FIVE KEYS FOR THE BULLDOGS
1. Stop them on third (and fourth) downs
Georgia Tech is converting on third downs nearly half the time (48.7 percent, 16th nationally), and when the Yellow Jackets don’t move the chains then, they are apt to go for it on fourth down (25 times). Only 13 teams nationally have taken that chance on fourth down more. Georgia is 31st in the nation in third-down defense and tied for 12th in fourth-down defense (stopping opponents 8 of 12 times).
2. Avoid giveaways
Georgia Tech can hold on to the ball for extended periods with long, clock-eating drives (see 18-play, 8:31 TD drive last week against Duke). One way to limit that from happening is to avoid costly turnovers. Aaron Murray hasn’t thrown an interception since the first half against Florida, but Georgia Tech hopes to pressure him into some.
“That’s when you get those cheap interceptions when a guy gets his hand up or gets in a guy’s face and the release point’s a little high,” Georgia Tech interim defensive coordinator Charles Kelly said.
Georgia Tech has 12 interceptions — including a streak with a pick in 10 straight games — but only seven fumble recoveries.
3. Stay on assignment
Georgia Tech’s triple option — it prefers the name spread option — demands defensive players be disciplined and not abandon their responsibilities.
The Bulldogs held Georgia Southern, which runs a similar offense, to 318 total yards last week and the Yellow Jackets to 355 last year.
“We know that this is going to be a challenge for us with what we do,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “We’ve got to be ready to play because if you don’t execute, you can give up explosive plays, and that leads to points, and that’s when you get in trouble.”
4. Get ahead early
The Yellow Jackets aren’t built to put up big points from behind, but that doesn’t mean they can’t do it. Georgia Tech rallied from 19-0 down to take a 22-19 halftime lead against Miami before losing in overtime. That is more exception than rule. The Yellow Jackets were outscored 28-7 in the second half against Middle Tennessee State and a 10-point halftime deficit to BYU became a 41-17 loss.
5. Honor the seniors
There’s much to look forward to for Georgia. An SEC championship game next week, probably against Alabama, and a possible trip to the BCS national title game. A loss to Georgia Tech would cancel any reservations for Miami. It would take away the good vibes heading into Atlanta next week. The best way to honor the 21 seniors today is for Georgia to take care of business in a game many are expecting the Bulldogs to handle.
WHO HAS THE EDGE
Georgia Tech is 16th in the nation in scoring at 38.6 points per game while Georgia is 21st at 37.6. Georgia has produced more total offense — 25th (471.4) compared to 28th (461.7) for the Yellow Jackets.
Yellow Jackets quarterback Tevin Washington matched his career-high with three touchdown passes against Duke last week. He set the ACC and program record for career rushing touchdowns with his 36th. The Yellow Jackets are also using redshirt freshman quarterback Vad Lee, who is bigger and stronger and has a better arm. He passed for 169 yards and a touchdown and ran for 112 and two scores at North Carolina.
Behind an improved offensive line, Georgia Tech is third in the nation in rushing at 324.9 yards per game. A-back Orwin Smith is seventh in the ACC with 673 rushing yards and five touchdowns. He also lines up at receiver and leads the team with 17 catches for 271 yards. A-back Robert Godhigh leads with four touchdown catches in only 10 catches.
Georgia will get back starting right guard Chris Burnette, who missed the past two games due to a shoulder injury. That is expected to shift Kenarious Gates back to left tackle as Dallas Lee moves to left guard. Freshman Todd Gurley is second in the SEC with 1,041 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns.
The Yellow Jackets have played five games since the firing of veteran coordinator Al Groh. Under Charles Kelly, the Yellow Jackets held Boston College to 17 and Maryland to 13, but they allowed 41 points to BYU and 50 to North Carolina.
“I think our defense has been a mixed bad since we’ve changed,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “We’ve had a couple of games that have been pretty good, and a couple not so well.”
Georgia’s Mark Richt was reluctant to comment on the differences in the defense since the change.
“They’re playing faster,” Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray said. “When you try to do so much defensively and do different blitzes, guys can get out of position and guys are thinking too much instead of just playing ball.”
Linebacker Jeremiah Attaouchu is fourth in the ACC with seven sacks.
Georgia ranks now in the top 20 in both total defense (329.8 yards per game) and scoring defense (18.36 points per game)
Bulldogs outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, a finalist for several awards including the Butkus, leads the SEC with six forced fumbles and is tied for second with two fumble recoveries. Inside linebacker Alec Ogletre led Georgia in tackles against Georgia Southern’s triple-option last week with 12. His 72 tackles are one shy of the team lead despite missing the first four games of the season with a suspension.
Inside linebacker Alec Ogletree led Georgia in tackles against Georgia Southern’s triple-option last week with 12. His 72 tackles are one shy of the team lead despite missing the first four games with a suspension.
