Friday, November 27
Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?!?: The Georgia Tech preview.
I, too, think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part.
Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia.
Last season: Started 6-1, went through an unpleasant 1-2 late-season slump with losses to Virginia and UNC, but bounced back to beat Miami and Georgia in their last two games by steamrolling the 'Canes and Dawgs with that triple-option rushing attack. Beat out at the buzzer by Virginia Tech for the Coastal Division's berth in the ACC title game; had to settle for a bid to the Peach Bowl, where they came out flat and got destroyed, 38-3, by what was supposedly an ice-cold LSU squad. Still finished 9-4, 5-3 in the ACC, and ranked 22d in both polls.
This season: Received a 33-17 donkeypunching at Miami in their third game but has been red-hot since, getting played within a single score only three times and getting their revenge on Virginia Tech, 28-23, in Atlanta. Clinched an ACC title-game berth with their blowout win over Duke two weeks ago, and are now 10-1 (7-1 ACC), ranked seventh in both polls and the BCS standings.
Hate index, 1 being Georgia, 10 being Georgia Tech: Sixty-three. Even when Tech couldn't buy a win over us to save their worthless lives, they had that annoying little-brother unearned-superiority attitude, the kind of attitude that prompts them to get on message boards and taunt teams that have beaten them five, six, seven years in a row. And now that they actually have a decent team and have beaten Georgia once -- once -- this century, they're acting like they've owned us ever since football was invented. Tennessee fan and avowed UGA hater Rusty Tanton Twittered it best yesterday: "Even I'm finding Tech fans obnoxious this week. They sound like new money."
Associated hottie: According to her unofficial bio, Marvel Comics character Barbara Morse-Barton, otherwise known as "Mockingbird," earned a biology degree at Georgia Tech before joining the espionage agency SHIELD. I hope the irony is not lost on any of you that on the Venn diagram of "Georgia Tech alumni" and "hot chicks," the intersection is so minute that I had to pick not just a fictional character for this section but a comic-book character. Sometimes this stuff just writes itself.
What excites me: As badly as Georgia's pass defense has been burned on numerous occasions this season, Tech's is actually worse by a fair margin -- 78th in the nation in yardage allowed, 94th in efficiency allowed, and that's against the less-than-stellar passing offenses of the ACC (of the opponents GT has faced in '09, only four rank higher than 80th nationally in passing yardage). Jacory Harris threw four passes for 20 yards or more against Tech; Riley Skinner, also four; and FSU's Christian Ponder threw six, with all three QBs finishing with completion percentages of 65 or greater. Even Mississippi State's Tyson Lee completed two-thirds of his throws and rolled up 278 yards through the air. Obviously Joe Cox has struggled mightily this season, but the kid has thrown some awfully nice deep passes, and he stands to put up some nice numbers on Saturday if we properly open up the playbook. (Just no swings or screens, please. Oh, and nothing short over the middle. But everything else is fine.)
And as badly as Georgia's run defense looked over the second half of the '08 season, they've improved immensely in '09, going from an average of 226 yards allowed per game (right at five per carry) over the last five games of the '08 regular season to 120.6 allowed per game in '09 (less than 3.4 per carry), good for third in the SEC. Not that this means we're all of a sudden going to lock down on Tech's triple-option the way, say, LSU or Miami did, but there's got to be some improvement relative to last year, even if it's only of the can't-possibly-get-any-worse variety.
Think we could do something other than bounce right off these guys this time around? Yes, let's try that.
Really, the more you look at all of Tech's statistics, the more you have to take them with a lot of salt -- it's been more than a month since the Yellow Jackets last played a team currently in possession of a winning record, and when they did, they got played close. Clemson (presently 8-3) roared back from a 24-0 second-quarter deficit and forced Tech to kick the winning field goal with less than a minute left; Florida State (6-5) rolled up 539 total yards and chased the Jackets all the way down to the final minutes in a shootout loss; Virginia Tech (8-3) harassed Josh Nesbitt into his worst passing performance of the season and lost by five in Atlanta. Since then it's been a steady diet of also-rans, and even struggling Wake Forest (4-7) took Tech to OT on the Jackets' own field. Georgia Tech is clearly an excellent team, but they're not invincible.
