Utah Offensive Line vs Georgia Tech Defensive Line
Utah Offensive Line
When Sam Brenner went down in the Colorado game on November 25th everybody in Rice-Eccles Stadium held their breath. Brenner suffered a neck injury in the third quarter that required he be taken to the hospital via ambulance before being cleared by doctors. Brenner is expected to play in the bowl game, which is great news for Ute fans as they'll face a talented defensive front from Georgia Tech. Senior All-Conference tackles Tony Bergstrom and John Cullen will anchor the line while Brenner, Tevita Stevens, and Miles Mason attempt to control the middle. Bergstrom, Stevens, and Cullen grade out as the top linemen on the team and they'll be instrumental in providing both run blocking and pass protection while the Utes attempt to move the ball.
Georgia Tech Defensive Line
Georgia Tech runs an explosive 3-4 defense filled with skill and strength at every position. On the line, Jason Peters, Logan Walls, and Izaan Cross will likely start for the Yellow Jackets, but expect to see a lot of shuffling throughout the game. T.J. Barnes (6'7" 347lbs), "the largest human on the Tech roster" as Georgia Tech explains, will see significant time at nose tackle off the bench while Emmanuel Dieke and Euclid Cummings will also rotate in at end. Dieke is an especially talented reserve who will make plays when he's on the field. He has two sacks this season which is tied for the most on the Tech line. Tech's starters combined for 5.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks (both by Peters), 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery. These guys are active at disrupting the run but allow the linebackers on the second level to do most of the dirty work. No clear advantages for Georgia Tech on the line, but they'll battle for four quarters.
Utah Running Backs and Tight Ends vs Georgia Tech Linebackers
Utah Running Backs and Tight Ends
Utah's running game was without question the team's biggest bright spot of the 2011 season. When Jordan Wynn went down against Washington the offense took on a whole new identity which featured John White as the primary offensive weapon. White went from averaging 19 carries per game (pre-Wynn injury) to averaging 27 carries (post-injury) per game. Although defenses knew he was going to get a load of carries, he was still able to pick up yards and move the team down field which goes to show just how talented he is. The Utah tight ends, however, didn't have quite the same impact. While Jake Murphy and Kendrick Moeai are both talented receivers, it was their blocking skills that were most often utilized in the offense. Both can make an impact in the passing game when needed.
Georgia Tech Linebackers
This unit is definitely the strength of the GT defense. Julian Burnett and Steven Sylvester, two of GT's four starting linebackers, are team captains and are the leaders of this defense. Burnett ranks 5th in the ACC in total tackles and has 44 more tackles than any other Tech player. Needless to say he'll find himself around the ball often. Sylvester is more of an active leader rather than a statistical leader. His 4 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, and pass breakup show his versatility at outside linebacker. Don't sleep on Jeremiah Attaochu and Quayshawn Nealy. Nealy is great in pass coverage as evidenced by his 47 tackles, 2 pass breakups, and 1 interception while Attaochu is a sack-machine. His 6 sacks lead the team and rank him 4th in the ACC. Overall this unit should give Utah's tight ends problems in the pass game which will likely force Utah to pass to the outside or run a little more with White.
EDGE: Georgia Tech
Utah Quarterback and Wide Receivers vs Georgia Tech Corners and Safeties
Utah Quarterback and Wide Receivers
Not much can be said about John Hays that hasn't already been said. The Ute signal-caller has been judged, critiqued, nit-picked, and mocked more than any quarterback Utah has in a very long time. While it's true that he isn't an NFL prospect, it doesn't mean that he is completely skill-less. Hays very clearly developed as a quarterback throughout the season and by November 25th he was a very serviceable player. Nobody believes Hays can throw for 400 yards, but it's not numbers like those that make him successful. He is good when he hands the ball to John White, when he limits his mistakes, and when he makes smart decisions on 3rd downs. That has been enough for he and Utah to be successful, and they'll need it out of him one more time. The wide receivers sadly are underutilized. Utah has a great group of talented guys but the limitations on the quarterback have left them as glorified blockers for much of the season. Still, there is something to be said about a wideout who can block consistently throughout a game and still make a clutch catch on 3rd down when he needs to. This is what Utah has.
Georgia Tech Corners and Safeties
Junior Rod Sweeting, Tech's starting left corner, is the premier cover back on this Yellow Jacket defense. Sweeting tallied 55 tackles this year (3rd on the team) while accumulating 3 tackles for loss, 9 pass breakups, 3 interceptions, and a touchdown. Sweeting's fantastic season earned him All-ACC honorable mention this year and he'll find himself matched up against Utah's #1 receiver all night. Sophomore Louis Young covers the other side of the field and he can't be overlooked. Young's 3 tackles for loss, 5 pass breakups, 1 interception, and 1 forced fumble show how skilled he is as well and he is just as capable as Sweeting at shutting down a receiver. Safeties Isaiah Johnson and Rashaad Reid will patrol the deep parts for Tech. Sweeting and Young should be able to contain Devonte Christopher and Dres Anderson with help from a limited John Hays, but the Utah receivers should have opportunities to make plays.
