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The Pure Old Gold and White of The Yellow Jackets versus The Criminal U: Georgia Tech-Miami Preview

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 24: Members of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets celebrate after the game against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Bobby Dodd Field on September 24, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 24: Members of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets celebrate after the game against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Bobby Dodd Field on September 24, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
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    A Georgia Tech team seeking to rebound from three weeks of lackluster performance, including an upset loss to Virginia, faces a Miami team that so far this season seems to alternate playing good games with bad games. Odds-makers have Tech wavering as a 2 to 3 point underdog. 

   Tech fans are quick to point out that revenge is a strong motivator for Coach Paul Johnson.  In the ACC he is 3-0 following his first loss of the season with an average margin of victory of 18 points following each loss.

   On the other side of things, Miami is the only team in the ACC to have handed Paul Johnson back to back losses, and both losses could be characterized as resounding defeats.  From the Jacket perspective one of those losses came in 2009 when Tech played 3 games in 12 days.  Much of that game was played on the dirt of a baseball diamond that observers said had the traction and consistency of concrete.  Though both teams had to play on the same surface, Tech appeared to be the more tired and gave its most sluggish performance since Johnson’s arrival at Tech.

    The Role of Historical Myth and dirty play    Playing Miami always seems to conjure up for sports writers and fans a certain mystique.  Their criminal reputation fascinates.  Frankly, unless Miami has become your team’s bitter rival you may even find yourself pulling for them to show those fancy-pants schools from other regions a thing or two about Southern football.  In the documentary "The U" one of the highlights is seeing an underdog Miami team blow out Texas in the 1991 Cotton Bowl beginning with an opening kick-off in which the Texas runner is knocked unconscious and knocked out of the game.  Other "highlights" of that game involve Miami receiver "Thrill Hill."

    If one reviews the top ten "greatest hits" of the past by Miami players they are predominantly helmet to helmet hits. 

    Last week the infamous "groin shot" by Micanor Regis took place, something Heather Dinich has been able to work into her reporting on at least four occasions.

   And, let’s face it, if one wanted to add up the cheap shots, the allegations of cocaine use and call girls, the only question would be why is it that this team isn’t any better given all the recruiting perks?  (I was not serious).

   From the Tech perspective there is one last trend to mix in with all of this un-sportsman-like behavior.  Teams that play Tech are the least penalized in college football.  I did not make this up.  Research shows that even teams that show a high propensity for illegal play will have the least amount of penalties called on them when they play Tech.

   There are perhaps several explanations for this including the possibility that Tech receivers are running fewer pass routes than other teams and this is cutting down on holding and interference calls.  The more disturbing possibility  is that the incessant misspeak by sportscasters, opposing coaches, players and fans has had an effect on what referees are watching.  For the record, it is called a cut block, not a chop block. Cut blocking is a legal play in football.

What to look for in Saturday’s game and Three Keys to The Outcome

    In recent years the Miami program has earned snickers around the ACC.  Each year their fans promise that "The U is Back" and each year shows continued mediocrity and lack of discipline.  This year the only question seemed to be whether or not Miami was going to be banned from the gridiron for the rest of the decade.  But this team indeed seems to be finally, slowly turning a corner.  Miami has played four quality games this year with wins over Ohio State and North Carolina, and close losses to Kansas State and Virginia Tech.  All of their suspended players should be back for the first time Saturday.

    The three keys to this game are as follows:

      Tech’s Offensive Line versus Miami’s Defensive Line  Something happened to Tech’s Offensive Line against Virginia that hasn’t happened since perhaps the Orange Bowl against Iowa.  According to coach Johnson, Virginia was able to play its secondary against the passing threat while controlling the line of scrimmage with its defensive line.  If teams with strong defensive lines do not have to "over-scheme" to control the option threat Tech loses a healthy portion of its play list.  The counter argument to this outcome is that Miami has been abysmal against the run this year.

     Jacory Harris versus the Tech Secondary  According to Defensive Coordinator Al Groh, Harris is playing the best football of his career and seems to finally be matching the promise we have heard about for years.  He is no longer throwing interceptions and is guiding his team with poise.  What we know about Jacory Harris is this.  In the past, no matter how well he has been playing, he has always had the moment where he blows up and starts to look like your local middle school quarterback.  The other mitigating factor is that Al Groh will have specific defensive packages designed to confuse the passing lanes and pick off passes. Count on it.

     Can Tevin Washington find his rhythm again?    To followers of Georgia Tech it is clear that Washington has lost something in his mechanics of late.  Unless it is an undisclosed injury the only explanation is mental.  Tech does not need for Washington to be sensational to win this game.  All that is needed for a victory is the ability to hit a few open receivers, make the reads and keep the defense honest.  Nothing would help Washington’s confidence more than a solid running game which would ease the pressure on his passing and perhaps create some wide open opportunities to hit the home run ball.

   Of course, if all is right with the universe, justice will prevail and Tech will win.  Let's hear your predictions.