Does an opponent have an advantage against Georgia Tech if it has additional time to prepare for the team’s option offense?
Yellow Jackets head coach Paul Johnson doesn’t believe that’s necessarily true, but he’ll get another test from Sun Bowl opponent Utah on Saturday.
It has been more than a month since Utah closed its season with a loss to Colorado. Since then, the Utes have had dozens of practices and film sessions to determine how to slow a Georgia Tech offense that averages 316.8 rushing yards per game.
“We can’t change what we do,” Johnson said. “So we’ll just have to find a way to see if we can execute a little bit and maybe have some success.”
This season, Virginia and Virginia Tech each had an open week prior to their games with Georgia Tech and both came away with a win. N.C. State had additional time to prepare, since it played a Thursday night game before meeting Georgia Tech and put a scare into the Yellow Jackets.
And Georgia Tech is 0-3 in bowl games under Johnson, losing to LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Iowa in the Orange Bowl and Air Force in the Independence Bowl. What will Utah do with the additional time to prepare?
Utah probably doesn’t need much of a headstart. The Utes were the No. 2 team in the Pac-12 against the run and rank No. 7 in the country, allowing only 97 yards per game. Utah allows 19.67 points per game, tops in its conference and No. 18 in the nation. Utah has held six opponents to fewer than than 100 yards rushing,
“Certainly a lot of the strengths of their football team coincide with what looks like the strength of our football team, if you compare the rushing defense to the rushing offense and those type of things,” Johnson said. “So it ought to be an interesting matchup.”
Georgia Tech doesn’t have a 1,000-yard rusher for the first time in Johnson’s four-year tenure, but the Yellow Jackets make up for it in depth. Quarterback Tevin Washington leads the team with 890 yards and 14 touchdowns.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us without a doubt,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “Fortunately we’ve got a little background in it.”
The Utes have plenty of depth on defense, especially the line, where nine players are part of the rotation. That has allowed the team to play with additional energy and focus in the fourth quarter. The group is led by nose tackle Star Lotelelei and end Derrick Shelby, both all-conference players. Lotelelei was named the Pac-12’s best defensive lineman.
The linebackers are led by Chaz Walker, who is second in the conference in tackles. Like Georgia Tech’s Julian Burnett, Walker has a nose for being around the ball. He has had seven double-digit tackle games this season.