2011 ACC Season Recap: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

In 2011, Tevin Washington Proved He Can Be the Engine That Runs Georgia Tech's Offense

Team: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

W-L: 8-5 (5-3)

Postseason: 30-27 Sun Bowl loss to Utah

Top Offensive Performer: Tevin Washington, QB

Top Defensive Performer: Julian Burnett, LB

During a season that started in stunning, impressive fashion, it’s amazing that everything would end in so much disappointment for the Yellow Jackets in 2011. Starting out 6-0, the triple-option was firing on all cylinders early on and Tevin Washington looked as if he was born to run this offense. Looking back, however, the wheels started coming off after a huge week-three win over Kansas, and an ill-fated t-shirt to commemorate the beating. Lost in the 178 points they totaled through those first three contests was how unimpressive the defense was, and how truly awful their opponents were (just three wins between them versus FBS competition). Add to that the fact that the Wreck’s offense, though the second-best running attack in the country, was also among the most one-dimensional, and the recipe for disaster was written well in advance. Seven games after their undefeated start, Tech limped to a 2-5 finish including their blown 14-point fourth-quarter lead in the Sun Bowl.

On the defensive end, appearances say that Georgia Tech (which allowed 26.1 points per game) were marginal at best, and were mostly bailed out by a prolific offense. Much of this is true, but it short-sells the Yellow Jackets’ strong pass defense, ranked second in the ACC in terms of average yardage per game (197.6). On the ground, Tech was a middle-of-the-road squad in terms of yards, yet allowed 19 scores on the ground. When added to the 23 passing touchdowns against them (again, among the worst in the conference), there’s a simple explanation for how everything devolved so quickly. The only games they held their opponents to less than 20 points? A close win over lowly Maryland and an expertly designed scheme against Clemson. Continue reading

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2011 Season’s Final ACC Power Rankings

Logan Thomas and Virginia Tech's Disappointing Finish Won't Stop Them From Finishing as the ACC's Top Team

In these conference rankings, I list the ACC teams, one through 14, as if Pitt and Syracuse were already in the league. Yes, adding the additional teams may seem pointless now, but wait until they officially join. Then it’ll seem like old news and we can get past that initial awkwardness. No, I won’t reconsider. On to the final rankings of the 2011 season:

1. Virginia Tech Hokies (11-3) (7-2) (LW: 1): The Hokies do end the year on a two-game losing streak, however, their final game was competitive and entertaining to watch. Had it not been for Danny Coale‘s touchdown being called back late in the contest, Virginia Tech could have easily walked away with a Sugar Bowl victory and actually allowed the conference to keep some dignity this postseason.

2. Clemson Tigers (10-4) (7-2) (LW: 3): Speaking of dignity, the ACC champs lost all of theirs in a 70-33 drubbing at the hands of West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. The loss would go down as one of the worst in bowl or BCS history, and add to the frustrating concept that is Clemson football. Coach Dabo Swinney has taken this team to new heights, now he must surpass those, too, and deliver a title contender.

3. Florida State Seminoles (9-4) (5-3) (LW: 2): The ‘Noles were one of the ACC’s two bowl victors after defeating the oft-overrated Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Champs Sports Bowl. While never overly impressive in the matchup, it was a continuation of a theme for Florida State — never appearing all that dominant, but getting the job done when unchallenged by their opponent.

4. NC State Wolfpack (8-5) (4-4) (LW: 6): The conference’s other victor defeated Louisville in their bowl game to complete an improbable and fantastic run to end the year. In defeating the likes of Clemson, Maryland and the Cardinals consecutively, the Wolfpack won with both offense and defense — suddenly showing themselves a team that could play up to any opponent, regardless of how favored they may be. Above all, QB Mike Glennon was most impressive, throwing for 11 touchdowns over those final three games. Continue reading

Hyundai Sun Bowl Recap: Utah over Georgia Tech, 30-27 (OT)

QB Jon Hays Rallied the Utes Late for a 30-27 OT Victory over Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl

What Happened: The Utah Utes rallied for two late scores to force overtime, before defeating the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the Sun Bowl, 30-27. Though Georgia Tech’s offense looked stellar for much of the contest, it was just no match for the clutch performances of Utes QB Jon Hays and halfback John White IV, who contributed the final three touchdowns of the game, en route to a victory. Utah’s comeback was the ladder portion of a bipolar second half, which featured a 17-0 third and a 14-0 fourth quarter. The final stanza was particularly frustrating to Tech coach Paul Johnson, who described it as getting “kicked in the gut.”

