- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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There is one game left before bowl season. So let's take a look at five keys to watch in the Florida State-Georgia Tech ACC title game Saturday in Charlotte.
1. Florida State run D vs. Georgia Tech offense. Seminoles fans may have felt a little better about this matchup if last weekend hadn't happened. Florida roughed up the No. 1 defense in the nation to the tune of 244 yards rushing, physically dominating up front. That came as a surprise, considering the way the Seminoles had physically dominated just about everybody in ACC play. Now, they have a week to prepare for an offense that has only one thing on its mind -- running the football. Georgia Tech averages 323.3 yards rushing per game and should have leading rusher Orwin Smith back and healthy. Smith sat out last week's game against Georgia with a sprained ankle, but indicated this week he will be ready to go against the Seminoles. Meanwhile, Florida State is going to be without All-ACC defensive end Tank Carradine, a huge blow to the defense. Just how Florida State prepares for the option off such a miserable outing last week will be a huge key in this game.
2. Avoiding distractions. Not only does Florida State have to bounce back from an uncharacteristic performance on defense, but it has to avoid the distractions of this week. Defensive coordinator Mark Stoops was announced Tuesday as the new coach at Kentucky, but he will coach in this game. He has declined all interview requests in order to focus on Saturday, and will not be formally introduced in Lexington until Sunday. All that is well and good, but you cannot completely ignore the distraction of this week, juggling a game plan with life-changing news. We will see how both he and Florida State respond.
3. Georgia Tech defensive consistency. Georgia Tech's defense has been the biggest problem with the Jackets all season. Coach Paul Johnson fired Al Groh midway through the year, and there just has not been as much consistency as anybody would like. We see good quarters or good halves, but not an entire 60-minute effort. Now, they are coming off giving up 42 points to Georgia and are facing a balanced offense in the Seminoles. Georgia Tech must play a full game on defense in order to have any shot at winning.
4. QB EJ Manuel rebound. Manuel had his worst game of the season last week against Florida, throwing three interceptions and taking a hit to the head in the fourth quarter that sent him to the sideline briefly. Manuel is good to go against Georgia Tech, but he is going to have to avoid trying too hard to get Florida State its ACC title. Coach Jimbo Fisher said after the Florida loss that Manuel was pressing to make things happen. Florida has a much better defense than Georgia Tech, so he may be able to relax a little more Saturday.
5. Can Georgia Tech pull the upset? Both teams are coming into the game off demoralizing defeats. Florida State did not exactly look unbeatable and now has to rebound off a deflating loss to in-state rival Florida to focus on winning the ACC title game. The Jackets have won two straight in the series, but they also have lost five straight games to ranked teams. They are going to have to play nearly flawlessly to take down the heavily favored Seminoles and get into the BCS.
3dJeremy Crabtree and Brandon Chatmon