BOYD OFFERS HIS TAKE
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, named a first-team All-American and ACC player of the year this week, played against both Georgia Tech and FSU this season, beating the Yellow Jackets and losing to the Seminoles. He called the matchup “an intriguing game because, I think when you’re playing a team like Georgia Tech, if you don’t play them a lot, it’s kind of hard to predict what type of team they are and what they do.”
FSU hasn’t played Tech since 2009, meaning most players haven’t seen the Jackets’ spread-option offense. Even seeing it annually doesn’t always help. Clemson gave up 31 points and 483 yards to the Jackets in October, while scoring 47 and gaining 601 yards. In the title game, Boyd saw a clash of the Seminoles’ speed and the Jackets’ offensive fundamentals.
Anticipating the Jackets limiting possessions with a ball-control game and perhaps a stunning improvement by Tech’s defense, he predicted a 21-14 victory for the Seminoles.
“I know some people think it’s going to be a runaway,” Boyd said. “I think it’ll be a pretty close game.”
LEE READY FOR A CHANCE
Most likely, coach Paul Johnson will go with the same quarterback rotation that he has for the past four games, playing starter Tevin Washington for two series, Vad Lee for two series and then either continuing the rotation or going with a hot hand.
“I’m very excited to see how my role unfolds,” Lee said. “I’m trying to work hard in practice, just trying to compete and just trying to go hard, because I get the chance to play for (the ACC title) four years in a row.”
Lee is doubly fired up because the Durham, N.C., native will be back in his home state. On Nov. 10, in front of friends and family, Lee torched North Carolina in Chapel Hill for 281 yards of offense and led the Yellow Jackets to 55 of their 68 points.
“So it’s exciting again to play in front of my family and friends, get a chance to go 2-0 in North Carolina this year,” he said.
If you missed it, Lee wants to win the ACC four times as a Jacket.
“That’s my goal — four rings,” he said. “Yes, sir.”
STOCKED WITH FUTURE PROS
In terms of how the NFL views the game, it’s all FSU. In terms of draft prospects on both teams, NFL draft expert Tony Pauline said “There is no comparison. There really isn’t. There’s no Stephen Hill to save the day for Georgia Tech.”
Pauline said that the Seminoles should have two first-round picks in April, defensive end Bjoern Werner and cornerback Xavier Rhodes, should the two juniors declare for the draft. Quarterback E.J. Manuel and defensive end Cornellius “Tank” Carradine, who will not play with a torn ACL, could follow shortly after. Linebacker Christian Jones, a junior, also could be selected in middle rounds, were he to declare.
Of Tech’s draft-eligible candidates,” Pauline said, “You’ve got mid-to-late rounds, as far as the NFL’s concerned.”
A-back Orwin Smith, guard Omoregie Uzzi and, if he declares, outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu likely are Tech’s most draftable players. Attaochu said Wednesday that he will submit his name to the NFL draft advisory board for an evaluation on his draft stock. Smith is unlikely to play Saturday with an ankle injury.
Said Pauline of Tech, “Kind of a tough team to watch this year.”
GOING BACK TO 2008
Cooper Taylor’s memories of one of the more memorable plays in Georgia Tech history have dulled, but the emotion of the moment has not left him.
“It was probably the most exciting single moment of my life, that game, no doubt about it,” Taylor said this week.
As a freshman safety in 2008, Taylor played a major role in stopping FSU’s 12-game winning streak over the Yellow Jackets by forcing a fumble near the goal line as the Seminoles attempted to take the lead inside the final minute. The fumble, recovered by safety Rashaad Reid, preserved Tech’s 31-28 win. Taylor met running back Marcus Sims in the hole and sent the ball flying by ramming his helmet into Sims’ midsection. Was he trying for a fumble?
“I think so,” he said. “It sounds good, right?”
It was the unquestioned highlight of Taylor’s career at Tech. He later was sidelined by a heart condition, fell down the depth chart and ultimately transferred to Richmond. Taylor, who had surgery to repair his condition, has thrived. As a senior this season, he was an All-Colonial Athletic Association pick, played some wildcat quarterback and has developed into a draft prospect. He’ll earn a business degree in December.
“I look at it as a time where I learned a lot and I had a lot of fun playing, especially my freshman year before the roller coaster of kind of weird, freakish injuries happened,” he said. “I really enjoyed my time there on the Flats.”