Who’s to Blame: Without many turnovers in this game, it ultimately comes down to the offensive line — the source behind Johnson’s quote above. For those who watched the contest, you undoubtedly noticed a collapse on most blocking schemes and a perceived lack of intensity from the ‘Wreck’s O-line come the fourth. Whether it’s exhaustion from a full game of run-blocking (not uncommon) or a lack of motivation, it was disappointing to see the efforts of quarterback Tevin Washington result in yet another bowl loss for his team (their seventh straight). The onus will likely fall on sophomore kicker David Scully as well, who in his first field goal attempt of the year, missed from 48 yards as time expired in regulation.

It Was Over When: White sprinted into the endzone from eight yards out for the Utes’ touchdown in the first overtime, sealing up the 30-27 victory. Though doubled up on rushing yards by Georgia Tech, Utah (mostly on the back of White) still managed 144 to pair with 193 through the air. As has been the case for Tech several times since Johnson took over, the balanced attack won out in the end.

Game Ball Goes To: Hays and his three touchdown passes (including two in the final seven minutes of the fourth). While not racking up gaudy yardage or completion numbers, Hays put his team in position for victory come its conclusion, and came out with the big comeback win. If not for a missed field goal at the end of regulation, we’d likely be celebrating Washington instead. The Georgia Tech quarterback completed 11 of 15 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown (his first since October), to go along with 96 yards rushing.

Predictions Update: The Utah win gives me a 3-2 record in ACC games, though the conference drops to 2-3 with this loss. Spoiler alert, things didn’t go well for the ACC in the late game, either.

Hyundai Sun Bowl Preview: Georgia Tech vs. Utah

The 2011 Hyundai Sun Bowl Pits Utah Versus Georgia Tech

The 2011 Hyundai Sun Bowl matches two teams moving in completely opposite directions. After starting out 6-0, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets stumbled to just two wins in their final six games. The Utah Utes, on the other hand, were in contention for a Pac-12 South title until the final week of the season, and won four of their final five games. Which trend will continue? We discuss.

Bowl Game: (Hyundai) Sun Bowl

Location: El Paso, Tex.

First Year: 1935

2011 Participants: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (8-4) vs. Utah Utes (7-5)

Last Meeting: 2005, a 38-10 Emerald Bowl win by Utah

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Georgia Tech (previous bowl game: 14-7 loss to Air Force in 2010 Independence Bowl)

As mentioned above, the Yellow Jackets came out of the gates on fire in 2011, with their dominant rushing attack leading them to a 6-0 start and a number-12 national ranking. Suddenly after that though, QB Tevin Washington‘s level of play decreased and the defense’s inefficiencies were regularly exploited against better competition. Still, on the positive side, Tech’s offense was still top-20 in the nation (35.5 points per game), and the running game finished third, with nearly 317 yards per contest. While it’s a tough attack to stop, there isn’t a passing game in sight, which could be inhibiting against a tenacious Utes defense.

Utah (previous bowl game: 26-3 loss to Boise State in 2010 MAACO Bowl)

While consistently shaky in Pac-12 games, the Utes stayed in the South division race until the final week due to USC‘s postseason ban. Unlike the Urban Meyer heydays (and even recent teams), the offense was mostly uninspiring — their 25.5 points per game (78th overall in the FBS) gets a big bump from a huge 54-point showing versus BYU and a very week schedule top-to-bottom. At the same time, that didn’t much matter. Giving up just 19.7 points per game this season, the Utes’ D was one of the program’s most impressive in years. Only half of the teams they faced even managed to top 20 points in a game, and four of their opponents were held to 10 points or less. Needless to say, this unit’s good, and makes Tech’s job a lot more difficult in terms of their game plan.

