Quarterbacks Advantage: Miami (FL)
Jacory Harris has returned to practice but was not in pads and, according to Randy Shannon, did very little in practice. He is yet to be cleared by the medical staff to play and Shannon has been adamant in saying Harris won’t be considered for playing time until the medical staff clears him. Freshman Stephen Morris will make his second career start Saturday at high noon, and what more could Cane fans have asked from him in his first? Morris did throw two interceptions but he completed 18 of his 30 passes, threw for 286 yards, and connected with Leonard Hankerson for a clutch 35-yard touchdown with 37 seconds left to lead the comeback victory. Morris received a helpful hand from his running game and Mark Whipple called a tremendous game incorporating offensive balance and facilitating matters for his hand-picked true freshman first-time starter. Morris’ 286 yards topped any passing yardage Harris has accumulated this season in a single-game performance. Morris is also a bit more mobile and doesn’t shy away from contact; he can run for gains when the pocket collapses or at least rollout and extend plays.
When Josh Nesbitt went down for Georgia Tech in the second half of last Thursday night’s game against Virginia Tech, sophomore Tevin Washington was forced to take over and handle the quarterbacking duties. Despite the quarterback change, nothing will change in the offense of the Paul Johnson-coached Yellow Jackets. They will still run the triple option with Washington running the show and will throw the ball sparingly, and when they do throw the ball, don’t expect dink and dunk five yard passes. They’ll be going for the big play down the field. Also, without Nesbitt, expect Johnson to throw in some more trick plays to see if he can catch the Hurricane defense off guard. Washington was forced to play out of his comfort level at the end of the Virginia Tech game, having to lead the offense to a score in the two minute offense. He ended up going 2 for 7 with his passes for 80 yards and an interception that sealed the deal in Blacksburg, VA. Washington also had 11 carries for 45 yards. Redshirt freshman David Sims may see some of the field if Washington struggles.
Running Backs Advantage: Georgia Tech
The Miami running game was spectacular against Maryland. Overall, the three Cane running backs of Lamar Miller, Mike James, and Graig Cooper (Damien Berry couldn’t play due to a lower extremity) carried the ball 42 times for 216 yards. It truly was Miller Time last Saturday as he took 22 of those carries for 125 yards and the first touchdown of the game. He displayed the excellent speed and agility to get around defenders that we all knew he possessed and would’ve had a few more big plays if they hadn’t been called back due to holding penalties. Miller can be such a deadly weapon if Whipple can consistently get him into space whether with a handoff, pitch, or screen pass. Berry was back at practice this week and may be available to complement Miller and the rest of the boys; Berry’s listed as questionable with—no, not an upper extremity; no, not a lower extremity, guess again; an illness! The trainers added a new term on the injury report this week. Anyway, expect Whipple to once again maximize on his use of his running backs for this matchup as he wants to attack the Tech 3-4 front 7, which is currently slim at nose tackle, to slow down their pass rush.
As impressive as the Miami running backs are, the Georgia Tech backs are all the more impressive. The Yellow Jackets’ complex triple option running attack ranks first in the nation with 320.6 yards per game. A lot of that has to do with Nesbitt, but their assortment of running backs, and the way they incorporate them into the offense, is the main reason. They can no longer depend on the likes of Jonathan Dwyer who graduated last year, but they are led by senior Anthon Allen and his 2,500 career rushing yards and 31 career touchdowns. Also aiding Allen in the running of the triple option will be backs like Roddy Jones, Orwin Smith, and Embry Peeples, all of which average over 6 yards a carry. Both teams’ running backs are looking extremely solid and Georgia Tech’s advantage in this category is pending on Allen’s status who is questionable for the game.
Wide Receivers/ Tight Ends Advantage: Miami (FL)
There’s not much of a competition here. Miami averages 240.7 passing yards per game while Georgia Tech goes for 84.2 a game. You do the math. Miami continues to get great play from senior Leonard Hankerson who leads the Canes in virtually every receiving category except yards per catch. That honor goes to Travis Benjamin who has really caught fire as of late. Minus a couple of dropped passes that he’s had, he’s put up 13 catches for 272 yards and two touchdowns on plays where he’s made a move after the catch. At tight end, Asante Cleveland should be getting more reps. I understand Richard Gordon is an excellent blocker and he’s in the game for those reasons, but Chase Ford should not be playing ahead of Cleveland on the depth chart as he’s proven to be incapable of contributing to this offense. Cleveland, however, is out for Saturday’s game with a head injury, but it would be nice to see him get more playing time going forward.
Georgia Tech no longer has Demaryius Thomas to throw the deep ball to who ended up going to the Denver Broncos in the first round of this year’s draft. Their leading receiver this year is sophomore Stephen Hill who has 12 catches for 165 yards and 2 touchdowns. Again, when Tech throws the ball, they’re usually going for the home run play, although they will rarely throw it. Even on certain downs that appear to be passing downs, they’ll look to pick up the first on the ground. Paul Johnson is also very aggressive on fourth downs.
Offensive Line Advantage: Georgia Tech
It’s such a big and talented group for the Miami Hurricanes up front, but the penalties are killing them. There’s no excuse for committing as many false starts and holdings as they did against Maryland in the friendly confines of their home stadium. I would imagine it’s something the team addresses this week in practice. Center Tyler Horn, who’s been so reliable for a majority of the season opening up running holes up the middle for his running backs, was called on three holding penalties, and that only scratched the surface of how many big plays were called back due to blocking penalties. Aside from the penalties, another thing worth noting is how much better the younger players on the line have appeared over the veterans. Seantrel Henderson, Brandon Washington, and Brandon Linder have outplayed the likes of Orlando Franklin (who is questionable with a lower extremity), Harland Gunn, and Tyler Horn in the past two games. One thing Shannon stressed regarding the offensive line is the challenges that the Georgia Tech 3-4 defense will present in identifying who the 4th pass rusher will be on any given play.
