Preview Capsule – Middle Tennessee State
Virginia (2-3, 1-1 Sun Belt) at Georgia Tech (4-2, 3-1 ACC)
Time: 3:30 p.m./Bobby Dodd Stadium, Atlanta
Last meeting: First meeting
Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets may have finally gotten going on all cylinders last week as their offense rushed to the tune of 477 yards against Virginia, marking their highest total of the Paul Johnson era. Their more than 500 yards of total offense seems a clear indication that the scheme is as comfortable and fluid as it has been all year. B-back Anthony Allen’s Georgia Tech career-high 195-yard rushing total last week proved once and for all that he can be the workhorse runner that those following the team have been expecting to see. As far as his rushing goes, Allen has experience putting up big numbers against Middle Tennessee State. As a sophomore at Louisville, the former transfer rushed for a school-high 275 yards against the Blue Raiders that continues to stand.
MTSU: Middle Tennessee’s offense begins and ends with quarterback Dwight Dasher’s legs and arms. The mobile passer can get out of the pocket quickly if an opposing defense isn’t careful, and he can scramble his way toward either a long run or buy time to find a receiver deep downfield. He is a threat on multiple levels, with the Yellow Jackets having to contain on the outside to keep him from getting too far away. Similar to North Carolina State’s Russell Wilson, Dasher could have a big afternoon if the Yellow Jackets are not careful. One thing in Georgia Tech’s favor, however, is the fact that Dasher is playing in just his second game of the season after being suspended the first four games due to NCAA infractions. In his first game, last week’s 42-13 loss to Troy, he also dislocated a finger.
EDGE: Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech: The key word around Georgia Tech this week has to be “containment.” After letting Wilson run free three weeks ago, the Yellow Jackets cannot let Dasher do the same if they hope to see a better result against Middle Tennessee. As far as containment, that means outside linebackers Steven Sylvester and Anthony Egbuniwe, who both had strong outings against Virginia last week, must be the ones to stay at home against a scrambling Dasher and keep him in the pocket. Following that North Carolina State game, Georgia Tech’s defense has seen much more cohesion and has seemed to play more together. Turnover creation, however, is still a problem for the Yellow Jackets.
MTSU: Defense isn’t what Middle Tennessee hangs its hat upon. The Blue Raiders rank 80th in the NCAA in total defense, and 94th in rushing defense, allowing 185.4 yards per game. With the Yellow Jackets’ nationally third-ranked rushing offense going against them, the Blue Raiders could be in for a long afternoon when their defense takes Grant Field. Add that to their 120th national ranking in turnover margin (-1.8), and Saturday may just be a longer day than the Blue Raiders may expect.
EDGE: Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech: Scott Blair is the Georgia Tech special teams right now. The place-kicker is 9-for-9 for field goals on the season, with the majority coming from beyond 40 yards. After his perfect 2-for-2 showing against Virginia last week, Blair vaulted himself atop the all-time school list for career field goal percentage at 72.9 percent. While that is subject to change, he is, for now, the all-time leader. In the punt return game, specialist Jerrard Tarrant is still hoping to get going for a big return. He can only have that opportunity if Georgia Tech’s return blocking continues to improve.
MTSU: The Yellow Jackets will have to make sure they block well on the lines in the punt and field goal games, as Middle Tennessee has an uncanny knack for getting to the ball just as it leaves a kicker’s feet. Since 2000, the Blue Raiders have blocked 16 field goals, 12 punts and eight PATs. Under current head coach Rick Stockstill, they have blocked nine field goals and six punts in the last five seasons. This season, they’ve already blocked two field goals, including one last week. The Yellow Jackets had a punt blocked against North Carolina State.
Georgia Tech: Paul Johnson has cautioned his team all week about the upset factor. Earlier this season, one week after it was upset by FCS foe North Dakota State, Kansas pulled an unexpected victory over the Yellow Jackets, who may have been paying too much early attention to North Carolina, their ACC-opening opponent looming on the schedule the next week. In hopes of getting his troops to realize the seriousness of this midseason non-conference game, Johnson has been highly vocal about the hometown factor; that the 22 scholarship players from Georgia on Middle Tennessee State’s roster want nothing more than to let those at Georgia Tech know they should have recruited them. Once again, Johnson wants his team playing with a chip on its shoulder.
MTSU: Rick Stockstill came to Middle Tennessee just after the departure of Andy McCollum, a former Blue Raiders head coach who just joined Georgia Tech’s staff as a defensive assistant this season. So far, so good for Stockstill, who has scheduled several BCS-level teams early in his tenure. Sporting a 29-26 record at Middle Tennessee, he is 21-10 in conference games, winning the Sun Belt conference championship and being named its coach of the year. He also led the Blue Raiders to a New Orleans Bowl win last season, en route to the first 10-win season for any conference team.
EDGE: Georgia Tech
Offense: Georgia Tech’s guards vs. Middle Tennessee’s defensive line. Inconsistency on the offensive front has been a concern for the Yellow Jackets this season. If the line can get good push against the Blue Raiders, then it should signal a hopeful change of fortune for the unit, on the heels of last week’s 477-yard rushing performance.
Defense: Sylvester vs. Dasher. It will be intriguing to see how well Sylvester is able to contain Dasher and to either get pressure, sacks or downfield tackles on the dual-threat scrambling passer/runner.