Verdict

As you might have guessed from the assessments above, Georgia Tech’s one-dimensional offense will have its work cut out for it versus Utah. My usual opinion on one-dimensional attacks is that they’re stopped short once faced with a superior defense, and that’s exactly the matchup we’ve got here. The ‘Wreck’s played well against inferior opponents, racking up most of their wins against poor run defenses (Clemson) and flat-out poor teams (Maryland, Kansas), and sadly for them, the Utes qualify as neither. Chances are, unless Washington’s willing to throw the ball, Tech’s in for a rude awakening. Prediction: Utah 26, Georgia Tech 20

Champs Sports Bowl Preview: Florida State vs. Notre Dame

The Champs Sports Bowl Matches Florida State Up Against Notre Dame

Today’s bowl preview may end up being an ACC conference game soon if the cards fall right. For the moment however, it’s just a showdown between two underachieving teams that have not been considered national powers for at least the better part of the last decade. Still, tons of compelling stories going on for this year’s Champs Sports Bowl between the Florida State Seminoles and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Bowl Game: Champs Sports Bowl

Location: Orlando, Fla.

First Year: 1990 (as Blockbuster Bowl)

2011 Participants: Florida State Seminoles (8-4) vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (8-4)

Last Meeting: 2003, a 37-0 road win by Florida State

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Florida State (previous bowl game: 26-17 win over South Carolina in 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl)

The Seminoles entered 2011 as a top-five team looking to return to their rightful place of national prominence. After two huge wins against cupcakes to start the season, expectations went through the roof in anticipation for their matchup with then-top-ranked Oklahoma, and following a close loss to the Sooners, it seemed like the team was still on track. Two weeks later, however, they were unranked and sitting at a stunning 2-3. Yet, the team would regroup, winning six of its final seven. And while scoring was sometimes at a premium, Florida State’s defense would finish the season as top five in something else — defense. Allowing just 14.2 points per game, the effort on that side of the ball more than made up for their paltry 118 yards per game on the ground and mostly inconsistent quarterback play from EJ Manuel. As we saw in the Seminoles’ games versus quality opponents, however, that formula doesn’t always turn out the way they plan.

Notre Dame (previous bowl game: 33-17 win over Miami (FL) in 2010 Sun Bowl)

Notre Dame also began their year ranked, with high expectations. Enter an 0-2 start, and suddenly the irish had to regroup in a hurry. And just as they did with their backs to the wall in 2010, they collected themselves this past season too. The Golden Domers would lose just two more times (to top-five programs USC and Stanford), and end the year with five wins versus bowl-bound teams. Frighteningly, if not for some poor luck in their first two games, this Irish squad could very well be 10-2, and surely playing in a BCS game (something I actually wouldn’t protest for once). Alas, it was not meant to be, so instead they bring a very balanced and entertaining team (once again, can’t believe I’m saying any of this about ND) to Orlando. Though their defense is not nearly as stingy as the Seminoles’, they run and throw the ball better, and don’t possess offensive numbers inflated by games versus Nowhere State University. The big concern won’t be team numbers, however, but the Irish’s big playmakers; QB Tommy Rees, RBs Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray, and WR Michael Floyd. Just as a sidenote, Floyd caught 95 passes this year (cue concern).

