GoJackets.com Preview: GT vs. Miami

The Miami Hurricanes (1-0, 1-0) entered the 2008 season playing Florida State in Tallahassee on Monday, September 7th. In a thrilling battle, Miami won 38-34. Since then, their eyes have been on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (2-0, 1-0) who come to Miami Thursday night for the Hurricanes' home opener. Tech has won the last four games against "The U" and four of five since Miami joined the ACC.

Georgia Tech marks game number two of a four-game stretch for Miami that began at Florida State and ends with a trip to Blacksburg to face Virginia Tech and back home to host Oklahoma. Many analysts said that the young Miami squad would be lucky to begin the season 2-2. However, after their season opener against FSU, the Canes look much improved from last season's 7-6 record. Many true freshmen started most of last year's games for Miami and that will be valuable experience to have. In the game at FSU, Miami showed that their offense looks better having more experience with new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple making the calls. Still, after only playing one game, it is hard to tell if this Miami squad is better disciplined. Can they settle down, keep their assignments on defense this year, and not give up after giving up their first big play to Georgia Tech?

The Yellow Jackets have a young team of their own and have now played in two games including last week's nail-biter with Clemson on Thursday night. Georgia Tech starts just three seniors on both sides of the ball combined, compared to the eight Miami will only likely start. During parts of their game with Clemson, the Yellow Jackets looked like a real force to be reckoned with, especially the first quarter and the first half of the second. During other times, the end of the second and the whole third quarter for example, they showed vulnerability on both offense and defense when they struggled to move the ball and gave up four straight scoring drives. All in all, after blowing a big lead, Georgia Tech's offense made the key drives needed under quarterback Josh Nesbitt (who struggled most of the game passing) and the defense held on for the victory, causing Kyle Parker to throw for zero of his last seven passing attempts.

Breakdown:

Miami Offense – Sophomore quarterback Jacory Harris is a well-composed young man in the pocket. He throws with good accuracy and finished with an outstanding nine completions that went for 20 yards or more versus FSU. He finished that game going 21 for 34 with 386 yards, 2 TDs, and 2 INTs. There is legitimate concern for Miami though at the quarterback position. During fall camp before the season, Miami's number-two and number-three quarterbacks both transferred to different schools because they didn't want to back up Harris their whole careers. Miami has only one other scholarship quarterback in freshman A.J. Highsmith, who they were hoping to redshirt. So, protection for Harris is key every game because they cannot afford to lose him. The offensive line is a good unit though, with three seniors starting led by left tackle Jason Fox, who guards Harris' blindside. Running the ball should be key against Georgia Tech to better help open up the field for Harris and his army of playmakers. Javarris James and Graig Cooper will be handling the load on the ground for the Hurricanes, and they will also be key factors in the short passing attack. James and Cooper combined for just 67 rushing yards against FSU, and I believe they'll need to be much more productive against Georgia Tech for Miami to win. In the receiving corps, Miami has plenty of options. Junior Leonard Hankerson and sophomores Travis Benjamin, Aldarius Johnson, and LaRon Byrd all have the capabilities to impact the game. Senior tight end Dedrick Epps also has a knack for making big plays.

Impact Player – RB #2 Graig Cooper: Cooper has serious speed and will start out his contributions as Miami's kick returner. He's averaging 35.4 yards per return and can take it the distance at any moment on offense or special teams. As stated earlier, I think Miami needs a solid game from its running backs to earn a victory.

Georgia Tech Offense – Tech's success on offense stands on the shoulders of their leader and quarterback Josh Nesbitt. Looking at stats, things were pretty ugly passing-wise for Nesbitt against Clemson. The junior went just 3-14 with 83 yards and two INTs. However, the interceptions luckily were basically punts, there were a couple dropped passes, and most of Nesbitt's attempts are never high percentage. When it mattered most, Josh stepped it up and looked strong passing two for his final three attempts in the fourth quarter, with each completion setting up the game-tying and winning field goals. Nesbitt still has lots of room for improvements throwing the ball, but the stats in this offense that matter are the yards gained on the ground. Nesbitt engineered the offense to gain 301 rushing yards on what was called by many an "off-night" for the offense. Clemson's defense looked strong, and will be a good defense all season, but despite that Tech managed 418 total yards. Jonathan Dwyer was held to just 66 yards versus the Tigers, and teams will probably hold him to games like that again this year. That fact just opens it up for other guys to make the plays. Nesbitt had 91 yards and a-back Anthony Allen had 127 yards on just 5 carries.