Utah Defensive Line vs Georgia Tech Offensive Line
Utah Defensive Line
Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei made Ute fans happy recently when he announced that he would be returning in 2012 for his senior season. Star was an absolute beast on Utah's defensive line this year earning himself the Morris Trophy which is presented to the Pac-12's best defensive lineman. Defensive end Derrick Shelby had an equally disruptive impact this year earning himself a spot on the All-Pac-12 team for his work. Together the two of them along with brothers Joe and Dave Kruger made Utah's defensive line one of the best in the conference. Joe Kruger was injured in the season finale against Colorado but it expected play in the bowl game. If he misses time look for Tevita Finau to step up in his place along with DE/OLB combo Trevor Reilly. Utah's versatility on the d-line is one of the reasons they were so successful in 2011.
Georgia Tech Offensive Line
The matchup between Tech guard Omoregie Uzzi and Utah's Star Lotulelei will be a fun one to watch. Uzzi was named to the All-ACC 1st Team because of his play this season and the battle between the ACC's best and the Pac-12's best should be spectacular. Overall the Yellow Jacket line is solid. Though young at most positions they are very athletic and talented which they need to be in order to run the option offense that currently is in place. Their 13 allowed sacks this year may be a little deceiving based on the number of run plays called compared to pass plays, so watch out for young tackle Ray Beno against Derrick Shelby. Shelby's speed off the ball and ability to get up the field quickly could be trouble for Beno which will cause problems for the offense. Jay Finch, Will Jackson, and Phil Smith should hold their own at their respective positions.
Utah Linebackers vs Georgia Tech Running Backs and Tight Ends
This will be the final game in the careers of linebackers Chaz Walker and Matt Martinez. Walker earned All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention recognition for his play this year. Chaz led Utah in tackles (103) and ranked 2nd in the Pac-12 in that category while also accruing 2.5 tackles for loss and 2 forced fumbles. Martinez was second on the team in tackles behind Walker, but his primary impact on the field came through his versatility rather than his nose for the football. Martinez finished with 8 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery, and 1 blocked kick. Trevor Reilly is a major threat to quarterbacks on passing downs, while V.J. Fehoko and Nate Fakahafua add quality depth to the unit.
Georgia Tech Running Backs and Tight Ends
Georgia Tech's unique option offense means they present more challenges at running back than any other school. Similar to the option seen at Air Force and Navy, Georgia Tech will often have 3 running backs on the field at any given time with all three legitimate run threats on every play. With three running backs carrying the load for the Yellow Jackets it may surprise you to know that it's the quarterback, not any of the runners, that leads the team in rushing. That means Utah will have to key on as many as four different runners on any given play, which is exactly what the Tech offense is built to do. QB Tevin Washington is always priority #1, but behind him David Sims, Orwin Smith, and Roddy Jones are all very skilled ball carriers who will get the ball at many different positions on the field. Stopping them will require athleticism and discipline from every player on Utah's defense, especially their linebackers.
EDGE: Georgia Tech
Utah Corners and Safeties vs Georgia Tech Quarterback and Wide Receivers
Utah Corners and Safeties
The development of this group throughout the season was fun to watch. Eric Rowe, Mo Lee, Conroy Black, and even Ryan Lacy really took their play to another level by seasons' end. Black went from talented but unreliable to lock-down in 12 games. Lee went from unknown to rising star. Lacy made a name for himself as an opportunistic playmaker. And all Eric Rowe did was get himself named to multiple freshman All-American teams. Not bad for a group that entered the year as one of Utah's biggest question marks. This group is multi-talented, and those skills will help against Georgia Tech. All players at corner and safety have the ability to defend the run as well as the pass and none are strangers to making plays (all had an interception this season). Did I forget somebody? Oh yeah, Brian Blechen, perhaps the biggest playmaker of this defense. He will play a vital role in defending the option, much like he did against Air Force in 2010. Watch for him to have a spy role all game long.
Georgia Tech Quarterback and Wide Receivers
Quarterback Tevin Washington is really the guy to watch from this unit. Tech's offense is built around the run, not the pass, and Washington has the legs to beat any team he faces. Washington led Tech in rushing attempts (255), rushing yards (890), and rushing touchdowns (14) in 2011. His rushing yards and touchdowns are the second-most ever by a Tech quarterback. Washington is a sub-par passer, so the offensive scheme is designed to keep them in short-yardage 3rd down situations. When forced to pass this year Washington struggled to complete 46% of his passes. He threw 10 touchdowns on the season while throwing 8 interceptions. At receiver, Tyler Melton and Stephen Hill are the two that see the most playing time. Their routes are generally designed as part of a play-fake design which usually leaves one of them open for a big gain. Hill averaged over 30 yards per reception this season, which ranks 1st in the nation, while Melton averages over 17 yards per catch. Big plays dictate this pass offense so once again discipline from Utah's secondary will be key.
Unit Matchups - Georgia Tech vs Utah
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