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Florida State football opponent preview: Georgia Tech

The Florida State football team plays Georgia Tech in Atlanta on October 24th, the first regular season matchup between the Seminoles and Yellow Jackets since 2009.

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The Florida State Seminoles open up the toughest stretch of their season with home games against Miami and Louisville. The very next week after the matchup against Louisville, FSU must travel to Atlanta to take on the current Vegas favorite to win the Coastal Division of the ACC, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, an opponent that Florida State has rarely played during the regular season in the recent past. Here is a look at how FSU matches up with Georgia Tech in history, a look back at the most recent matchup, and what factors for the Yellow Jackets could influence the game one way or the other.

All-time matchup

Although the Jackets and Seminoles have not met in the regular season since 2009, there is a fairly storied past between the two teams with Florida State holding the all-time series lead 14-9-1. The Ramblin' Wreck won seven of the first eight games between the teams with the other game a 14-14 tie. However, FSU has dominated the series since then, winning 12 consecutive games against the Jackets from 1992-2003 by a combined 414-153 margin. Jimbo Fisher has never faced Georgia Tech in the regular season but has a pair of wins over the Yellow Jackets in the 2012 and 2014 ACC Championship Games.

Most recent matchup

In the 2014 ACC Championship, with the inaugural College Football Playoff on the line for Florida State, the Seminoles dispatched the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets behind one of Jameis Winston's better performances of the 2014 season, completing 21 of 30 passes for 309 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

In the first half, the teams went back and forth exchanging blows with neither team holding a lead larger than seven points. At halftime, FSU led 28-21. In the second half, both defenses woke up and began to make stops. Florida State's run defense, which the Jackets exploited for over 200 yards on the ground in the first half, toughened up and limited the triple-option attack to 117 rushing yards in the second half. The Seminoles used a balanced offense that featured a heavy dose of Dalvin Cook, who racked up 177 yards on 31 carries, giving the Jackets a taste of their own medicine. The 37-35 win moved Florida State to 13-0 and all but clinched their spot in the ill-fated College Football Playoff.

Georgia Tech season preview

Bill Connelly released his season preview for Georgia Tech today and although the whole thing is worth a read, here are a few important highlights.

Justin Thomas at QB should be even better this year

As a freshman in 2013, Thomas averaged 8.9 yards per (non-sack) carry but completed just nine of 17 passes with two picks and two sacks. If you're good enough at running the option, you're going to find opportunities to hit receivers downfield, but Thomas wasn't ready.

He was in 2014. His INT rate fell from 11.7 percent to 3.2, and his sack rate fell from 10.5 percent to 5.1. Part of that was a 2013 sample size issue -- your rates might be skewed when you only attempt 19 passes -- but part was obvious improvement.

The option is the most important facet of the Tech offense; Thomas was only once asked to throw more than 18 passes in a game. But aside from an implosion against Duke (6-for-15, 61 yards, two picks), he was somewhere between tolerable and excellent throughout. His passer rating was above 145 in nine games and above 200 in four. He threw for more than 1,700 yards, the first time a Tech QB had done that since the 2009 ACC title run. He was able to punish defenses for getting distracted by the run, and that's all the Tech pass has to do.

And now we've got two more years to see what he can do. This is going to be fun.

The front seven will need to see improvement

Looking at the top returning members of the front seven, you notice something: they're small. The top five returning ends average 6'3, 237. Including Hunt-Days, the top three returning tackles average 6'4, 286. Leading tackler P.J. Davis is 5'11, 218. This isn't mid-major small, but it's smaller than most power-conference fronts.

This can work if it results in extra speed and aggressiveness. You might get pushed around, but you can make up for it in your attacking. Havoc can become doubly important when you are a bit on the light side.

Georgia Tech didn't create nearly enough havoc. The Jackets ranked 102nd in Adj. Sack Rate and a decent-not-great 62nd in stuff rate. There were some bright spots -- KeShun Freeman was Tech's best pass rusher as a true freshman, tackle Adam Gotsis combined 6.5 TFLs with four passes defensed, and the top three linebackers combined for 20 tackles for loss and eight passes defensed. The secondary made plays, but early-down inefficiency was a big hindrance. Tech couldn't stop the run and couldn't rush the passer enough to make up the difference.

Hunt-Days will help. Plus, Freeman is no longer a freshman, and the experience is solid: only two primary members of last year's rotation are gone. But experience alone doesn't make you more disruptive. You need raw talent, too.

This matchup against a Georgia Tech team that returns a lot of their defensive starters from last season as well as their dangerous quarterback who has demonstrated that he is capable of running the triple option and throwing the ball fairly successfully is not one to be taken lightly. Georgia Tech has won the last two regular season games with FSU and will likely enter this one with a somewhat decent chance to win again. Regardless of whether or not they win against the Seminoles, Georgia Tech has even better odds of returning to the ACC Championship for the third time in four years.