Duke (5-4) vs Georgia Tech (9-1)
Durham, N.C. - Wallace Wade Stadium
TV: ESPN2 / Kick-off: 12:00 PM EST
Program Vitals Conference: ACC Nickname: Yellow Jackets Colors: Light Gold, Navy, and White Head Coach: Paul Johnson (2nd season) Career Record at Georgia Tech: 18-5
The Blue Devils trail the all-time series between the two schools 45-30-1. Georgia Tech has won the previous five meetings between the schools including last year's 27-0 victory in Atlanta. In addition to their streak of five straight, the Yellow Jackets have won 13 of the last 14 contests. Duke's last victory came in 2003 when the Blue Devils crushed Tech 41-17 in Durham. This is GT's highest ranking in battle with Duke since the 1965 season when the program was ranked sixth nationally.
What To Watch For On Offense:
It's not often a team's quarterback is one of its best running options, but that's just what the Blue Devils will see when junior Josh Nesbitt lines up under center on Saturday. So far this season the former five star prospect has racked up 817 yards with 15 touchdowns and is, actually, the ACC's fifth leading rusher. During Tech's current seven game winning streak the junior has rushed for 14 touchdowns and averaged 86.3 rushing yards per contest. He's topped the 90 yard rushing mark five times this year and has gone over the century mark twice - against Florida State and Virginia Tech. While his legs do a large majority of the damage against opposing defenses, Nesbitt can also make teams pay for overloading the box though he's not an exceptionally dangerous passing threat usually. Through the team's ten games he's completed 52-of-115 passes for 1,223 yards and six touchdowns against four intercepts.
Joining Nesbitt in the backfield is junior Jonathan Dwyer, the ACC's second leading rusher at 1,093 yards with nine touchdowns on the season. Every time he touches the ball the junior is averaging 6.5 yards gained. Like Nesbitt, Dwyer has been a tremendous catalyst for the Yellow Jackets over the last seven games. During that time he's averaged over 130 yards per game on the ground and has logged five 100 plus yard games. In just the last two contests he's rushed for 375 yards and four touchdowns - including 189 yards against Wake Forest last week. Dwyer is looking to become the conference's back-to-back offensive player of the year.
Though Georgia Tech prefers to attack their foes on the ground, when pushed, Nesbitt can go to the air. When that occurs, more likely than not the ball will be going in the direction of junior wideout Demaryius Thomas. A pre-season All-ACC pick, Thomas is averaging a ridiculous 23.3 yards per reception along with 86.1 yards per game. 15 of his 37 catches on the season have gone for 20 yards or more, while 10 of those have tacked on an additional 10 yards. Six of his 15 catches have gone for 50 yards or more. No other receiver on the roster has more than five catches. And only one other player, Embry Peeples, has recored more than 100 yards receiving.
Along the offensive line the Yellow Jackets look somewhat like a cell phone's bars going from small to big from left to right. On the left tackle is fifth year senior Brad Sellers at 6'2 and 257 pounds; 6'4, 280 pound RS Soph. Jospeh Gilbert the guard; RS Jr. Sean Bedford (6'1, 274) will snap the ball, while 6'5, 308 pound fifth year senior Cord Howard and 6'6 RS freshman Phil Smith will handle the right side of the line.
What To Watch For On Defense:
Up front the defensive pressure comes from potential All-American defensive end Derrick Morgan. The junior is the ACC leader with 11.5 sacks on the season - good enough for fifth on the national list. In addition he's logged 16 tackles for loss and has recovered two fumbles. On the other side will be RS junior Anthony Egbuniwe who has been a shadow compared to his more recognizable teammate - logging just 12 tackles and 1.5 sacks on the season. In the middle Tech will go with fourth year juniors Ben Anderson and Logan Walls who have combined for just 25 tackles on the season, but who have controlled the middle of the line to allow the ends to put pressure on the opposing passers/runners.
The starting linebacker trio Steven Sylvester and Sedric Griffin on the outside and Brad Jefferson in the middle have combined for 152 tackles on the season led by Jefferson's 67 tackles and 6.0 tackles for loss. Griffin ranks second on the team with 55 stops and 3.0 tackles for loss, while Sylvester has recorded 30 stops and 1.5 sacks on the season. Jefferson has also forced a pair of fumbles this season.
Backing up the linebackers is a secondary that has struggled against the pass - rating just 98th nationally in opponents' pass efficiency. Still, there's talent in the Yellow Jackets' secondary led by junior safety Morgan Burnett. The ACC's active leader in career interceptions, Morgan has recorded four picks this season and logged his 200th career tackle against the Deacons a week ago. Against North Carolina he led the team in tackles and recorded a pair of interceptions -- good enough to be named the ACC's Defensive Back of the Week. Always willing to get into the play should the opponents break through the initial line, Burnett ranks third on the team with 53 stops this season. He's also broken up four passes. Redshirt junior Mario Edwards will start alongside Burnett at free safety. At 6'1 and nearly 220 pounds, Edwards can move forward and give the Yellow Jackets, essentially, a fourth linebacker. On the outside Tech goes with Mario Butler and Jerrard Tarrant who have combined for 71 stops and two interceptions this season.
Despite crashing back down to earth a week ago against North Carolina, the Blue Devils enter this weekend's game with a chance to not only make a bowl game, but to make the ACC Championship game. Sure, it's a long shot, but if Duke can pull off wins against Georgia Tech, Miami, and Wake Forest, they'll be in Tampa. Winning any two of those games will get the Blue Devils into a bowl game. Winning one will assure them of a .500 season. Any of those results would be considered a tremendous accomplishment for head coach David Cutcliffe's program. To have a chance on Saturday the Blue Devils are going to need to score the ball early and often. The Duke defense doesn't have a ton of depth and the spread option is going to really expose any weaknesses in the speed department at the linebacker position. At the end of the day - on paper - Duke should not win this game. To have a chance they need to have an inspired performance on defense and Thaddeus Lewis and company need to put points on the boards in bunches.
Predicted Final Score:
Duke - 21
Georgia Tech - 36