FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — All December, one oft-used buzzword continuously tipped Georgia Tech off to the type of play it should expect when it takes on No. 10 Iowa in the Orange Bowl on Tuesday night: physical.
Noted for having strong, athletic groups on their front lines, the Hawkeyes were said to be a fundamentally, technically sound team that knew how to block offensively and knew how to rush a quarterback defensively.
Now, as the calendar has sped on to a new year, those same refrains — particularly about Iowa’s defense — are being heard from the Yellow Jackets as they wind down their preparations for next week’s big BCS showdown.
“They know where they’re supposed to be in their defense, which is important,” Georgia Tech quarterbacks and B-backs coach Brian Bohannon said. “We’ve faced some good d-lines this year in our league and these guys are going to be right up there, if not better than some of the d-lines that we’ve faced this year.”
Adding that the ninth-ranked Yellow Jackets are going to have to play some of their best offense football, Bohannon stressed the fact that the trenches is where the game could be won.
“We have to get (our) guys with the ball in their hands and find some creases to do well,” Bohannon said.
One of the players who will be creating those creases will be center Sean Bedford. A former walk-on who earned All-ACC honors this season, the junior has reveled this season in causing frustration for opposing defenses who aren’t used to Georgia Tech’s low, leg-cutting style of blocking.
But even the offensive lineman knows that with All-Big Ten defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Broderick Binnis among the stout group staring him down, Georgia Tech’s offense will have its hands full.
“The thing that really stands out to me is that they play hard. They play very fundamentally sound. They play with great technique,” Bedford said from his film observations of the Hawkeyes’ defensive line. “And they play snap to whistle every play. They do a couple of different things that I don’t think they get credit for.”
In many ways, the group is underappreciated because of their ability to fight through blocks, make timely, unexpected twists and stunts and full-unit penetration, Bedford said.
“They’re able to generate a lot of pressure with four men,” he said.
While Georgia Tech’s defensive line has seen plenty of time of its own in opposing backfields, on the surface, there are few comparisons with Iowa’s highly-lauded group.
Only one Yellow Jackets lineman was named All-ACC, and currently he is the most experienced player in what has become a very young unit.
With a season-ending injury to junior defensive tackle Ben Anderson six weeks ago against Duke, the Yellow Jackets have turned to sophomore Logan Walls and redshirt freshman T.J. Barnes to pick up the slack next to potential top 10 NFL draft pick Derrick Morgan.
“With Ben out, we get a few more plays in,” Walls said of the repetitions he and Barnes have gotten recently. “T.J. and I started the beginning of the year together (as part of the Yellow Jackets’ second-team line) so it didn’t take long for us to get back on the same beat.”
Added to the mix will be Jason Peters and true freshman Izaan Cross as backups at the tackle positions, defensive line coach Giff Smith said. Recruited as a defensive end, Cross likely will see significant action at defensive end Tuesday night, as well.
Georgia Tech’s past two games have been among the defense’s worst this season, as the Yellow Jackets gave up more than 400 yards to both Georgia and Clemson. For that reason, head coach Paul Johnson has had very little lately to smile about.
“We haven’t played on defense like we’ve wanted to,” he said. “No use sugarcoating it, we haven’t played very well. So I think everybody over there needs to play better.”
With what some players have called a more intense, picked-up pace in this year’s bowl practices as compared to those before last year’s Chick-fil-A Bowl, the Yellow Jackets think they’ve begun to see some of that positive progress.
“They’ve improved throughout the year,” Smith said. “They’re not playing to the level of a Vance (Walker) or a Daryl Richard (former Georgia Tech linemen), but they don’t have the number of snaps or experience under them that they did.
“They’re making progress, and I expect them, with the extra practices that we’ve had, to perform that much better come the Orange Bowl with Iowa.”