Miami heads up to 4-0 Georgia Tech this week looking to even up the all time series at ten games a piece. They also want to stay perfect in Coastal play, and start earning some tie-breakers for the inevitable four way conference tie at the end of the season. Okay, I'd imagine they care more about the ACC standings than the all time series; whatever, it's a package deal.
Miami has won the last five meetings between the two teams, but they have been far from dominant performances. Miami has needed all of the 45 and 42 points they have scored in the last two meetings with the teams, combining for over 75 points a game.
It will come down to stopping what Georgia Tech does well - and that is the triple option. The Canes have gone up against a potent running attack once already this year; and are still getting the corn out of their hair after Nebraska ran them out of the stadium, through some corn fields, and to the airport. Miami did respond last week against a good running team in Duke; and last time I checked Ameer Abdullah didn't transfer to GT so hopefully UM learned their lesson and will be prepared for Atlanta. Don't believe me? Here's GT head coach Paul Johnson keeping it a tad too real.
Georgia Tech: They run a lot, and they're good at it. Every season is the season they can finally beat you throwing it, and they will try to lull you to sleep with seventeen runs in a row only to throw a deep pass that goes for sixty yards; but stop the run and you stop GT. The Yellow Jackets' FBS rankings tell you the story on who they are offensively - ranking 11th in the nation rushing with a gaudy 292 yards a game and 111th in passing with 152 yards a game. Going off of last week's game against Virginia Tech, GT was able to rack up 250 yards at just over 5 yards a carry; not bad against a top 25 rush defense. Passing was less than stellar though, completing just 7 of 18 passes for 125yards.
Their offense runs through QB Justin Thomas, who is more well rounded than some of GT's more recent QBs, but still makes his living running the ball. He has 443 yards rushing this season on just under 7 yards a carry.The last two weeks Thomas has carried the ball A LOT averaging 21 attempts; he has over 300 yards in those games so it seems to be working. In the passing game, he has just under a 50% completion rate with 610 yards passing. He leads the nation in yards per completion averaging 19YAC. Remember that whole 'run it a thousand times then air it' out thing; that's how it's done. When you only throw it 16 times a game, you might as well make them count.
As for the rest of the ground attack, it looks like eleven players have had at least one carry so far this season. Option teams, smh. Thomas leads the group but will be giving it up to Zach Laskey most of the time Saturday night. Laskey has 61 carries for 316 yards and 2 TDs so far this season. He's been pretty consistent, averaging 5 yards a carry and getting about 15 carries a game. There's a handful of others that will get a carry or two, but expect a steady diet of Thomas and Laskey.
When they pass it DeAndre Smelter is usually involved. Smelter has 14 receptions this season, which is ten more than their next leading pass catcher... who happens to be the running back. Smelter averages 24 yards a reception and has 4TDs, so Miami's defensive backs cannot forget about him when they start helping against the run. If you think back to before Nebraska found out they didn't need to pass, they hit on a long TD when Miami cheated toward stopping the run. Smelter has put up over 100 yards in each of the three games he has played in; Miami cannot afford to have him have a fourth.
Defensively GT ranks 85th against the rush (giving up a little under 200 yards a game), and 31st against the pass (holding teams to 207 yards a game). Their pass defense has 6Ints so far this year, including 3 from last week against VT. They make you pay for turning it over as well; along with the 6 interceptions GT also has 1 fumble recovery. Those 7 takeaways have resulted in 45 points and are a major reason why the Yellow Jackets are still undefeated.
Quashawn Nealy is tied for first on the defense with 26 tackles (interceptions with 1 and tackles for loss with three). Nealy is one of the best LB's Miami will face in the ACC, and is coming of an 8 tackle performance last week against VT. Miami will have its work cut out for them this week against Nealy and the rest of the GT front seven with news of offensive linemen Taylor Gadbois and KC McDermott being ruled out this week. Otherwise known as the right side of Miami's line, Gadbois and McDermott were injured last week against Duke, and leave Miami in a tough spot moving forward. Georgia Tech's defense is already opportunistic, so throw a true freshman QB in with a patchwork Oline, and things could get interesting.
Miami: With the offense coming along nicely, it's a punch in the gut to have two major contributors along the Oline go down. If you go off of what the team did last week post injuries, Jon Feliciano will move to right tackle and true Freshman Nick Linder will move into left guard. According to reports, that's the way the line looked at Tuesday's practice. How does this affect things? Being that Miami still has a very young QB who will be playing on the road, it's a big deal. Miami had poor line play in week one against Louisville and the offense looked terrible. The GT defensive front isn't exactly FSU but Miami will still need their reserves to step up.
Brad Kaaya has continued to impress; last week's game was interception free - something he will need to repeat this week. The offense has been a work in progress that seems to be coming along; they even came out ahead in Time Of Possession last week. They still will need to get better on third down conversions; they only converted 2 of 13 last week against Duke, and with needing to limit the amount of chances GT has on offense, that has to improve. Duke Johnson had a great game averaging 6 yards a carry, and got some help from Joe Yearby who carried the ball 9 times for 61 yards. A good running game will make Kaaya look a lot better by allowing him to pick and choose his spots. Duke Johnson had a bit of a sprain to his right foot Saturday; Coach Golden say's that he's 100%, but it will be something to keep an eye on. Johnson was a monster against GT last season; and although he had a fumble he ran strong for 184 yards on 22 carries. Miami could use that type of performance again.
This match-up has been a shoot out lately, so Miami will need key players like Clive Walford and Phillip Dorsett to continue to step up and help out the defense. Kaaya has been spreading the ball around now that he's getting a bit more comfortable, and that can only be a good thing. The cry in the off season was that regardless of who was at QB, if they got the ball to the play makers around him, good things would happen. That still rings true. Every week is also another opportunity for defenses to watch film on Kaaya, so it's critical that he continues to spread the love.
As for the defense, it really is sticking to their assignments. It's not a terribly complex offense; as the name suggests, there's three different things that will typically happen: the QB will hand off to the fullback that will run it up the middle, pitch it to the running back or, he keep it himself. Simple enough to defend when everyone sticks to the script, but things get interesting when players try to do too much and get out of position. It's boom or bust; if Miami can stop it and force Tech to start throwing, it should be an easy night. If not, GT will have 300 yards rushing by halftime, and the biggest storyline in the second half will be if Tech will have four different 100 yard rushers. This is the kind of FUN that can be had when things are done correctly. This is what happens things go WRONG. Johnathan Dwyer still haunts my dreams. Can't believe I watched those highlights, but it's a cautionary tale that needs to be told.
Prediction: Miami's defense may need a few drives to figure things out but eventually will. UM 34 GT 28
Where to Watch:
ESPN2 7:30 • Joe Tessitore, PxP • Brock Huard, Analyst • Shannon Spake, Sideline Reporter
WQAM 560 AM • Joe Zagacki, PXP • Don Bailey Jr., Analyst • Josh Darrow, Sideline Reporter RADIO CARACOL 1260 AM • Roly Martin, PXP • Pepe Campos, Analyst • Joe Martinez, Analyst