THREE STORY LINES
1. Can Georgia Tech’s defense continue its improvement?
Given that their last game was almost a month ago, it’s probably far-fetched to think the Yellow Jackets can carry over the momentum of their defensive play in the ACC Championship game, when they held Florida State scoreless in the second half. Regardless, under interim defensive coordinator Charles Kelly, Tech at times has shown that it can play fast, aggressive defense. As usual, the Jackets’ priorities will be stopping the run and creating a pass rush without blitz help. They’ll also need another strong game from outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu, who has finished the season well.
2. Who can handle shuffled lineups?
Tech will be without safety Isaiah Johnson due to a lower-body injury and wide receiver Jeff Greene, who has left the team and will transfer. Johnson’s loss is particularly crucial, as he’ll probably be replaced by Chris Milton, a redshirt freshman with limited experience. USC will be without quarterback Matt Barkley and possibly wide receiver Marqise Lee and running back Curtis McNeal. Lee, the top receiver in the country, injured his knee in practice Saturday. Even with Lee, passing could be precarious. The weather forecast calls for winds up to 30 mph.
3. How much does USC really want to be in El Paso?
The Trojans began the year touted as favorites to win the national championship and ended up instead in an out-of-the-way bowl game that had the fifth pick of Pac-12 teams. A couple Twitter messages sent from USC players griping about their bowl destination may have offered a window into the team’s mindset. Meanwhile, the Jackets are eager for a shot at a team that, despite having a down year, is one of the biggest names in college football. If USC’s defense isn’t up to playing with discipline and handling the cut blocks in Tech’s spread-option offense, the Jackets’ chances increase considerably.
A win for Georgia Tech would …
End the Jackets’ seven-game bowl losing streak, the second-longest active streak (after Northwestern at nine games).
A win for USC would …
Be just its second in its last six games.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Tech A-back Orwin Smith vs. USC safety T.J. McDonald
Smith will be playing in the final game of his career after missing the past two games with an ankle injury. If his teammates can’t block McDonald, the team’s leading tackler and an All-America in 2011, Smith will likely receive a full dose of him.
Series record: USC leads 2-1
Last meeting: On Sept. 22, 1973, the top-ranked Trojans beat Tech 23-6 at Grant Field in Jackets coach Bill Fulcher’s second and final season. The defending national champions, USC finished 9-2-1, losing to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.
TWEETS OF THE WEEK
“Does anyone really like USC?”
— Matthew Balte, Tech fan
“Will CPJ throw the El Passo?”
– Rob Williams, Tech student
In case you missed it…
Thanks for reading.
Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog