The first, and most obvious and fully covered thus far, is explosive wideout Calvin Johnson. The rare blend of physical traits and pure ability mean mismatches galore in the WVU secondary. But that doesn't mean West Virginia can ignore everything else. The second is that the Yellow Jackets blitz more than any other team West Virginia has faced this season. The combination of speed and movement allows varying angles for attacking players and can cause confusion up front. The third is the multiple looks of Georgia Tech's defense. It shows four-man and odd-man fronts. It lines up over the center. Then it doesn't. Then it moves laterally with its line and linebackers. All of it is an effort to both befuddle the opposition and create creases in blocking and also to hide the thrust of the defensive approach, or where it is attempting to make an offense vulnerable.
"Chan Gailey is a pretty good coach," WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "He is intelligent and he knows the game. His teams probably blitz more than any other we have seen. We have not played anyone that has done it that much. So that defense puts them in good situations."
And the offense need just take advantage. That's likely the base plan against West Virginia. Throw it to Johnson, hope quarterback Reggie Ball elevates his game to pre-ACC championship level, and allow the defense to swarm the football from angles unseen – or at least not easily blocked – by the Mountaineers. And maintain an aggressive style used by East Carolina and Mississippi State, the two teams Tech players have already said they will emulate in an attempt to slow the spread offense. So it's no secret what the strategy is. It's just prep and playing the game out.
"In bowl games, if you play well and lose, you can kind of live with it," Rodriguez said. "If you play bad, it really eats you up for months. (Previous Gator Bowls) really got me. I think it carries over into January and February, but maybe not all the way to the next season. There is no secret formula. It's just how you play."
West Virginia can counter Johnson's vertical threat with pressure on the pocket. It will likely employ some new blitz looks design to keep the run-happy quarterback between the tackles. Ball has yet to show he can beat most teams with his arm, and he has under whelmed in the past two games. So, the defensive thinking goes, let's limit the run as always, and hem him in and make him find an open wideout. He might do that, but will he do it enough without making mistakes? That will involve some tweaking in the middle blitz, which is effective off a stunt, but, by nature, forces the quarterback to the sideline and thus out of the pocket. That might, however, allow the linebackers, should they read pass, to stay at home and not be sucked up, or even play deeper to cut off the crossing patterns and dumps to the tight ends that have killed WVU in the past. There will be openings in the odd stack. There are in every defense. But this game will largely be on Ball. How does he handle the changes in a defense unseen by many, and how does he react to what he sees in the game?
On offense, the key to stopping any blitzing defenses is simply squaring up within the zone blocking scheme. That eliminates holes through which to penetrate, and also allows tailback Steve Slaton to pick and choose his creases when they present themselves. A major part of any hole opening will also be fullback Owen Schmitt, so his health could play a key role. If he gains back his explosiveness, WVU will be much better on the ground. If he continues to struggle with the ankle injury, the games might resemble those against South Florida and Rutgers, the two teams to which Tech's speed and scheme, respectively, most closely resemble.
The last aspect – multiple defensive looks by Georgia Tech – should not be as daunting. WVU simply blocks the man in the area, forgoing man-assignments in favor of hit-who's-there approach. But it's worth noting that quarterback Patrick White will have to read well this game and know at what he is looking. The early in-game adjustments will be big for both sides, especially with nearly a month to prepare. Wholesale changes re unlikely and, frankly, unintelligent. Do what you do well, as they say. But there will be some new wrinkles, some new ways to utilize old strengths. That's what West Virginia is doing now, and what's also taking place in Atlanta.
With those three key aspects in mind, BlueGoldNews.com will take you through the trio of problems Tech can present and tell you how players are reacting to them, and what they can reveal about recent practices. There won't be any trade secrets. Coke isn't giving out the original (Classic) recipe, and neither is Colonel Sanders. West Virginia – and Georgia Tech – will follow suit. But one can gain a better understanding of what a team might try early, and what most experts think will work against the ideas, and what needs totally scrapped. Stay tuned this week leading to Christmas.