The Georgia Tech offensive line has had some similar penalty woes recently as well, mostly with some false starts. Then again, they’ve played their last two games on the road in some hostile environments at Clemson and Virginia Tech, so some home cooking should be enough to remedy the situation. While their offensive line is considerably smaller than Miami’s, they are athletic and can move around to get their position on defenders. Their guards do an excellent job of pulling on running plays to the outside, and the line deserves a lot of the credit for the Yellow Jackets’ #1 ranking in running the football.
Defensive Line Advantage: Miami (FL)
Of course, the primary focus for the Miami defensive line this week is to stop the triple option runs. This is a line that loves to pin their ears back on passing downs and get to the quarterback, but there aren’t many passing downs in a Paul Johnson offense. The line is going to have to be disciplined, stay in their lanes, and play assignment football. The Canes received a major boost on the injury front with Josh Holmes (lower extremity) listed as probable for the game. That adds depth to the Miami front four that they’re going to need chasing those GT running backs all over the field. The Hurricanes in practice this week would have three players on offense, each carrying a ball in their hands, run in different directions and they wouldn’t whistle the play dead until all three players were brought down with Eduardo Clements quarterbacking the option offense. We’ll find out come Saturday if this method will get the defense prepared for the option, like they were in last season’s meeting, or if they’ll get embarrassed like they did two years ago for their last trip to Atlanta.
Georgia Tech likes to use three down linemen in the defensive sets with four linebackers behind them, as opposed to 4 and 3, which is what most teams do. The predominant advantage of this type of defense is that it makes it difficult for the opposing offense to pick up who the fourth, or maybe even fifth or sixth pass rusher will be. We may even see them blitz two linebackers and drop a defensive end into coverage to give Miami different looks that may confuse the young quarterback Morris. In the 3-4 defense, the nose tackle is an extremely critical position in stopping the run as it is his responsibility to either get a good push up front and make the play or at least draw two offensive linemen to block him to free up one of the two interior linebackers. The Yellow Jackets are slightly depleted at this position with starter Logan Walls out. Redshirt sophomore T.J. Barnes is still formidable to fill in for Walls but where they really miss out is depth as they don’t have much firepower after that.
Secondary Advantage: Miami (FL)
Aside from the obvious of avoiding blockers to get to Georgia Tech’s plethora of running backs, the linebackers and defensive backs focus will be on simply preventing big plays from occurring. While Georgia Tech keeps their offense restricted to the ground game a lot, they are a big play offense nonetheless. They love to free up their backs for huge gains and when they pass they go for the deep ball. Lane assignments and discipline will be key for the Hurricanes linebackers. It helps that Colin McCarthy and Sean Spence experienced a great deal of success in stopping the triple option last year against Tech. Them, and guys like Vaughn Telemaque and Brandon Harris will have to lead the guys who are rather unfamiliar with the offense they are about to face off against. Miami will be committed to stopping the run, probably often putting 8 men in the box. Therefore, GT wide receiver Stephen Hill may get some one-on-one chances against the Thorpe Award semi-finalist Brandon Harris. The safeties Telemaque and Ray Ray Armstrong, in addition to Jojo Nicolas, will focus on assuring that receivers don’t get behind them on passing plays and that the Georgia Tech running game is contained in the event when they get to the last line of the Hurricane defense.
Georgia Tech simply lacks playmakers at both linebacker and defensive back. The 3-4 defense is tailor-made for their outside linebackers to get some free releases and shots at the opposing quarterbacks but they just haven’t been able to get the job done and execute on the field this season. The secondary is led by redshirt junior safety Jerrard Tarrant. Tarrant is not necessarily a hard hitter but has excellent ball skills and can intercept some passing lanes. If Morris and the Miami receivers can exploit the weak GT secondary, it could go a long way in determining the outcome of the game.
Special Teams Advantage: Georgia Tech
The Canes still haven’t been able to get anything going in the return game at all this season ever since the Ohio State game despite having such gifted athletes taking back kicks and punts. Muffing kicks and punts and then diving on the ball to salvage the possession has developed into the norm for the Hurricanes return game. Matt Bosher was able to connect on both of his field goal attempts against Maryland, but he had one extra point attempt blocked and on another the snap was botched. The state of the Miami special teams has Cane fans calling for special teams coach Joe Pannunzio’s head. Georgia Tech is a little uneasy about their special teams as well after giving up the game-winning touchdown on the ensuing kickoff right after working themselves back into the game with a tying touchdown in the 4th quarter against Virginia Tech. Nonetheless, they seem to be in much better shape than the Miami special teams
Coaching Advantage: Georgia Tech
Randy Shannon seems to have the right idea in preparing his defense for the triple option and preparing his offensive blocking schemes for the 3-4 defense. However there are still too many mistakes that plague this team from reaching its full potential. The special teams miscues are one of them and the fact that the team leads nation in penalties cannot be ignored. Paul Johnson has a daunting task ahead of him with a lot key players banged up as he faces the nation’s 20th ranked defense. Shannon is 1-2 all-time in his head coaching career against Georgia Tech.
David Furones may be contacted at email@example.com.