ATLANTA (AP) - David Cutcliffe may have sensed his Duke players were shell-shocked after a third straight loss.
The coach offered reminders of Duke's progress after the Blue Devils were overwhelmed by Tevin Washington's three touchdown passes in a 42-24 loss to Georgia Tech on Saturday.
``I told our team we're in the midst of a significant season,'' Cutcliffe said. ``We didn't play poorly. As a matter of fact, we played good in a lot of areas. We played good on defense. They played better on offense.''
Duke, coming off losses to Florida State and Clemson by the combined margin of 77 points, played closer against the Yellow Jackets until the end. Georgia Tech led only 28-24 after three quarters before putting the game away with Washington's two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Robert Godhigh.
``We're still a work in progress,'' Cutcliffe said. ``I loved the way we played. I thought we were all over the right spots from an assignment standpoint. We had somebody there all the time. I'd like to have tackled a little better at times.''
Duke receiver Conner Vernon became the ACC's all-time leader in yards receiving, passing former Florida State star Peter Warrick's record of 3,517 yards. Vernon, who began the game 35 yards behind Warrick's mark, had five catches for 38 yards.
``To finally get that over with is great,'' Vernon said. ``My name, as well as Duke's name, is at the top of the record book.''
The Yellow Jackets preserved their hopes of playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
Duke (6-5, 3-4 ACC) already clinched its first bowl berth since 1994. The Blue Devils complete their regular season with a home game against Miami next week.
``If we can win that, we are 7-5, 4-4 in the ACC,'' Vernon said. ``That's something that Duke hasn't done in a long time, either.''
On the first play of the game, Vernon caught a 2-yard pass from Sean Renfree, giving him receptions in 46 consecutive games, setting another ACC record. North Carolina's Corey Holliday had the old record of 45 games.
Georgia Tech (6-5, 5-3 ACC) moved one-half game ahead of Miami in the Coastal Division. Miami ends its conference schedule next week against Duke.
Miami, 4-3 in the ACC, would win a tie-breaker with Georgia Tech, thanks to its 42-36 overtime win over the Yellow Jackets on Sept. 22, if each team finishes 5-3 in the league.
Miami, under NCAA investigation, could self-impose its second-straight bowl ban. That decision would send Georgia Tech to the Dec. 1 ACC championship game against Florida State.
``All I know is that the worst we can do is tie for first in the Coastal Division,'' said Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson.
Washington threw two scoring passes to Robert Godhigh and one to Zach Laskey.
Washington, a senior, completed 6 of 10 passes for 102 yards and had 19 carries for 62 yards in his final home game.
Georgia Tech ran the ball on 72 of its 80 plays in its spread-option attack and had 330 yards rushing with no turnovers. Godhigh had 18 carries for 72 yards, David Sims had 70 yards rushing with a touchdown and Orwin Smith added 67 yards.
``Generally, when you play a team that runs this offense, they're going to make a mistake,'' Cutcliffe said. ``They're going to fumble a snap, they're going to fumble the exchange, they're going to pitch one on the ground. They did not. ... You're not going to shut them down.''
Even a rare loose ball worked in Georgia Tech's favor. A third-quarter pass from Washington bounced off receiver Chris Jackson's hands - and into the hands of left tackle Ray Beno, who rambled 9 yards for a first down.
An extra week of practice didn't seem to help Duke's defense. Georgia Tech was successful on 13 of 20 third-down plays and each of its four fourth-down conversions.
Duke defensive end Kenny Anunike said the Blue Devils' scout defense couldn't imitate ``the speed that Georgia Tech is gonna run'' the option plays.
Renfree completed 24 of 36 passes for 198 yards with two touchdowns and an interception as Duke took its third straight loss.
Renfree, who had a 9-yard scoring run, had touchdown passes of 24 yards to Desmond Scott in the first quarter and 1 yard to Juwan Thompson in the third quarter.
Georgia Tech held the ball more than 38 minutes with time-consuming scoring drives of 13, 10, 16, 13, 18 and six plays. Duke was left with less than 22 minutes.
``We had five possessions in the first half,'' Scott said. ``That's unbelievable. I remember one series they had the ball for at least seven minutes. Sitting on the sideline, you're thinking to yourself we've got to get the ball and score quick.''
Washington set a school and ACC record for career rushing touchdowns by a quarterback when he capped a 13-play drive with his 1-yard scoring run on Georgia Tech's first drive. The rushing touchdown was his 36th. Joshua Nesbitt had the old record of 35 for the Yellow Jackets from 2007-10.
Vad Lee, who played most of last week's game behind Washington, had four carries for 13 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown run. He completed 2 of 4 passes for 17 yards.
``Tevin played a great game,'' Johnson said. ``Tevin was more of the hot hand, so we left him in.''
Georgia Tech led 28-24 when Washington led an 18-play touchdown drive that lasted 8 minutes, 31 seconds. It was the Yellow Jackets' longest drive by number of plays and time of possession this season.
The only pass of the drive was Washington's 8-yard touchdown toss to Godhigh with about 10 minutes remaining.
Duke's Lee Butler had four kickoff returns for 98 yards before leaving with a knee injury. Cutcliffe said Butler likely will need surgery.