Leifheit: Right now, I think the winner is going to be CJ Spiller. The media (rightly so) has been gushing over his all-around performance. Having said that, I think the least heralded impact player in the ACC has been Josh Nesbitt. He's been lampooned at times for his passing yet his passing efficiency numbers would be among the ACC's best if he had enough attempts. His rushing numbers are great for QB's as well. On top of all that, he's made absolutely huge plays when the Jackets have needed him most (it's a long list of great plays). He's clearly been the the MVP of the 2009 for this Georgia Tech team.
What are the key differences between Paul Johnson and Chan Gailey, other than offensive philosophy?
The single biggest difference between the 2 has really been the understanding of the nature of the college game versus football in general. Chan Gailey was a decent coach. His schemes and coaching were largely fundamentally sound. But, he took a much more NFL-like approach to the game and his team. Coach Johnson understands the emotion and the things that the college game and teams require. Coach Gailey never seemed to understand nor embrace those elements.
If Tech wins this game, they will be the Coastal representative in the ACC championship. How have they done it?
I think the key to this season has been the adjustments made during the course of the game. Every aspect of the game has had it bad moments (some more than others). But, the coaches and players seem to be doing a fantastic job of making in-game adjustments. Coach Johnson has always gotten a lot of credit for second half offensive adjustments. But, the defense this year has averaged giving up 12 points less in the second half vs the first half. That speaks well to the coaching on both sides of the ball.
It seems at times that GT has struggled on defense against good passing teams. What adjustments has the defense made to combat these offenses has the season has gone on?
Really, there's been 2 major adjustments during the course of the season. The first is lining Derrick Morgan up in ways that maximize his productivity. He is clearly the best player on the line and the defense. The coaching staff has found a lot of very creative ways of putting him in situations where he can get one on one blocking (which he usually beats) and to make plays. Second, the defense has attempted to scale back the diversity of the coverages and schemes that they use. Earlier in the year, the defense had a large number of missed assignments. Players were playing tentatively as they were unsure of where they were supposed to be. The reduction in scheme has allowed the players to move more instinctively and its resulted in a better defense. The Tech defense is not going to be heralded as one of the best in the country. But, they have shown a great propensity for making big plays when they absolutely must and for adjusting as the game goes along.
Most people know the big name players on each side of the ball: Nesbitt, Dwyer, and Thomas on offense, and Burnett and Morgan on defense. Who are some of the unsung heroes that the Devils need to be wary of this weekend?
On offense, the first ones I'd look to are Roddy Jones and Anthony Allen (both at A-back). Roddy missed fall practice with a broken wrist and is just now rounding in to the form we saw from him late last year. He's really come on in recent games. Meanwhile, Anthony Allen has spent a large part of the year in the top 10 of the ACC in rushing. He's a big physical runner and has had a lot of big gains on the pitch.
On defense, Sedric Griffin has done a good job at linebacker. He's a hard hitter and has a good nose for the ball. Mario Butler has been the most consistent cornerback on the team. He's played every game and has generally been the best in coverage.
What are your biggest concerns heading into this weekend's contest?
The biggest concern is fatigue and injuries. This week's game vs Duke marks the 11th straight game for Georgia Tech with not a single off-week. The longest rest they've had is the 9 days between Miami and UNC back in September. The team has also practiced for 15 straight weeks (including fall practice). As a result, there are a lot of players with minor, nagging injuries. To combat the fatigue, the coaches have shortened some of the practice sessions to give the team a chance to recover. The off-week after this game will be sorely (pun intended) needed.
Second, the defense has started slowly in a number of games (particularly on the road) and also struggled vs the pass. Duke will be at home and has an excellent passing attack. If Georgia Tech comes out flat, then it could be a long afternoon.
How do you think the Jackets will finish the season?
The Jackets know that they need the win vs Duke to seal up the Coastal Division and that should help them play with a sense of urgency. I think they will struggle at times against Duke but find a way to get the victory. Following the bye week, they have the annual Clean Old-Fashioned Hate game vs the Bulldogs. A fresh, rested team should be primed and ready to take it to them. After that, the Jackets would be in the ACC Championship Game against either Clemson (most likely) or Boston College (second best shot). Clemson will be gunning to avenge their earlier loss to the Jackets. Clemson is a very talented team. But, I just can't pick a Dabo Swinney team to beat Paul Johnson with such high stakes.