A month ago, all anybody at Georgia Tech wanted to talk about was the weather.
The threat of Hurricane Wilma washed out the Tech-Miami game in October, giving the Jackets a lower-pressure path to their current 6-3 (4-3 ACC) record. Hardly anybody expected the Jackets to beat Miami at the Orange Bowl in October or November, but now the game doesn't affect their already-clinched bowl eligibility.
The Canes are nearly a three-touchdown favorite, which may one reason Tech fans are so busy arguing about head coach Chan Gailey's 5-year contract extension. Better that than having to think about the game.
Certainly, the Jackets have a big job in front of them. Tailback P. J. Daniels, who was nursing a sore shoulder a month ago, now has a bruised sternum that kept him out of practice. Tech will need him and every other offensive weapon they've got to overcome an agile, mobile and hostile Hurricane defense.
The Jackets need a big game from quarterback Reggie Ball and his receivers. They need some sort of solution to their kickoff woes. They need turnovers on defense, and ball control on offense.
The last time the Jackets needed so many stars to align for them, they went to Blacksburg to play Virginia Tech, and we know how that turned out. And we also know what the Canes did to Virginia Tech (whupped ‘em 27-7). The Hurricanes have won nine straight and do not appear to have a weakness. Says here Tech can win this game, but they'll need a great performance, an off day by Miami, and possibly an act of God.
Where they're coming from: Miami started the year ranked in the Top 10, and were out only briefly after their 10-7 opening road loss to Florida State. As usual, the ‘Canes are bursting with talent, and since Sept. 17 (a 36-30 escape from Clemson's Death Valley), they've been applying it to the scoreboard. Miami flattened a decent Colorado team 23-3 in Miami, before embarking on a bum-of-the-week tour, winning by 20, 45, and 31 over South Florida, Duke and Temple. North Carolina gave them a half before getting squashed 34-16. Neither Virginia Tech nor Wake Forest (47-17) even raised their blood pressure.
Canes to watch: The more Tech fans see of Devin Hester, the less happy they'll be. Hester, a junior with six career return TDs, is the most dangerous college return man since Deion Sanders (who by mentoring Hester in showboating has finally found a way to alienate everyone, even the Seminoles). Hester no longer goes back for kickoffs, but still returns punts (14.9 yards per, one TD this year), and comes in occasionally on offense for running plays (five for 57 yards). He has an interception, and is one reason why Miami has the nation's top pass defense. Sophomore quarterback Kyle Wright has thrown for 1,848 yards with 16 TDs, but has given up nine interceptions. Mini-bulldozer Tyrone Moss (5-10, 220) got most of the tailback carries and 12 touchdowns before getting hurt, but Charlie Jones has been a more-than-adequate replacement.
Who's hurt: Moss is tore his ACL against Virginia Tech and was lost for the year. The current Hurricane starters are healthy. Tech's top offensive lineman, senior tackle Brad Honeycutt, is questionable with an undisclosed injury, as is Daniels and tight end Michael Matthews (ankle).
Xs and Os: Miami averages scoring nearly 32 points per game, but their stifling defense is what has them in the Top 5. Their offense struggled earlier in the year with poor receiver play and too many sacks, but those problems have gone away in the past month. Expect Tech to sack Wright a few times, as they did Virginia's Marques Hagans last week, but those will not slow the Canes unless they lead to fumbles. The worst thing to hapen to Miami's defense all year was last month when head coach Larry Coker fired the ‘Canes defensive line coach Greg Mark, presumably not for performance reasons. Other than that, they're giving up 230 yards and 11.1 points per game.
Key matchups: Tech backup OL Salih Besirevic vs. Miami DE Javon Nanton. If Honeycutt can't go, Besirevic will have his hands full, especially when Nanton (10 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks) comes in on passing downs. Henderson vs. Miami OT Eric Winston (6-7, 310). If Henderson can get past the All-American Winston, he may be able to force Wright into bad throws or fumbles. Tech is No. 5 nationally with 17 interceptions, and turnovers could give their offense the short field they need to have much hope of scoring on Miami.