Two teams from the ACC Atlantic Division will meet in a highly-anticipated primetime game this weekend, but the Coastal Division will have its own hotly contested game when the Miami Hurricanes travel to Atlanta looking for their fourth-straight win over the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
Both teams enter the game with a 2-1 overall record, but because Miami’s loss came to Kansas State and the Yellow Jackets fell to to division rival Virginia Tech, the Hurricanes currently hold the lead in the division.
Miami won the last three by a combined 92-34, but the ‘Canes two touchdown underdogs on Saturday. The Georgia Tech offense is off to another fast start – and this season, it’s getting support from a very physical defense.
After dropping the opener at Virginia Tech, the Yellow Jackets put up more than 50 points in each of their next two games, including last week’s 56-20 demolition of Virginia.
Georgia Tech fell into a big hole behind the Hurricanes in last year’s game, so the Yellow Jackets will need to come out as strong against Miami as they did against the Cavaliers last Saturday, when they had a 70-yard reception, a 77-yard touchdown run, and a 60-yard run on their first three possessions.
Under coach Paul Johnson, the Yellow Jackets have become known for big plays. They’ve attempted the fewest passes (42) of all FBS teams that have played three games, but they’re second in average yards per carry, with 18.9.
As Miami’s senior cornerback Brandon Magee told the Orlando Sun Sentinel, “Georgia Tech doesn’t throw a lot. But when they do, it’s going deep.”
Veteran quarterback Tevin Washington is completing 67.6% of his passes, but the Yellow Jackets are more likely to run the ball than they are to pass, and they’re third in the nation in rushing, averaging 374 yards per game. Last week, Georgia Tech out-rushed the Cavaliers, 461 yards to 98.
Washington is the team’s leading rusher, with 253 yards, including a 60-yard run, and four touchdowns. B-back Zach Laskey is second on the team with 187 yards and a 56-yard touchdown, and A-back Orwin Smith is averaging a team-high 12.5 yards per carry.
The Yellow Jackets’ offense has put up big numbers for several seasons, but those numbers didn’t always translate into wins because of struggles on defense.
Defensive coordinator Al Groh might have gotten the D back on track in 2012. The defense is the second-best in the ACC, behind Florida State. The team finally has the right mix of personnel to fit Groh’s schemes, and it shows. Georgia Tech’s defense is 18th overall and hasn’t allowed a score in the second or third quarters in 2012.
The Hurricanes’ head coach, Al Golden, is intimately acquainted with Groh’s defenses as Golden was the defensive coordinator for Groh’s Virginia teams from 2001-2005.
Golden knows his team will have a tough challenge, on both sides of the ball.
Miami’s defense is young, inexperienced, and injury-riddled; the team’s starting line-up has been different almost every week, and it’ll change again this game with middle linebacker Denzel Perryman out.
The Hurricanes surrendered 355 yards to Bethune-Cookman last week, and in the loss to Kansas State, a team that relies heavily on the run like Georgia Tech, Miami gave up an average of 23 yards per carry.
It hasn’t helped that the defense has been on the field so much. Miami is 116th in time of possession, and if the defense has to do all the work against the Yellow Jackets, things will get ugly fast.
The Miami offense isn’t as deep, or as tricky, as Tech’s. Their most prominent, and dangerous, player is freshman running back Duke Johnson, who leads the ACC with 7 touchdowns, is averaging 9.4 yards per carry, and has accounted for 40% of Miami’s offensive yardage this year.
The Georgia Tech defense has dominated against the run, but Johnson might be still Miami’s best weapon when it comes to getting points on the board.
Junior quarterback Stephen Morris got the win over the Yellow Jackets in 2010, but his receivers, who have 11 dropped passes on the year, will have tough match-ups against the Georgia Tech secondary.
A Miami win will keep the Hurricanes at the top of the Coastal division and give them momentum for the rest of their ACC schedule, but it’ll be tough to pull off playing in Atlanta, against a Yellow Jackets team that knows it needs to win out to stay in contention.