Georgia Tech’s Jamal Golden is 12th in the nation in punt returns (13.6) and 13th on kickoff returns (29.0) with two scores. Sean Poole and Rod Rodwell have combined to average 39.4 yards per punt for the Yellow Jackets. Junior David Scully is 2 for 2 on field goals, from 35 and 34 against North Carolina. The Yellow Jackets have just 18 touchbacks on 76 kickoffs this season and are 11th in the ACC in kickoff coverage. Georgia punter Collin Barber is averaging 41.2 yards per kick. Marshall Morgan is 8 of 12 on field goals. Georgia ranks 13th in the SEC in punt returns.
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson is 146-63 in 16 seasons overall, including 39-24 in five seasons at Georgia Tech. He is 1-4 against the Bulldogs in his career. Georgia coach Mark Richt is 116-39 in 12 seasons and 10-1 against the Yellow Jackets. He is 47-8 in nonconference games and 32-10 in November.
Georgia Tech found out this week it will play in the ACC title game next week as Coastal Division champions against Florida State. The Bulldogs clinched their trip to the SEC title game two weeks ago. Georgia certainly has more to gain, knowing it’s likely in the national title game with wins this week and next. It will be interesting to see if the noon start makes for a late-arriving crowd.
Georgia Tech has rebounded from a 2-4 start that included a 49-28 loss to Middle Tennessee. The Yellow Jackets have won three straight against Maryland, North Carolina and Duke. The difference this week should be in the defenses. The Bulldogs have given up 33 points combined the last four weeks and held Georgia Southern’s triple-option relatively in check last week. Look for Georgia to make it four in a row against the Yellow Jackets and move a win away from a trip to the national title game.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and receivers vs. Georgia Tech secondary
It’s been quite a November for Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray.
In the three games so far this month, the junior has completed 57 of 80 passes for 922 yards with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions.
He’ll take aim today at a Georgia Tech defense that is 86th in the nation against the pass, allowing 251 yards per game.
“I think the secondary can be deceiving sometimes because a lot of it has to do with are you getting any pressure and those type things, but it’s a tough match-up,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “Clearly Georgia has some good receivers and an outstanding quarterback. So it will be a challenge for our guys this week.”
Opponents are converting on 43.8 percent on third down against Georgia Tech, which is 89th nationally in that category.
“They got wide receivers, first of all, that can stretch the field vertically,” Georgia Tech interim defensive coordinator Charles Kelly said of a group led by Tavarres King and Malcolm Mitchell, who each have 33 catches. “That’s what they’ve always done a good job of. You’ve got to be able to defend, you’ve got to be very sound. We’ve got to put our eyes where we’re supposed to and hold our disguises, change our looks and some things like that.”
Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo compared Yellow Jackets safety Isaiah Johnson (team-leading 75 tackles) to Georgia’s Shawn Williams in his aggressiveness. Safety Jemea Thomas has three interceptions.
North Carolina, Miami and Clemson each threw for at least 350 yards against the Yellow Jackets.
“They make mistakes just like every team makes,” Mitchell said. “It’s just that we have to capitalize at that time when mistakes are made so we don’t leave any plays out there on the field.”
Duke and North Carolina completed 67.6 percent of their passes combined the past two games.
“If we’re going to throw it, we’ve got to complete those intermediate routes,” Bobo said. “It might be for 5, 6, 7, but we’ve got to have completions. If not, we’ll hammer it up in there every down to get some third-and-mediums. They’ve been very successful at that. It’s keeping guys off balance. We’ll have to continue to do that to be successful. If you can’t do both well, a good defense can take one away.”
Murray completed 19 of 29 passes for 252 yards and four touchdowns against Georgia Tech last season in a 31-17 win and he was 15 of 19 for 271 yards and three touchdowns in 2010 in a 42-34 win.
“The key is trying to get some pressure on the quarterback,” Johnson said. “We haven’t been able to do that the last couple times we’ve played him. He’s too good. If you don’t get pressure on him, he’s going to pick you apart.”
The Yellow Jackets have rushed for more yards than any team in the FBS since 2008. A-back Orwin Smith leads the nation in yards per carry at 9.4 (minimum of 150 carries) and owns four of the 20 longest runs in program history.
Georgia Tech is 0-2 against ranked teams this season, losing at No. 16 Virginia Tech and No. 15 Clemson. The Yellow Jackets have lost four straight against ranked teams and is 24-75-2 all-time in road games against ranked teams. Their last road win against a ranked opponent was 45-42 against No. 13 Georgia on Nov. 29, 2008.
Georgia considers it leads the series 62-37-5 while Georgia Tech views it as 62-39-5. The difference is two wins during World War II (1943-44), when the Yellow Jackets used players from a naval officer’s training program on campus.
Fifth-year senior Tavarres King leads the Bulldogs with eight touchdown catches this season. He has 20 in his career, tied with Fred Gibson for third in program history. Terrence Edwards (30) and A.J. Green (23) are 1-2. King leads all active FBS players in yards per catch at 18.4.