Toe meets leather this Saturday at one o’clock in Boddy Dodd Stadium as the 2010 edition of the Yellow Jackets defend their ACC title in Paul Johnson’s third campaign as head coach at Tech. The Jackets play host to the South Carolina State Bulldogs, a team coming off their own conference championship and an impressive 10-2 season that ended with an FCS playoff loss at Appalachian State. This will be the first time Tech has ever played an historically black college or university, either home or away, and while an FCS team, South Carolina State features several key players with significant ability & experience. Although the Bulldogs lose fourteen starters off last year’s squad, they return an all-conference quarterback and their entire offensive line along with four quality linebackers, one an All-American. A closer look at South Carolina State:
Coach Buddy Pough runs a spread offense similar to what Urban Meyer runs at Florida. Pough’s key offensive weapon is quarterback Malcolm Long, the 2009 MEAC offensive player of the year and a 2010 Payton Award (best FCS player) watch list member. A hulking QB at 6’3” and 260 pounds, Long stylistically will remind Jacket fans of a young Daunte Culpepper with his size and ability to both run when necessary and throw the ball accurately. Long’s first choice will be to throw, mind you, but he can run the ball effectively when called upon. After completing 64.5% of his passes last year for over 2,500 yards, Long is efficient and has a good command of Pough’s offense. The best thing SC State has going offensively is the return of all five starting offensive linemen from last year’s squad. The Bulldog offensive line will be as big as any we likely will face this year, averaging 6’3” and 300+ pounds a man. They are led by SBN All-American & All-MEAC tackle Johnny Culbreath (6’5”, 310) and feature tremendous experience with four senior starters and one junior. Watch for Culbreath, #50, and the guard tandem of #73 Jake Johnson (6’4”. 330) and #65 Juavahr Nathan (6’4”, 290) to anchor the Bulldog line. South Carolina State, much like Tech, lost a lot of their skill position players they relied upon last season as they graduated the school & MEAC conference all-time leading rusher in Will Ford and their top three receivers from last season. The leading returning receiver for SC State is #18 Richard Christie, who caught 24 balls a year ago, while senior Chris Massey & Citadel transfer Asheton Jordan are expected to get the majority of carries running the football.
The Bulldogs play a 4-3 alignment but expect to see some Eagle (50) front against the spread option on Saturday. The strength of the Bulldog defense is at linebacker, where they return four quality, experienced players led by senior SBN All-American David Erby (5’11’, 225) and two other All-MEAC performers in senior Julius Wilkerson (6’4”, 227) and senior Marshall McFadden (6’2”, 235). Up front, SC State lost both starting defensive tackles from last year’s squad while returning ends Pat Washington (5’10”, 250) and Jayson Ayers (6’3”, 250). Sophomore Leon Smith (6’1”, 296) and junior Ronell Ferguson (6’1”, 275) will man the defensive tackle spots. The biggest question mark on defense for the Bulldogs is their secondary where they lost three starters including CB Philip Adams, the San Fransisco 49ers 7th round draft pick. The only returnee for State is CB Semaj Moody, who will play on the left side. One interesting note is that South Carolina State has some familiarity with the spread option & specifically the triple option as their conference rival, Bethune-Cookman, used an offense almost identical to ours up until this year.
Georgia Tech kicks off its ACC title defense with two main questions: 1) how much improved will our defense be under the new leadership of Al Groh, & 2) who will replace the Big Four +1 (Cord Howard never got enough love from us….)? Some things to look for on Saturday:
•The Tech defensive line versus the SC State offensive line. As I mentioned above, the Bulldog o-line will be as big & experienced as any we face this year. While they may not have elite talent across the board, this is a good early test for our revamped defensive line. In particular watch the play of nose guards Logan Walls & TJ Barnes; it will be particularly important to see how much Barnes has progressed from last year and how much he can contribute this year.
•The second offensive line. CPJ has been insistent we will use two offensive lines on Saturday. I’m not too concerned with the first unit as they should pretty much have their way against the SC State defense. What will be interesting to see is how the second team fairs & who is pushing for playing time. I expect the second unit to be (left-to-right): Claytor, McRae, Finch, Beno, Krish. Their progress from last year will important both for depth this year & obviously in the future. In particular watch Finch, who we all know had a strong Fall camp & looks to be the heir apparent to Sean Bedford.
•Defensive substitution packages. I expect we’ll run lots of guys into the game which is great, but focus on Coach Groh’s specific packages for certain down & distances. Groh has always used extensive situational substitutions and I expect it will be no different here at Tech. Many people will be caught up in who starts but watch who plays, when, & where. That will give us a better idea of what to expect from our defense this year.
•As an addendum to the above, watch for our specific blitz packages & coverage schemes. My guess is that Groh will try to work a lot of the package in on Saturday to see how the defense responds during game conditions. There’s plenty of film out there on his defenses so there’s little for us to hide or hold back; I expect we’ll see a lot of interesting defensive wrinkles including zone blitzes and multiple coverages in the secondary. Some Cover 1 Robber would warm my heart….
•The new guys. It will be important for our younger players, whether true or redshirt freshman, to get some meaningful game experience. You can’t replicate game speed in practice and there’s no substitute for experience. It will be interesting to see who shines?
•The South Carolina State “Marching 101”. I generally leave my seat at halftime but for those who have never seen an HBCU band get down, stay in your seat & enjoy a hell of a show. And then wish our band was half as fun…..
Georgia Tech Keys To The Game:
1. Intensity; play hard, stay focused
2. Stay Healthy
3. Get the young guys some PT
South Carolina State Keys To The Game:
1. Acquit themselves well
2. Have fun in Atlanta
3. Keep it close until half
If all goes according to plan on Saturday expect to see Joshua for a half at most & then Tevin will get the 3rd quarter while Davis Sims gets the 4th. I don’t expect to have an overly tough game against SC State as we’ve come along way from 2008 and Gardner-Webb. The Bulldogs have little chance of stopping an offense that should, if history holds to form, improve greatly from year two to year three. As soon as we’re up by four scores expect wholesale changes. What will be most interesting to watch will be our new 3-4 defense. How they play will determine our overall success in 2010. We’ll score tons this year, it’s how many we hold the bad guys to that’s the question.
Final Score: Bees 45, Bulldogs 17 (wouldn’t mind seeing that again in November….)