Another week, another opponent blogger Q&A to help preview the upcoming game.
This week, I got to ask Tyler Duke from SBNation's Georgia Tech blog From the Rumble Seat a few questions. He was gracious enough to give us some insight into one of our Coastal Division foes. Tyler also asked me some questions, and those answers can be found here.
Thanks to Tyler for joining us this week. You can follow him on twitter @DukeSBN, and follow From the Rumble seat @FTRSBlog for more thoughts on the game.
SOTU: Georgia Tech enters this week's game at 4-0, including a hard fought 27-24 win at Virginia Tech 2 weeks ago. What's the general feeling around this team right now?
From the Rumble Seat (FTRS): The feelings about the team are still very mixed. There are some of us, including me, who're thrilled to be 4-0 heading into the Miami game. That's one win better than many people expected us to be. The opening three games weren't very pretty, and there are a lot of spots that need improvement, but the team is undefeated, and that's all you can ask for. Some people are still looking for a "complete game" from Tech until they are fully satisfied and all in on believing the team can have a special year.
SOTU: Sophomore QB Justin Thomas is having a very good season to this point. What skills make him special, and which areas of his game could use improvement?
FTRS: Justin Thomas has had a very satisfactory start to the season. He's already brought the team from behind twice on game-winning drives in the last two games. Coming from behind has been a typical problem since Tech implemented the option offense, and it's been exciting to see him do it so well. Thomas' best skill is his speed and quickness. He was sprint champion in high school, and he's shown that he's usually the fastest player on the field each Saturday.
As usual, the passing game has been a bit inconsistent, but Thomas has limited the big mistakes and made some huge throws in clutch moments. He'll need to continue to improve his accuracy as well as work on making the right reads when running the offense.
SOTU: Behind and next to Thomas are a cadre of capable and explosive RBs. Who leads this group, and who should Miami be worried about?
FTRS: Other than the B-Back Zach Laskey, there isn't a whole lot of experience at A-Back for Tech this year. Laskey will most likely receive the most carries of any back on Saturday, and will definitely be getting a lot of attention from the Canes. As for other backs, Charles Perkins is the most explosive runner in my opinion. He's a strong ball carrier with enough speed to blast off a long one at any time if given the right opportunity. If Miami keys too much on Laskey and Thomas, any of the A-Backs can make them pay with a long run up the sideline.
SOTU: The biggest challenge facing Miami this week is Paul Johnson's patented Triple Option offense. How does it work, and what makes it so challenging for other teams to defend?
FTRS: The reason the option offense works so well for Paul Johnson is execution and misdirection. While the triple option is the generic play in the playbook, Tech usually only runs that particular play about 20 percent of the time. The triple option itself is ran with the QB making two reads. The first is whether to hand off the ball to the B-Back (fullback) up the middle or keep it himself. If he keeps it, he'll then roll out with the A-Back who was in motion behind him. The QB then keeps it himself or makes the read to pitch it towards the sideline to his A-Back. Other forms of the offense are mainly variations of this.
Johnson keeps the defense guessing with misdirections, sweeps, draws, and passes when the defense gets too aggressive. It's hard to stop all of these variations because if the defense guesses wrong or over pursues, big plays can easily be made. Even when the defense does guess right or plays in perfect position, it can be very hard to stop a perfectly executed option offense. The problem for Tech over the years though is that it's often not perfectly executed.
SOTU: Over the years, you guys have had some OUTSTANDING Wide Receivers on your team, with Calvin Johnson and Demariyus Thomas leading that list. a) How does a team that runs triple option develop such great WRs and b) who on your roster is the next big thing at that position?
FTRS: Since Al Preston came to Georgia Tech in 2008, he has done an outstanding job with developing wide receivers. Preston is credited greatly with developing a raw Demariyus Thomas into one of the best wide outs in the nation. In 2012, Tech didn't have a single receiver with a career reception on the roster. Preston did a great job with developing guys and creating a formidable team of wide receivers for the Yellow Jackets. Paul Johnson also deserves credit for recruiting some really good guys to play receiver in a run-heavy offense.
Preston's most recent project, DeAndre Smelter is the next big thing at wide receiver. Smelter was a baseball player at Tech before being convinced to come play football last year. Preston has taken him under his wings and developed an incredible talent. Smelter has had a huge season thus far, and is well on his way to becoming the next wide receiver in the NFL from Georgia Tech. At 6'3", he has great size combined with good speed and great route running. Look for him to be a factor in the game on Saturday night.
SOTU: Defensive Coordinator Ted Roof spoke after practice on Tuesday about having trouble simulating Miami's team speed. Is this a big concern for GT's defense, or is Roof trying to downplay the strength of his defensive unit?
FTRS: As always, the speed for Miami is definitely a concern for Tech's defense. Duke Johnson is a huge threat, and the defense can only hope to contain him. Roof's approach will probably me much like it was against Virginia Tech - bend but don't break. Miami will be able to move the ball, but Roof has focused on not allowing the big play and creating mistakes by the quarterback. It worked against VT and their QB Michael Brewer, and the hope is that it works against Freshman Brad Kaaya as well.
SOTU: Your defense has been very active this year, creating 7 turnovers in 4 games, and 22 TFLs. What is the system of defense that you run, and who are some of the top players on that side of the ball?
FTRS: The defense has created turnovers by forcing some mistakes by the opposing QB's for the most part. There's been a lot of soft cover 2 from Tech so far. This has allowed teams to move the ball, but it also gets the quarterback to get a little aggressive and make some bad throws at times. The tackles-for-loss may be inflated some because the defense has faced two teams who run the option, which typically inflates TFL's. The defense did a great job at bringing pressure on third downs with blitzes against Virginia Tech. I expect Ted Roof to dial up pressure on Kaaya on third downs in hope that he makes the same mistakes. The two players to watch are MLB Quayshawn Nealy and S Jamal Golden. Nealy is a veteran in the middle and has a knack at making the big play. He did a great job at bringing pressure last week on blitzes. Golden is the leader in the secondary, and much like Nealy, does a good job at creating turnovers and making big plays.
SOTU: Miami has gotten the better of this matchup the last 5 years running. What will it take for the Yellow Jackets to get over the hump and defeat the Hurricanes?
FTRS: Miami has definitely had Tech's numbers as of late. The offense has seemed to figure it out the last two years and have moved the ball pretty successfully against the Canes defense. The key is limiting the Miami offense. If the Tech defense can limit big plays and create a couple of turnovers, I think they'll be able to score enough to finally get back on top.
SOTU: Last, but not least, how do you see the game playing out on Saturday and who will emerge victorious?
FTRS: Before the season started, I projected this game as the first loss for Georgia Tech. Miami hasn't been as strong as I was expecting, and Brad Kaaya does seem prone to make mistakes. I see this being a close game throughout, but the difference will be the turnovers. For the most part, Justin Thomas has been able to hold on to the ball and make the right reads other than a couple of fumbles in the second game at Tulane. I'm expecting Brad Kaaya to play a good game but throw a costly interception late in the 4th to cost Miami the contest.
Georgia Tech 34, Miami 28.
It should be a fun one.