They started out the season with high hopes, coming into the 2012 season with a top 35 preseason ranking, a senior quarterback, a very talented and athletic outside linebacker to lead the defense, and a big talented senior guard to anchor the offensive line. Fans reasonably hoped for a 9 win season, but at this point in the season they find themselves with four losses, and are just a handful of plays away from having beaten two ranked teams and being ranked nationally themselves. Things haven't quite turned out the way Yellow Jacket fans thought they would this season, but the more I learn about the Yellow Jackets, the more I realize how good of a team this is.
There are a lot similarities between these two teams who are set to face off tomorrow in Atlanta. While it has been the offense that has struggled for the Cougars it has been the Georgia Tech defense that has had their struggles. Their defensive coordinator Al Groh was fired only a few weeks ago as his schemes seemed to be too complex for this Georgia Tech defense to be able to execute well, and the new defense is simpler and is allowing their athleticism to make plays. They still don't seem to be the best at defending the pass, but even before the coordinator change they were starting to come around as a decent run defense since getting worked over by Middle Tennessee State RB Benny Cunningham for 217 yards and 5 TD's. Since that game Georgia Tech has held NFL bound Clemson running back Andre Ellington to 3.4 yards per carry with Groh at coordinator, and held Boston College to 32 yards on 16 carries last week with Charles Kelly in his first week at defensive coordinator. OLB Jeremiah Attaochu was an All-ACC OLB last year, but he and the other starting outside linebacker Brandon Watts were out for a majority of the Middle Tennessee State game, so that certainly didn't help matters for this defense that was already struggling at the time.
This BYU offense needs to anticipate that they will be going up against the defensive unit that showed well against the run against both Clemson and Boston College. With Hansen hurt for this game and Tushaus being such a light weight it's expected that Georgia Tech will do their best to exploit that weakness in the BYU offensive line. I don't foresee Jamaal Williams finding much success running the ball in between the tackles without Hansen in the lineup, so BYU may be running some option themselves to get Jamaal a chance to find some daylight in open field. I like the toss sweep, and hopefully we'll see more of that tomorrow. Although Georgia Tech struggled to keep Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd from making big plays with his feet, I don't think Riley will get very many opportunities to run the ball outside of any option that BYU runs. Georgia Tech plays a 3-4, but against Clemson they brought at least four pass rushers almost every play. With the push that defensive lines are getting up the middle on BYU Riley is having a hard time escaping up the middle like he did a lot of last year. With Hansen out, the Georgia Tech nose guard is going to be able to bull rush the center making it hard for Riley to step up in the pocket to escape the outside rush. Riley was able to use his legs to make plays up the middle after Hansen left the game against Notre Dame because they were only rushing 3 and dropping eight. So Notre Dame was getting that push but the lanes were there for Riley to escape because of how many Notre Dame players were dropping into coverage.
Getting pressure on the quarterback is Georgia Tech's only hope of stopping the pass. Their cornerbacks have good straight-line speed, Clemson's speedy receivers weren't able to get any separation on fade routes, but they were able to get separation out of their breaks in their routes. Whenever Boyd was able to buy some time in the pocket he found a receiver for a big gain. Double moves were effective for Clemson, but it might be hard for Riley to find enough time in the pocket for his receivers to execute any double moves. He will need to be accurate on the short routes in the middle of the field as Georgia Tech will likely focus on preventing the big play downfield. I expect Riley to play another game where he makes good decisions with the ball, but will probably struggle to deliver catchable balls to the receivers again this week. Although he struggles with consistency, Riley will still make enough clutch plays and Cody Hoffman and Jamaal Williams will make enough plays that BYU will achieve their weekly scoring goal of 24 points, but they won't exceed it by much. So BYU will need to count on the defense to hold Georgia Tech well below their scoring average to win this game.
When Notre Dame ran the ball 43 times for 270 yards against BYU a lot of Georgia Tech fans let out a big sigh of relief. This stingy BYU run defense that held Utah State's Kerwynn Williams to 18 yards on 14 carries had a weakness against the run after all, and Yellow Jacket fans are hoping that their offense will be able to exploit it. Notre Dame's offensive line was just too good of a run blocking unit for BYU to be able to stop them. BYU did miss a bunch of open field tackles, but the holes were too big and the pursuit was held up so the degree of difficulty was bigger than BYU is accustomed to. Oregon State is another team with a great offensive line and they were also able to run the ball against BYU. I don't think that Georgia Tech's offensive line is up to the task.
Every aspect of BYU's defense is perfectly built to stop the option from the head coach to the cornerbacks. The most important aspect of stopping this offense is to play assignment sound football, and that is what Bronco looks for in a player. While recruiting a player the first question Bronco asks himself is if they are smart enough and disciplined enough to play assignment sound football. Georgia Tech didn't hurt Clemson much up the middle, they killed Clemson with big plays down the sideline. Orwin Smith had 7 carries for 117 yards, he was the pitch man and every time he touched the ball his speed was too much for Clemson. Georgia Tech gained 483 yards against Clemson but only had 17 first downs. It wasn't the grind it out game that it was against Boston College who Georgia Tech's fullback just ran over. BYU's speed at linebacker and safety, and the sure tackling of BYU's corners will give Georgia Tech fits like they haven't experienced since they were held to 17 points against Virginia Tech in their first game of the season.
GT doesn't have Calvin Johnson or Demaryius Thomas at wide receiver this year. They only beat you with the pass if you miss an assignment. They won't beat you with speed or route running, it's just the mental aspect of playing your reads and doing your assignment correctly. The Yellow Jackets will get some big plays, it's inevitable that they do. But this defense is too disciplined, too physical up the middle and too fast on the outside for Georgia Tech to come anywhere close to their 37.7 points per game average.
This isn't the kind of 3-4 opponent that BYU is accustomed to playing. In the Mountain West or WAC, if you are 3-4 then that means that you beat an FCS team, New Mexico and UNLV and got blown out by everybody else you played. Georgia Tech is a lot like this BYU team, a talented team that was oh so close to winning all of their games, and they hung closely with a very talented top 20 ranked Clemson team up until a special teams error led to a safety in the fourth quarter and GT couldn't keep up. This is a must win for BYU, if they can win this one then it really helps to validate their season. If not, then BYU fans will just have to do their best to forget this season and look forward to 2013. 24-17 BYU
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