Fresh of their first loss of the season, ranked Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets will travel south this weekend for an ACC clash with the Miami Hurricanes, who kept in the league hunt with a crucial win over North Carolina last Saturday.
Georgia Tech scorched opposing defenses through the first five games of the season, but has cooled down the last two weeks in contests against Maryland and Virginia. The Cavaliers turned in an inspired effort defensively and gave the Yellow Jackets a taste of their own medicine in the 24-21 upset, rushing for nearly 300 yards.
"I'm disappointed in our performance last week," said Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson at his weekly press conference on Tuesday. "The challenge this week, in addition to a great Miami team that is very athletic, is to put it behind you. You have to flush it and move on."
Following Miami's crushing 38-35 loss to Virginia Tech two weeks ago, the Hurricanes looked to be in trouble in the ACC race. Miami responded however, with an important road win over the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill. Al Golden's squad will begin a three game homestand this weekend, and following Saturday's tangle with Georgia Tech, will host Virginia and Duke before a date with in- state rival Florida State on November 12 in Tallahassee.
Georgia Tech was averaging 558.3 yards per game heading into last weekend's matchup with Virginia, but was held to just 296 yards, including 24 passing. Tevin Washington was the only player to rush over 100 yards (115 yards, two TDs on 26 carries), but was just two-of-eight passing with two interceptions. Georgia Tech has scored 21 points in each of its last two games, still ranking 10th nationally in scoring with 42.8 points per game.
Despite suffering somewhat of a drought the past two weeks, Georgia Tech still ranks second in the country in rushing (347.8), third in passing efficiency (190.1) and ninth in total offense (516.7). Orwin Smith, David Sims and Washington average 69.7, 66.7 and 60.5 yards rushing per game, and have combined for 19 touchdowns on the ground, with Smith and Washington scoring eight apiece. Washington has thrown just 81 times, but has registered over 1,000 yards passing with 10 touchdowns against four interceptions, and Stephen Hill has caught four touchdowns in seven games out of the triple-option.
"Prolific offense," said Miami head coach Al Golden at his weekly press conference on Tuesday. "You have to give all the numbers a double look, because you can't believe the yards per carry and what they're doing."
Maryland and Virginia attacked Georgia Tech's defense with relentless running games the past two weeks; Maryland threw for just 87 yards, while Virginia passed for 135. But both teams rushed efficiently against the Yellow Jackets, posting 246 and 272 yards and two touchdowns apiece, respectively. Georgia Tech ranks 14th in the country in pass defense (174.8) but is 81st in run defense (177.1). The Yellow Jackets certainly have playmakers with this unit, including Julian Burnett, who has recorded 67 tackles this season. Isaiah Johnson and Rod Sweeting both have recorded three interceptions apiece, with both players returning one of those picks back for touchdowns.
Miami has one of the more talented running backs in the country in Lamar Miller, who is second in the ACC with an average of 117.6 yards per game, although he was held to a season low 29 yards on 16 carries last weekend against North Carolina. Miller had rushed for over 100 yards in each of Miami's five previous games this season, and has scored five touchdowns over that stretch.
"Their tailback has been pretty good I think up until a week ago," said Johnson of Miller. "He might've been the most impressive guy in our league. He's very talented. They've got a big offensive line. We need to be able to limit that."
Miami averages 384.3 yards and 30.3 points per game.
Moreover, quarterback Jacory Harris has shown marked improvement as the season has progressed. He currently ranks eighth in the country in passing efficiency (170.7). Harris threw for 267 yards and three touchdowns in each of his last two games against Virginia Tech and North Carolina. An turnover plagued quarterback a year ago, Harris has thrown just three interceptions in 2011, including zero in the last three games. Travis Benjamin leads the club with 24 catches for 346 yards and three touchdown, and had his best performance of the season last week against the Tar Heels, catching eight balls for 99 yards. Tommy Streeter has proven to be a home-run threat, catching five touchdowns through six games.
When the Hurricanes needed a clutch stop, the defense delivered late in the game last weekend against North Carolina, who marched into Miami territory in the final minute. Sean Spence recorded a sack on second down however, and the Tar Heels only had one desperation snap following that play. Spence's play capped a notable performance by the linebacker, who led the team with 14 tackles, including 1.5 for loss. Miami has gave up its fair share of yards last week to a quality offensive opponent in North Carolina, but it caused its share of problems for its opponent as well. Miami harassed North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner all day, recording four sacks; the unit also forced and recovered two fumbles. Miami is allowing 406.5 yards per game (187 rushing, 219.5 passing), and gives up 23.6 points per. The strong suit of the unit has been in the pressure departments, as the Hurricanes average 2.6 sacks and 6.6 tackles for loss. Marcus Robinson leads the team with four sacks through six games, while Spence has three. Spence is also second in the ACC in both tackles (55) and tackles for loss (8).