MIAMI GARDENS, FL - OCTOBER 22: Jamea Thomas #14 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets carries the ball against the Miami Hurricanes at Sun Life Stadium on October 22, 2011 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
2011: 8-5 (5-3) / 2012: 2-1
Last year's meeting: Miami 24, Georgia Tech 7 The Canes defense forced Tech into maybe its worst offensive performance in the Paul Johnson era, holding the Jackets to 134 yards rushing on 48 carries. That was good for 2.8 yards per carry as a team, a performance that very well may never be repeated as long as Johnson is in Atlanta. Miami's offense wasn't too impressive itself -- 7 of these 24 points came when JoJo Nicolas recovered a muffed punt in the endzone -- but it was good enough.
Last week's game: Georgia Tech 56, Virginia 20 Sometimes Johnson's offense can look like its hopelessly grinding its gears, but sometimes it just flat steamrolls people. Last Saturday was obviously one of those latter times, as the Jackets rolled up 461 yards rushing in a game where Tech led, at one point in the fourth quarter, by six touchdowns.
Offense: We're all familiar with Tech's triple option at this point, but this year's iteration has been very good. Here are the yards per carry averages of Tech's top five leading rushers: 6.5, 6.7, 10.0, 12.5, 8.0. Yeah. That said, the Canes have beaten the Jackets in each of the last three years by a combined score of 92-34. So, how has Miami kept Tech's offense on lock?
Well, you can go back to the tape from last year and watch. If you do, you'll notice two things. First, Miami killed Georgia Tech at the point of attack. The Jackets absolutely could not run the dive without Miami's interior linemen caving on the fullback after a yard. This, in turn, forced the Jackets out to the perimeter where Miami's speed was more of an asset but, more importantly, kept Tech in long yardage situations in second and third downs.You'll also notice that Miami's defense was incredibly fast downhill. Denzel Perryman routinely knifed into Tech's backfield and blew plays up, which itself was a reprisal of Sean Spence's stellar game in Atlanta in 2010.
Defense: Tech is running the 3-4 under Al Groh for the second straight year, and they have been good on that side of the ball this year. They've been slightly worse against the pass, but you're looking at a Top 40 defense in the country, at least, across the board. This is also a very veteran defense -- only three starters (two linebackers and a safety) are underclassmen. As is typical for the 3-4, the linebackers are the stars here -- those two underclassmen linebackers, Jabari Hunt-Days and Quayshawn Nealy, lead the team in tackles. If there's one good bit of news for the Canes on this end it's that the Jackets only have six sacks in three games, and they've played Presbyterian.
Good news matchup for Miami: It's hard to pinpoint any individual matchup and say that the Canes have a distinct advantage. If there's one thing that could console Canes fans, it's that there will be guys on the field on Saturday -- Darius Smith, Anthony Chickillo, Jimmy Gaines -- who played really well against the Jackets last season. Miami's success in the last three years in no way guarantees success this Saturday, but this team has experience (as much as it can, at least) in defending this option.
Bad news matchup for Miami: So, for those two things that Miami did exceptionally well on defense in this matchup in 2011. They were killed at the point of attack against Kansas State this year and, arguably, did even worse this past weekend vs. Bethune-Cookman. That is not good. Secondly, Miami does not have a group of linebackers right now who are in the mindset of playing aggressively, give or take Eddie Johnson. Miami's linebackers need to trust their teammates and flow downhill per their assignments, but that takes a degree of confidence that I'm not sure guys like Gionni Paul or Tyrone Cornelius have right now. Buckle up.