2, 4-2).

Georgia Tech hasn’t played in the postseason since a 34-10 loss to Minnesota in the Quick Lane Bowl in 2018.

Virginia Tech opted out of playing in a bowl game last season, ending the nation’s longest bowl streak at 27 straight years. The Hokies finished 5-6 and could have played in a bowl game but decided against it during the coronavirus pandemic. Last year, teams with fewer than six wins were eligible due to unforeseen circumstances surrounding COVID-19.

Last week, Georgia Tech jumped out to a 13-0 lead against the Cavaliers before quarterback Brennan Armstrong took over the game. He threw for 396 yards and four touchdowns, in addition to rushing for 99 yards and two scores on 12 carries, to rally Virginia to its fourth straight win.

The Yellow Jackets played their best game offensively of the season. Quarterback Jeff Sims threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns and an interception, while Jahmyr Gibbs rushed for 132 yards, including a 71-yard touchdown run, on just 13 carries. Kyric McGowan had seven catches for 86 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

“We’ve got a lot of really talented players on offense that are continuing to grow and develop,” Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins said.

Virginia Tech opened the season 3-1 and was primed to make a run at the Coastal Division title with its next three games at home. But losses to then-No. 14 Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse have the Hokies in a freefall.

“You play three games that are so close and so tight that come down to the wire on both sides of the ball,” Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said. “You certainly think about it, and that’s why I think it’s a testament to our young people and their resiliency, their toughness and dedication to each other.”

Against Syracuse, the Hokies led 36-27 following Malachi Thomas’ 47-yard touchdown run with 5:36 remaining. But after cutting the lead to 36-34 on its next possession, Syracuse capped the comeback when Garrett Shrader hit Damien Alford for a 45-yard touchdown with 19 seconds remaining for the win.

Virginia Tech quarterback Braxton Burmeister was just 10-for-20 passing for 177 yards and a touchdown, with Thomas pacing the rushing attack with 151 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries. But the Hokies allowed 550 yards of total offense, including 314 on the ground.

“We probably played our worst game defensively; we did play our worst game defensively,” Fuente said.