For the bulk of Florida State's roster, Saturday's ACC Championship Game will be a new experience -- not because of the big-game environment but because of the offense run by Georgia Tech.
For Bjoern Werner, it's the first time he's ever faced an option attack. For Timmy Jernigan, it's been since his high school days. Only FSU's most veteran defenders have faced off against Tech before, and few of them saw extensive action back in 2009.
So how much of a challenge will the Yellow Jackets be in this week's ACC title tilt? To find out, we asked Georgia Tech beat writer Ken Sugiura of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for some insight.
NoleNation: FSU hasn't faced a team like Georgia Tech all season, while Tech is coming off a (rather ugly) game against Georgia, which runs a similar pro-style offense to FSU. Is there any thought among the Jackets that this could be an advantage, or does what happened against Georgia simply underscore that Tech might be outclassed in terms of talent in this game?
Ken Sugiura: In terms of FSU offense vs. Tech defense, I confess, I don’t know. Tech has seen a lot of spread offenses this season and not much in the way of pro-style offenses, so it can’t hurt, although I don’t think that scheme was the issue Saturday against Georgia. It was more a difference in talent and an inability to get to the quarterback followed by a lapse in effort.
The other way around, I think that could well play to Tech’s advantage. Coaches facing Tech invariably talk about the challenge of facing this offense with just three practices to prepare for it. FSU is having to do that while its defensive coordinator’s attention is presumably divided. Plus, I don’t believe Mark Stoops has coached against an option offense in several years.
NN: An ankle injury kept Orwin Smith out of the Georgia game last week. What's the latest on his health, and how much of a difference does he make to the Tech attack?
Sugiura: He didn’t practice Tuesday, but he said Monday, though, that he thought he’d be able to play.
As he’s the best offensive player on a unit without many big-play threats, he makes a pretty big difference. He runs with speed and power, a combination that none of the other backs in the offense have. When he can get to the edge on the perimeter, it almost seems a given that he’ll pick up seven or eight yards if not more. He also has good hands and has been split out as a wide receiver, giving the offense some diversity. The players who are behind him -- B.J. Bostic, Synjyn Days and Deon Hill -- aren’t bad at all, but they’re just not as good as Smith is.
NN: Since Al Groh was fired, there's been a marginal improvement defensively for Tech, at least statistically (4 fewer points allowed per game). Have you seen a real difference in how the Tech defense is playing now compared to September?
Sugiura: When they’re playing well, I do. The trouble is that doesn’t always happen. When they’re playing well, they’re able to get to the quarterback, play with confidence and energy and tackle well. When Groh was still the coordinator, a big problem was players not lining up in the right spot and executing the wrong assignments. Tech has cleaned up a lot of that by simplifying the defense, which has helped. The second halves of the Duke and North Carolina games, they were at their best. However, there are times when they look just as unable to stop offenses as they did before.
NN: On paper, this is a pretty obvious mismatch, but what two or three things do you think Tech could do to even the playing field and have a chance to pull the upset?
Sugiura: The way the Jackets have played on defense, I think they’d have to win in a shootout. In that case, it would just come down to maximizing opportunities: Control the ball and keep turnovers to a minimum. Take advantage of opportunities (Tech was inside Georgia’s 30-yard line six times and came away with 10 points). Break big plays so the offense doesn’t have to keep cranking out first downs. Defensively, get a few stops and force a turnover or two. Special teams, at least play Florida State even.