Impact Player – A-back #20 Roddy Jones: The sophomore speedster played in his first game against Clemson after being held out of the season opener as a precaution. Jones dislocated his wrist in the summer, but is fully healthy and ready to go after shaking off the rust last Thursday. Roddy is just another one of the many home run threats this offense has.

Miami Defense – Miami's defense looked to be a very strong unit heading in to Atlanta in November of last year to face Georgia Tech. Miami had control of their destiny and was in the lead for the Coastal Division. They lost control quickly, and by the second quarter the game was out of hand. Georgia Tech went on to win easily 41-23 and racked up 472 rushing yards, averaging over eight yards every carry. Miami's discipline was pathetic and so seemed their effort all night. Don't for one second think that Head Coach Randy Shannon and Miami have forgotten about what happened the first night they played against Paul Johnson's vaunted rushing attack. This time around they have a few more days to prepare and one might think they'll be better prepared than last season. Stopping Georgia Tech's offense will begin in the trenches with defensive tackles Allen Bailey and Marcus Fortson. If these guys can avoid the blocks and disrupt the middle, it will greatly help. From watching the last season-plus of Tech's games under Paul Johnson's direction, it seems that those teams that get good, consistent play from their interior linemen have had the most success in holding down the offense. However, if these guys step it up it will not come close to guaranteeing success. All eleven players on the defense will have to step it up and keep assignments on every play to succeed. Miami has the speed and the talent, but will it have the discipline this year to stop Tech? Last year, it was clear they weren't close in that aspect.

Impact Player – LB #44 Colin McCarthy: McCarthy and the other linebackers will have plenty of opportunities to make plays near the line of scrimmage. If they can come off the blocks, keep their assignments, and make solid tackles, they could cause a lot of trouble.

Georgia Tech Defense – In watching Miami's offense play against FSU, I could see that their offensive line was solid in giving QB Jacory Harris plenty of time to throw. On at least one of the two interceptions Harris threw, there was great pressure that put Harris into a panic and you could almost tell something bad was about to happen. Georgia Tech has to get pressure on the quarterback in order to help stop Miami's passing attack. Defensive end Derrick Morgan is a star, leading the team with 15 tackles, 6.5 for loss, and five sacks so far this season. But he's been Tech's only answer to causing any sort of pressure on the quarterback. Tech needs its other linemen to step it up against an experienced Miami offensive line. They will probably be sending some different blitz packages with the linebackers and safeties involved to help get some extra pressure. The secondary will have its hands full with covering Miami's skill players and Jacory Harris in the pocket. Miami has proven already this season that it can match Georgia Tech in making big plays. GT's secondary is a strong unit though, capable of turning a game. So, if Tech can get pressure on the QB, then you'll see guys like Jerrard Tarrant, Cooper Taylor, and Morgan Burnett making some big plays of their own. Overall, discipline and intensity is going to be needed from everyone on the Tech defense. Miami is a threat to score at any time from anywhere on the field.

Impact Player - LB #51 Brad Jefferson: Jefferson is a leader on the defense and a playmaker. He will play a pivotal role in stopping the run game, which will make for easier opportunities for Tech to make big stops against the passing game.

Summary:
Both teams will be tested Thursday night. Each has a great chance to make a statement in the national spotlight. The offenses will be catching everybody's attention, but it will be the defenses that make the difference. Whichever one can play most consistent, win the turnover battle, and not give up more big plays will probably be leading their team to victory. Will the Hurricanes be embarrassed again this year trying to cover the option? Will Georgia Tech be able to hold off the big pass plays from Harris? Special teams will also be key, with each team having return men that can get their team into good field position or put points on the board immediately.

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