Verdict

In spite of what admittedly looks like gushing above, I truly hate Notre Dame. That said, I think they have a real shot to win this one. Balanced offense usually beats one-dimensional, especially when good defenses are involved. The question is, is Notre Dame’s good enough to keep this score down? Following Virginia‘s gameplan from late in the regular season, if the Irish can hold Florida State to under 20 points, they stand a pretty good chance. On the flipside, the ‘Noles haven’t allowed a team to score 20 points themselves since October 8 (!) and have outscored opponents by 132 points total since that game. Given all that, the pick is Florida State, though not by that overwhelming a margin. Prediction: Florida St. 27, Notre Dame 26

ACC Bowl Projections, Week 14

Virginia Tech Looks Poised to Win Its Fifth ACC Title

Admittedly, including Syracuse and Pittsburgh in these bowl projections makes little sense, so that won’t happen until the teams actually begin conference play. Each week, I’ll just provide a postseason ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ on both, while for the current ACC schools, a bowl game will be assigned.

In this week’s rankings, Virginia Tech gets more entrenched as the odds-on favorite to win the ACC, and the conference’s second tier jostles for position in the middle of the bowl lineup. After some late heroics, NC State finds itself in the postseason, while either Syracuse or Pitt will end up sitting at home late this December.

Discover Orange Bowl: Virginia Tech Hokies (11-1)

Chick-fil-A Bowl: Clemson Tigers (9-3)

Champs Sports BowlFlorida State Seminoles (8-4)

Hyundai Sun Bowl: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (8-4)

Belk BowlVirginia Cavaliers (8-4)

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: NC State Wolfpack (7-5)

Advocare V100 Independence BowlNorth Carolina Tar Heels (7-5)

Military Bowl Presented by Northrop GrummanWake Forest Demon Deacons (6-6)

Syracuse Orange (5-6): As far as most SU fans are concerned, the 2011 season ended back in October. With very little offensive production and a defense that refuses to wrap up when making tackles, how can you blame them (us)? Still, the Orange have an opportunity to wrap up a bowl bid (potentially) by beating rival/expansion-mate, Pittsburgh. Can they do it? No. And I say that as someone who’s chosen to watch every game this season.

Pittsburgh Panthers (5-6): Few can blame Pitt for falling by one point to a superior West Virginia squad, but mistakes did cost them dearly at several junctures. Pitt has had to rely heavily on their passing game and defense these past few games, and it will likely be up to them to halt Syracuse on Saturday. If the Orange play-calling resembles recent weeks, the Panthers should be just fine.

ACC Bowl Projections, Week 13

As it Stands, Virginia Tech Looks to Be Returning to the Orange Bowl This Postseason

Admittedly, including Syracuse and Pittsburgh in these bowl projections makes little sense, so that won’t happen until the teams actually begin conference play. Each week, I’ll just provide a postseason ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ on both, while for the current ACC schools, a bowl game will be assigned.

In this week’s rankings, the shuffling all over the board reflects the weekend’s unexpected results and the shifts happening all over the ACC power rankings. With a new king of the hill, some teams in a freefall and one squad (Miami) taking itself out of the postseason picture in spite of bowl eligibility, things are looking drastically different from week to week — with some more changes bound to happen before season’s end.

Discover Orange Bowl: Virginia Tech Hokies (10-1)

Chick-fil-A Bowl: Clemson Tigers (9-2)

Champs Sports Bowl: Virginia Cavaliers (8-3)

Hyundai Sun Bowl: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (8-3)

Belk Bowl: Florida State Seminoles (7-4)

Franklin American Mortgage Music City BowlWake Forest Demon Deacons (6-5)

Advocare V100 Independence Bowl: NC State Wolfpack (6-5)

Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman: North Carolina Tar Heels (6-5)

Syracuse Orange (5-5): Will the bye week do the Orange a favor in either of their final two games? Knowing the mentality of this team, they’ll have to win this weekend’s contest versus Cincinnati, otherwise, it’s very difficult to see them gathering the ability to emerge victorious in a season-ending, must-win contest. As of right now, I’d say they’re not headed to the postseason.

Pittsburgh Panthers (5-5): No easy tests left for Pittsburgh either, with arguably their two biggest rivals remaining (SU and West Virginia). Most frustrating for the Panthers is that they were within a score in all but two of their losses. As mentioned, I think you’ll see Pitt win a must-win scenario with ‘Cuse, especially given they can still win the Big East right now (miraculous).