Finally -- and I may only be grasping at straws here -- Tech comes into this game as a favorite for the first time in ages, and it remains to be seen how they'll react to it. Granted, this team's focus and psychological fortitude are obviously miles ahead of where they were under Chan Gailey, but they've been hearing for weeks now how much better they are than UGA and how badly they should blow out the Dawgs in front of the home crowd. If Georgia can hang with Tech for at least the first half, the Jackets might just get nervous enough to start pressing and making mistakes.
What worries me: Can Georgia hand with Tech for a half, though? Not if they play like they did in the second half of last year's game they can't. And here's the unsung, and ominous, aspect of Tech's offense this year: Not only is their triple-option gobbling up yardage at an even faster clip relative to the 2008 model -- 314 yards per game versus 273 -- they've also put together a passing attack good for something other than a twice-every-quarter distraction. Last year, Josh Nesbitt only averaged about 62 yards per game and had a 3:7 TD:INT ratio; this year, despite putting up only marginally better completion numbers, he's nearly doubled last year's yardage total (in only 11 games) and gotten onto the good side of the TD:INT ratio by a two-to-one margin. At this point, Nesbitt's stats are actually better than Tim Tebow's in most categories, and he's been lethal with the deep ball -- Tech's top four receivers all have yards-per-catch averages well above 20.
Yes, they actually throw it some now, too. You've been warned.
Given that Tech's offense only had to complete one pass last year to completely unload on us, and given that our front seven already will have to play a virtually flawless game on Saturday to keep the triple-option contained, does anyone seriously think that Willie Martinez is capable of scheming up a way to stop the Jackets? Between Martinez's troubles with mobile quarterbacks and or continuing inability to keep defensive backs within five yards of opposing receivers on a consistent basis, Tech may not even have to dress their punter on Saturday. Our pass rush has gotten a big shot in the arm from the emergence of Justin Houston, but our one dependable playmaker in the secondary, Bacarri Rambo, is still shaking off the rust from the concussion he sustained two weeks ago and is all but certain to be inactive for the Tech game. If you're one of those doomsayers actively hoping for Tech's offense to run wild this weekend so as to hasten the firing of Willie Martinez, you're likely to get the first half of your wish, at least.
Player who needs to step up: This is one of those weeks when it can't be narrowed down to a single player -- the entire defense needs to step up for this one. The few teams that have had success stopping the Tech offense did so because they stayed focused, stuck with their assignments, and stayed with the play until they'd brought the ball-carrier all the way to the ground -- none of which are things we've been terribly consistent at, against Tech or anyone else, over the last couple seasons. As we saw against Tech last year (and in multiple games this year), it doesn't take more than a couple big plays by the opponent for things to start snowballing; if our defense wants to get revenge for last year's implosion and send its seniors out on a high note, they're going to have to play the most intense, mistake-free game of their careers.
What does it all mean? This game is pretty cut-and-dried, and unfortunately, it comes down to one pretty cut-and-dried issue: whether our defense can stop the Georgia Tech offense. If you haven't picked up on it already, I don't think we can.
Pretty sure I remember this resulting in a Tech touchdown, but maybe that's just me.
Not that all hope is lost, mind you. The run defense we've fielded this season, while hardly impregnable, is far stronger than the out-of-position, arm-tackling band of Keystone Kops we had the misfortune of watching in the latter half of last season. We're healthier and we're tackling better, and if we could've only pit this year's run defense against last year's Georgia Tech offense, then maybe we wouldn't have allowed them 409 net rushing yards and we would've run our streak to eight in a row like everyone wanted and I wouldn't be mixing crushed Celexa tablets into my Zaxby's sauce.
But Georgia Tech's coaching staff -- as I hear good coaching staffs have a tendency to do -- has developed, refined, adapted, and thrown a new wrinkle into their offensive attack. Now, playing proper assignment football and actually wrapping up the ball carrier is only half of our task on Saturday; we've also got to account for a deep passing game poised to napalm us the minute Paul Johnson gets a wild hair. Again, I have not seen anything from our pass defense this season that gives me any confidence Willie Martinez is capable of containing that. Given the degree to which Kentucky's sputtering, banged-up offense was able to leave us in their dust given the slightest opening, I'm strapping in for a long night and preparing to spend a lot of it covering my eyes.
First Nesbitt completes a 60-yard touchdown bomb, and that's when the little girl climbs out of the well . . .