TECH’S BOWL OPTIONS
Georgia Tech will learn its bowl fate either Saturday night or Sunday. If the Yellow Jackets win, they’ll go to the Orange Bowl and become the first team with six losses to play in either the Orange Bowl or a BCS bowl. If Tech loses, the picture is a little more gray.
The first bowl that could take Tech is the Russell Athletic Bowl, but Virginia Tech or N.C. State are more likely choices. The Sun Bowl is contractually obligated to take the ACC runner-up if available, but Tech officials have said they’ll be willing to drop past the Sun. The Jackets played in that bowl last year, and both sides would prefer a different partner.
The next bowls after the Sun are the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, N.C., on Dec. 27 and the Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn., on Dec. 31. Potential opponents could be Washington or USC (Sun), Cincinnati (Belk) or Vanderbilt or Ole Miss (Music City). If Tech goes to the Orange Bowl, it likely will play the Big East champion, either Louisville or Rutgers.
(note: they play Thursday night)
Georgia Tech interim defensive coordinator Charles Kelly knows FSU running back James Wilder Jr. more than a little. He recruited him out of Plant High in Tampa, Fla.
“Big running back, kind of a throwback running back,” Kelly said. “Good size, got good speed.”
The throwback comment is understandable. Wilder’s father (James Wilder Sr.) was a star running back with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Wilder and Devonta Freeman have taken the load with the season-ending injury to Chris Thompson in October. The two have a combined 1,085 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns. Tech has been inconsistent in its run defense. The Yellow Jackets rank fifth in the ACC in rushing defense, permitting 143.9 yards per game. Georgia thumped the Jackets with 164 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 31 attempts.
“You’ve got the Wilder kid, who’s hard to get down,” coach Paul Johnson said. “I mean, everybody has a hard time getting him on the ground. They’ve got other backs who are quick and fast. They’ve got a lot of weapons.”
The attempt to slow Wilder will begin with the Tech defensive line’s attempts to control gaps in the line. The Jackets did that with little success against Georgia.
“Very big, athletic dudes,” outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu said of FSU offensive tackles Cameron Erving and Menelik Watson. “They’re athletic and can block very well, (and) strong. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
AGAINST ALL ODDS
As they head into the ACC title game against Florida State, Georgia Tech players are well aware not many people are giving them much of a chance. In a 6-6 season, this isn’t exactly new territory.
“We’re clearly the underdogs,” defensive end Izaan Cross said. However, “one of our team goals is to win an ACC Championship, and we have the opportunity to do that.”
Just about all signs point to an FSU win. The 14-point spread that favors the Seminoles is the widest among the conference championship games this weekend. From the league’s perspective, a top-15 team (Florida State) would be a much more appealing representative in the Orange Bowl than a six-loss team (Tech).
“We know that just from how the season has been going, we’ll pretty much be the underdog in possibly every game,” A-back Orwin Smith said. “We’re just coming into the game just like any other game, with a chip on our shoulder and ready just to prove the doubters wrong.”
Outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu has been well aware of what he calls “a Georgia Tech bias.” He’s fine with it.
“We have a way of surprising people,” he said. “I feel like this could be another one of those surprises.”
JEFF SCHULTZ’S PREDICTION
OK, all together now: They shouldn’t even be here. We know that. Players know that. Coach Paul Johnson knows that.
But Georgia Tech somehow made it the ACC Championship game, despite a 6-6 season that has seen its share of disasters and a fired defensive coordinator (Al Groh). Give thanks to Miami and North Carolina for being chained to the NCAA lamppost.
A funny thought occurred: Imagine if the Yellow Jackets won this game and were allowed to keep this ACC title after having their more deserved one from 2009 taken away by the NCAA?
But I don’t see that happening. Tech players always sound confident, but they’re not playing confidently. When things go wrong, as they often did in the Georgia game, a sinkhole seems to open.
FSU may not be a well-oiled machine either right now, but the Seminoles easily were the best and most consistent team in a weak ACC this season. The Jackets will score their share of points. They almost always do. But it’s difficult to have confidence in a team that allowed 368 points this season (only Wake Forest and Duke allowed more in the ACC).
In Las Vegas, I would take Tech and the 14 points. But on the scoreboard: The Seminoles will win.
Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog