1. Stopping the Georgia running game is priority No. 1 for Georgia Tech and interim defensive coordinator Charles Kelly. It is no small task – freshman tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall average 6.3 and 6.5 yards per carry, respectively.
“They’ve got some playmakers, so they’ll make some plays,” Kelly said. “We’ve just got to stop the run, eliminate the big plays, get some turnovers. That’s going to be huge. Then get off the field on third down.”
After that, the Yellow Jackets will attempt to pressure Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray, who leads FBS in passing efficiency. Murray, who dissected the Jackets last year with four touchdowns and 252 passing yards with one interception, has completed 65.7 percent of his passes and has thrown one interception per 43.3 attempts. Throw out his three-interception performance against Florida and the rate is one pick per 69.8 passes.
Tech’s pass rush has improved in recent weeks, as demonstrated by outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu’s five sacks in the past three games and a third-down efficiency rate of 38.1 percent in the past two games.
“The biggest thing is not necessarily in sacks that you judge it, but how you affect the quarterback and make him move his feet,” Kelly said. “That’s when you get those cheap interceptions, when a guy gets his hand up or gets in a guy’s face and his release point’s a little high. That’s when you get those picks. (The pass rush) has been better. That’s something that we concentrate on, but this week’s going to be a huge challenge.”
Outside linebackers coach Joe Speed said that Murray has a strong arm, can connect on all the pass routes in the Georgia playbook all over the field.
“He knows exactly where he’s supposed to throw based upon coverage, so we know we’ve got a big challenge ahead of us,” he said.
While Murray, listed at 6-foot-1, does not have the height of the prototype drop-back passer, Kelly paid him a high compliment, saying he is “very similar to Drew Brees in that he finds (throwing) lanes. Those guys that find lanes, it makes it a little bit harder from a rush standpoint, because if you widen the gaps, then he can find those alleys to throw. So you have to be disciplined. He can run. He’s a good athlete, but not so much for the scramble as much as giving him those lanes to throw.”
Wide receivers Tavarres King and Malcolm Mitchell have proven a dangerous pair, and Kelly is wary of tight end Arthur Lynch, as well. Last year, tight end Orson Charles was one of the most impactful players in the Bulldogs’ victory, catching five passes for 95 yards.
“They always have athletes at tight end,” Kelly said. “There’s some things we’ve looked at that we’ve got to be conscious of.”
Nose tackle T.J. Barnes has improved in pushing back the pocket. Coaches will continue to try to find Attaochu one-on-one matchups to attack. They’ve put plenty of work into improving pass rush techniques in general “because right now, we’re not getting enough wins to produce those big negative plays,” Speed said.
2. A-back Orwin Smith’s availability will likely be a game-time decision, Johnson said Wednesday. Smith suffered an ankle injury in the second half of the Duke game and did not return. Smith, Tech’s most dynamic offensive player, was limited physically for last year’s Georgia game, also. He came into the game with a turf-toe injury that later required surgery.
Losing Smith would be no small setback. He is averaging 9.0 yards carry this season and has 14 plays of 20 yards or more on 92 touches from scrimmage.
There is no set replacement for Smith.
“It would depend on what we’re doing,” coach Paul Johnson said. “It could be B.J. (Bostic), it could be Synjyn (Days), it could be Deon (Hill).”
Johnson was vague on who will take placekicks and kickoffs. The choices would likely be either Chris Tanner, who has done both for the past two games, or David Scully.
Said Johnson, “We’ll see when the game starts. We’ll see if those guys are healthy, if they can kick.”
3. Provided Tech stays with its quarterback rotation of Washington and Vad Lee, Tech’s visit to Sanford Stadium will be the most treacherous game atmosphere for Lee, who since he began receiving considerable snaps has played at Bobby Dodd Stadium, Maryland’s Byrd Stadium and North Carolina’s Kenan Stadium. The combined attendance at Byrd and Kenan won’t match the 92,000 awaiting the Yellow Jackets Saturday. Lee didn’t play in road games at Clemson and Virginia Tech.
“I don’t know that it’s that big of a deal,” Bohannon said. “We’ve played in some pretty good environments, so I think he’ll be fine.”
4. Miami coach Al Golden on Tech’s ACC Coastal title: “You can try to discredit Georgia Tech and how they got there all you want. But I believe Coach (Johnson) was sitting there at 3-5 and made some transitions and pulled the team together, So here’s what I’m going to say. It’s a credit to Coach Johnson and his team, and the adversity that they’ve overcome, and they really have they played well down the stretch. Obviously, we’re disappointed we don’t have that opportunity, but I think at the same time, Coach Johnson will tell you he’s proud of the way his kids held together.”
5. Athletic fields manager Jon DeWitt shipped off the stencil to paint the end zone for the ACC Championship game earlier this week. The stencil is a plastic sheet measuring 160 x 30 feet. With paint build-up and shipping pallet, the stencil weighs about 120 pounds and was packed into a box 48”x40”36″.
The stencil spells out “Georgia Tech.”
6. Inside linebacker Quayshawn Nealy will wear No. 40 against Georgia in honor of former team member Julian Burnett. Nealy, who played alongside Burnett at inside linebacker last season, will be the first sophomore to wear it. … ESPN will carry Saturday’s game. Dave Pasch (play-by-play), Brian Griese (color) and Jenn Brown (sideline) will call the game.
In case you missed it…
Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog