FTRS: It seems like neither fanbase is particularly gung-ho about their respective teams right now. Would you guess that Tech fans are more afraid of Miami, or Miami fans are more afraid of Tech?
SOTU: I think each team is wary of the other, without necessarily being "afraid". From the Miami side, Georgia Tech runs an offense that no other team we face employs. So, the details of how to play on defense (penetrating gaps, shedding blocks, knowing our keys) will be different than other weeks and vitally important for our success.
As the season has gone on, the offense has really started to click, and that is a point for optimism. We scored 31 on the road against a tough Nebraska team (albeit in a loss) and outgained Duke 426 to 264. We'll touch on the individuals later, but that's a part of our team that has fans excited.
FTRS: Like Tech, it's seemed pretty hard to gauge how good this Miami team is so far. Do you think the Canes are more like the team that was dominated by Louisville in the opener, or the team that had an impressive conference win against Duke last week?
SOTU: I think this team is more like the one we've seen the last 2 weeks against Nebraska and Duke. The Louisville game is an outlier, because the offensive playcalling was not to the level it needed to be for us to be successful. Since that game, OC James Coley has opened up the playbook, and we've been more successful on that side of the ball.
Last week vs. Duke was, arguably, the best defensive performance the Canes have had in 3 years. We played fast, physical, dominant defense, and took a huge step towards our goal of winning the Coastal Division. The defense is supporting the offense, and they're playing well. I think the team we've seen these last 2 weeks is more like who this team really is than the anomaly of the Louisville game.
FTRS: Evaluate freshman Brad Kaaya's performance at QB so far.
SOTU: Brad Kaaya has been as good as advertised this year. He's already set a Miami Freshman record with his 342 yard, 4 TD performance against Arkansas State. That record lasted exactly 1 week until Kaaya set it again at Nebraska with 359 yards and 3 TDs. He's done a good job getting the offense into the right play, and hasn't forced too many passes into coverage.
Of course, there have been some freshman mistakes (wrong reads, bad throws), but Kaaya's largely been able to minimize those mistakes and be an effective QB for our team. The playcalling in the Louisville game left a lot to be desired, but in recent weeks we've seen Kaaya do a great job versus a variety of defenses. He's showing the skills and talent that made him such a highly coveted recruit. I'm excited not only because of his already record setting performances, but for the fact that I get to watch him QB our team for the next 3 or 4 years.
FTRS: Miami struggled down the stretch without Duke Johnson last year after he got hurt. How healthy is Duke Johnson and how formidable is Miami's offense without him?
SOTU: Al Golden addressed Duke Johnson's health this week, saying that Johnson is 100% heading into this weekend's game. He got dinged last week with an ankle, but got it re-taped and came back into the game. So, I don't think there are any injury concerns there, really.
As far as the offense, we're very formidable, with or without Duke Johnson. We have other capable and dynamic RBs who can lead the rushing attack like True Freshmen Joseph Yearby and Trayone Gray along with Sophomore Gus Edwards. not only that, but our QB Kaaya is playing well (as previously discussed) and we have a wealth of speed and talent at the receiver positions, including Phillip Dorsett, Stacy Coley, Herb Waters, Braxton Berrios, Clive Walford, and Standish Dobard, among many others.
Duke Johnson is the best player on our offense without a doubt. But, we can survive and be effective without him in the lineup.
FTRS: The defense seemed to figure some things out last week when they held Duke to just ten points. Was there anything in particular that seemed to click in the improvement against the Blue Devils?
SOTU: The tackling last week was great. Very few missed tackles, and multiple defenders swarming to the ball on every play. On top of that, some small schematic tweaks (like the depth of the LBs on short yardage situations) and a desire by the players to make the fans who were complaining about the failings of the defense in the Louisville and Nebraska games shut up were also factors in the improved performance.
FTRS: After Miami successfully shut down the option offense three years in a row, Tech has had some success the past two seasons against the Canes defense despite coming up short. Do you expect Miami to need 35+ points to win this one, or does this defense have a chance at regaining the success of the 2009-2011 defenses?
SOTU: Playing you guys is always tough. For now, I'm going to say yes, we will need 35+ points to win, because the only point of reference I have of us going against an option style attack is the game against Nebraska, where we gave up 41 points.
Now, I think the story will really play out in 3 places:
1. How we defend at the beginning of the game (are we getting stops or are you scoring points right off the bat)
2. How we defend the tweaks/in game adjustments
If our defense can win all 3 of those areas, then I think we'll be in a good position to win.
FTRS: Give me three players not named Brad Kaaya or Duke Johnson to watch for this Saturday's game.
SOTU: 1. LB Denzel Perryman - leading tackler last year (was 2nd in tackles the year before) and the leader of our defense. Perryman's calls, alignment adjustments, and overall play will have a major impact on whether the Canes are able to stop the Georgia Tech rushing attack.
2. TE Clive Walford - Our leading receiver in catches (17) and 2nd on the team in touchdowns (3). A tight end is a QBs best friend, and Walford and Kaaya have displayed good on field chemistry so far this season.
3. LB Thurston Armbrister - 2nd in tackles behind Perryman and leading the team in sacks (4), Armbrister has made great strides from previous years and has been a revelation this season.
FTRS: DeAndre Smelter has been hard to stop on the outside for the Yellow Jackets this year. Who will draw the assignment for Miami to cover Smelter for most of the game, and do you seem them able to limit his opportunities?
SOTU: Last week vs Duke we used multiple players to cover their star WR Jamison Crowder, and I think that will be the case again this week for Smelter. Players who figure to see time covering him are Artie Burns, Tracy Howard, LaDaius Gunter, and Antonio Crawford.
I think their coverage skills will be tested by a player of Smelter's ability, but front 4 being able to get pressure will impact the DBs success throughout the game. Our defense has struggled at times this season, but defending the pass has been a strength so far. Smelter might be able to get a couple nice plays, but I don't think he'll have a huge huge game on Saturday.
FTRS: Finally, what's your prediction for the big matchup on Saturday night?
SOTU: Georgia Tech gains yardage on the ground, but Miami is able to get timely stops and turnovers. Canes offensive speed is too much for Tech to handle on defense.
Final Score: Miami 37 Georgia Tech 27