I am not smoking anything (well, two Boston butts and a turkey, but I digress), I think Georgia has a legitimate shot at winning tomorrow. Having two days at home to seriously evaluate the match-ups and think about the game, I believe in Georgia's chances.
That being the case, I wanted to look at some match-ups and see how each team fares, so you'll understand, or at least have reason to mock me.
1) The consensus is that Georgia cannot stop Tech's rushing game. Tech is #2 in the nation running the football, averaging 314 ypg. They are third in the nation, behind Air Force and Navy, in rushes per game with nearly 58 per game. In a lot of ways, this should be the easiest game for Georgia's defense to scheme for, right? Wrong. Georgia has struggled mightily with misdirection and bootlegs, the genius of Tech's offense.
Georgia's rush D, however, isn't terrible at 34th in the nation, holding teams to just over 120 ypg. Georgia's worse game this season, rushing wise, was against Florida (no surprise). It's next worse was against Oklahoma State. Both Florida and Oklahoma State are in the top 20 rushing the ball. The scariest part of looking at this is Georgia's propensity to give up long runs or allow long runs after catch on screens (think Charles in LSU, Tebow several times, the Derrick Locke TD last week). However, the run has been used to set up the pass effectively against Georgia, not as a means in itself.
So what does this mean? This is the area of most concern to me. Yeah, the turnover thing scares me, but looking objectively, I can't assume we'll turn it over more than our average, but I'll have more on TOs in a minute.
If we make tackles when we need to and play solid assignment football, the game stays close. Defensively, we aren't that different than last year, a defense that had the same Georgia Tech offense stopped in the first half. While I have little confidence the scheme changing, the scheme does work, at least in stopping the run. Even if Tech gets the average number of yards per run we've been yielding (3.35) and runs the average number of rushing plays they have (58), Tech gains under 200 yards rushing.
Anyone willing to take that right now?
2) Georgia's passing game, if we limit mistakes, has the potential to eat Tech alive. Tech has struggled against the pass this season. Mightily. They are ranked 94th, four spots behind Georgia, in pass efficiency defense. The Dawgs are a slightly above average at 48th in pass efficiency offense. It all depends on which Joe Cox shows up. If the Joe Cox from the first half of Kentucky or the Arkansas game shows up, I love our chances. The Joe Cox from the second half of Kentucky shows up, I don't.
This is the one chance I see for Cox to improve his legacy. Yeah, we'll complain for years about various things, but who among us wouldn't love him for a 24 for 33 performance with about 300yds and 3TDs? Impossible you say? Tyson Lee and Christian Ponder disagree.
3) While Georgia Tech has a great rushing offense, their rushing defense is pretty stout, as well. Where they have had problems is with teams that are able to involve several players in the passing game, taking run support away from the line. Against Miami, the Jackets gave up 184 yards on the ground to the number 74 ranked rushing offense. Jacory Harris completed 20 passes to nine different receivers. Against Vandy, Tech yielded 218 yards to the number 51 rushing offense. Adams and Smith threw 14 passes to six different players.
Georgia needs the running game to help keep the Tech defense off the field. While our work is certainly cut out for us, it isn't hopeless. This might be one time where balance is good, but both have to be at least serviceable for it to help.
4) Turnovers. Meh.
Seriously, this is the one thing that has made the season a gut-wrenching thrill ride on a Mexican highway in a Pinto without seat-belts. Tech has gotten the bounces. Georgia's opponents have too. They are +6 on the season. Tech has lost 12 of 30 fumbles this season (compared to 10 of 21 for the Dawgs). Thinking about their rushing game, though, you'd expect more fumbles, right?
Tech has run the ball 635 times this season, garnering nearly 21.2 carries/fumble. The Dawgs are pretty close, with 17.25 carries/fumble. Factoring in the give aways, the Dawgs fumble the ball away every 36.3 rushes. Tech does so nearly every 53 rushes. Simply hang onto the ball and good things will happen.
The takeaways? Well, Tech only has 9 interceptions on the season, but Morgan Burnett has nearly half of those. Note to Joe Cox: If he is hanging out there, don't throw that way.
5) Georgia Tech has given up more yards per game in SEC play than Georgia has. Tech yielded 487 yards to Mississippi State and 319 to Vandy. That is against the numbers 7 and 12 offenses in the SEC. If it matters, Georgia has only given up .5 more points per game (31 for Tech, in their two games) in SEC play.
I point this out to show that the gap isn't as great as it seems, especially considering the shared competition. While there isn't a direct correlation to what happened in Georgia's match-up with Vandy vs. what happened in Techs match-up with Vandy, you can see that a team that Georgia held mostly in check had more success against Tech. That is with Vandy turning over the ball three times.
Hey, I grant this might have no bearing on anything once leather meets toe. Georgia has to hold on to the ball and play disciplined football. They also have to make sure Tech isn't given any opportunity to get extra possessions either by missing fumbles by Tech or making bad decisions on throws. IF we involve the TEs early, take a couple of long strikes and let King and Ealey pound the ball, I feel ok about our ability to score points.
The entire Georgia Tech offense is predicated on read and react. Nearly every play is based on a read of either the end on the side they are running the ball to or the action of the mike linebacker. In its simplest terms, the defense can dictate about 75% of the plays that Tech will run. How? Simply shifting Jeff Owens or Kade Weston down the line to a nose guard position (lined up dead on center). This will take away the Agaps, helping negate the fullback dive, and create match up problems down the line with the strongside end basically playing out past the TE, giving another body Tech has to block out there. Tech will have to go to the keeper or pitch. Of course, this leaves the other end alone (with the Will linebacker) to cover any counters, so it will be incumbent on those two to be very disciplined. Regardless, the Mike linbacker (Gamble or Dowtin) will have to make quick and accurate reads on the handoff to either give middle run support or get out to make the QB pay for daring to be out of the tackle box. This alone won't solve all the problems inherent in defending the option, but they will make Tech earn anything up the middle and give an extra defender down the line on the pitch/QB keeper play. The DBs have to make sure they make the right reads on the few pass plays and take good pursuit angles when the runner gets past the linemen and linebackers.
One final thought. IF there are a great deal of chop blocks happening that don't get called (go back and look at the Clemson game, for example), it is incumbent on Evil Richt to show up. Let's be clear, there will be plenty of chop blocks. That is just the way Tech rolls.
You work your thing, I'll work mine.