Still, the spread is somehow only eight points for this game (up slightly from seven at the opening), so apparently somebody out there does give us credit for being able to at least kind of, sort of keep up with Tech on the scoreboard. Certainly Tech's pass defense has been even worse than ours this season, so particularly if Joe Cox goes into this game with something to prove, I have every confidence we'll be able to whizz some deep shots right by them, even without A.J. Green. Tavarres King, Orson Charles, Rantavious Wooten, and even Israel Troupe have all made some very clutch receptions over the last couple weeks in Green's absence, and if I'm Mike Bobo, I don't give Cox anything to throw shorter than 20 yards. Leave the short-yardage plays to Washaun and Caleb, and for God's sake no more screen passes, unless you want to see Tech linebacker Brad Jefferson leaping into the south end-zone student section at Bobby Dodd to celebrate a pick-six.
Does it suck that we have to sweat this game now? Yes, and it sucks even worse that we're all but counting it as an automatic W. I hate to be the kind of person who comes across as having that little confidence in our team. But it's time to just come out and say it: Tech's coaching staff has flat blown our coaching staff into the weeds this season in terms of preparation, scheming, and adapting to changing conditions on the field of play. Whereas Georgia's coaches appear to have recruited a bunch of name-brand talent and just tossed it onto the field assuming they'd all know what to do, Tech brought in a class not all that much better than their usual recruits but assembled a game plan that has developed them and utilized nearly every last one of them to their full potential. Paul Johnson developed his triple-option quarterback better than Richt and Bobo have developed their fifth-year senior in a pro-style system. Not only did Tech manage not to kill their late-season momentum last week with a humiliating collapse in what should've been a layup game, they had a bye week with which to do some extra gearing-up for the Dawgs. You tell me which staff is going to be better prepared come Saturday.
Maybe if Tech comes into this game overconfident, and maybe if Joe can shrug off his recent miseries fearlessly enough to carpet-bomb the Tech secondary, we can keep this game as close as the oddsmakers inexplicably seem to think we will. But 11 games into a lost season, it's too late to magically make ourselves good enough to beat a 10-1, likely BCS-bound opponent. It kills me to say it, but Tech wins by two touchdowns.
Hey, Shreveport happens.
If you're trash-talking: Just because Georgia is highly likely to lose this weekend doesn't mean anyone should be shirking their responsibilities to put the nerds in their place. A couple months ago, I had the pleasure of attending a high-school football game in Knoxville with Holly and a friend of hers who teaches at one of the schools involved; her friend's school had beaten this particular arch-rival seven years in a row, and though that streak ended with a disappointing loss on this particular Friday night, the student section -- easily the best student section I've ever seen at any high-school sporting event anywhere, by the way -- left the stadium taunting the victors with a chant of "One and se-ven [clap, clap, clapclapclap]." This is a perfectly reasonable response to any new-money Techie declarations that they "own" us now, and make no mistake, that's what they'll be claiming.
Gonna be my boss someday? All that talk ain't fixing my computer any faster, bitch.
They're also likely to tell you that you'll be pumping their gas or delivering their pizza one of these days, but I can say in all honesty that the only time I've ever worked in the same office with a "Tech Man," he was several notches below me on the organizational chart. If anything, that kind of subservience to UGA grads is only more likely in today's job market; these, after all, are the folks Best Buy will be sending over to troubleshoot your computer or wireless Internet connection or whatever, so if you're going to the game on Saturday you might as well just go ahead and set up appointments with them directly rather than sit around on hold all day, Feel free, too, to inquire as to whether any of them have ever seen a vagina somewhere other than a magazine or Web site, touched a pair of breasts other than their own sagging man-boobs, or kissed a member of the opposite sex, period; as we all know, Tech fans typically have to undertake some rather extraordinary measures to accomplish any of those things.
And in the unfortunately likely event that we go down in flames to them again this year, do not hesitate to burst their bubbles by informing them that if history is any guide, they'll get one more win over us next year and then they'll be back to roaming the wilderness for the better part of a decade. That's how this rivalry works, Techies. God smacks us Dawg fans around a little for our hubris every few years, sure, but just when y'all think you've got our number and the balance of power in the state has been irrevocably altered, He puts everything right back in its natural, rightful state. 59-39-5, dicklicks. If you could do better than that, you woulda by now.
I will run up and down the street in front of my house wearing nothing but a Georgia flag wrapped about my nether regions if: Georgia wins, period. No, to hell with that: I'll do it butt-ass naked. Then I'll put it up against the window of the nearest car I see with any kind of Tech identifier on it, 'cause I'm classy like that.