The Undercard: IA Offense Vs. Tech Defense

Much of the talk surrounding the Orange Bowl has centered around Georgia Tech's high-powered offense against Iowa's stingy defense. What happens if that's a standoff? Publisher Rob Howe says don't sleep on the Iowa offense and Tech defense.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Dave Wommack revealed his main concern going into Tuesday night's Orange Bowl with little hesitation.

"I think the match-up of their offensive line on our defensive line is probably going to be the toughest thing," said Wommack of Iowa. "I think they're extremely well-coached, and I think they're a talented group of players up front.  I see them get such a push on about everybody that they play, and I know that there's a lot of good teams up there including Ohio State and Wisconsin, and Penn State and we've seen what they've done in the bowls."

Many analysts think the game will come down to the Yellow Jackets' potent triple option attack against Iowa's stingy defense. A potential standoff there could place pressure on the other units to decide the contest.

The Hawkeye offense and Tech defense have weathered injuries throughout the season. Iowa played without starting quarterback Rick Stanzi for the last two plus games and watched a revolving door at positions throughout the unit. The Jackets were forced to change their schemes early on in the campaign.

"I can't sit here and say that it's improved as the year's gone on," Wommack said of his unit.  "You don't want to make excuses, but we started in an eight-man front with our defense.  We lost two safeties and a defensive end versus Miami (Sept. 17).  We switched to a four-three.  

"We've got some kids that have worked hard.  But we're deficient in some areas.  There is no question about that.  The kids play hard, and they work hard, but there are have been some deficiencies with our defense this year."

The Hawkeyes (10-2) rank 86th nationally in scoring offense at 23.08 points per game. Georgia Tech (11-2) comes in at 56th for scoring defense (24.85 PPG). Those aren't positions you'd expect a pair of teams with a combined 21-4 record to rate.

Iowa offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe sees a better defense on tape than the statistics show him.

"They're a very athletic defense," he said. "They've got excellent speed, and they're strong. They're strong.

"Obviously, you know, (Derrick) Morgan's gotten a lot of attention with what he's done up front and the kind of season he's had. But he's got a pretty good core of people around him that help occupy some other folks so he's able to do what he does. But sometimes he can be a one-man wrecking crew."

The American Football Coaches Association named Morgan a first-team all-American this fall. He recorded 12.5 sacks and 18.0 tackles for loss.

"He's a phenomenal player," Iowa Left Tackle Bryan Bulaga said. "He's probably the best I'll have seen this year. He's probably the best a lot of guys have seen this year. I know he's right up there with the Top 5 prospects in the country from what I've heard.

"He's a hell of a player. There aren't many flaws to his game. I know their other defensive end (Anthony Egbuniwe), he's a good player, too. You're not really getting a snap off this game at all. You're going to have to be on full alter for these guys."

O'Keefe also pointed to Morgan Bennett as a Tech defender for whom to watch out. The junior was listed as a safety, but has played what they call a rover in the Jackets' scheme. He has 14 career interceptions and posted 77 tackles in ‘09.

"He's an outstanding player," O‘Keefe said. "(Tech has) great speed on the back end, and at the linebacker position, you know, athletic and strong up front. They have played a variety of different looks all year long. From early on in the season against Miami where they played basically nickel almost the whole game probably to match speed. Other times they are a base four-three team in a lot of ways, you know, with how they line up at times. At other times they've played a three-four against Clemson."

For Iowa, a healthy Stanzi, Dace Richardson, Tony Moeaki, Colin Sandeman, Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher - to name a few - could provide some offensive firepower that's been lacking for much of the ‘09 campaign. There also could be rust.

"All I know is when Ricky Stanzi has been in there they've won football games," Wommack said. "I know they lost the one against Northwestern when he was knocked out after I think it was the 19th play of the game.  Then the overtime game versus Ohio State, so...I think he could make most of the throws and everything.  You know, he's gone against some pretty darn good defenses throughout the years.  So he looks to me like he's a pretty good football player, Stanzi."

There's no question that the Tech offense against the Iowa defense serves as the main event in this year's Orange Bowl. However, an inconsistent Hawkeye offense can benefit it's defense by putting together lengthy drives against a often porous Jacket defense.

Tech's opposition has run 58.6 offensive plays per game. North Carolina and Virginia each were limited to 44. It's been the result of the Jackets running the ball 57.8 times a game and chewing up clock.

If the Hawkeye offense turns the ball over, something it's done 26 times this season, and goes three and out too many times, that could spell the team's doom. Similarly, if the Tech defense allows Iowa to march on long drives, it renders its offense much less effective.

"We got to put some things together to help our defense," Iowa Center Rafael Eubanks said.

If the Hawkeyes run less than 60 plays on Tuesday, it might be a long night for the Big Ten team.

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