There is much to discuss in recruiting and other matters, including the upcoming weekend high school all-star games. More on that after the Peach Bowl. In the meantime, we are going to get back to the actual game at hand. It may be just the Peach Bowl and not a BCS bowl or even a New Year's Day Bowl, but this is an important game for a team that is really looking for some redemption following this difficult season. Some seniors in particular want to go out on a good note, as do some coaches on the defensive side of the ball.
After this game is over, we concentrate more fully on recruiting on coaching changes. We start the preparations for the week with a Q&A.
These guys contacted me about doing a Q&A with them about the Peach Bowl. I have no idea what their name means, but they're Georgia Tech guys, so here we go:
1. How would YOU stop the triple option you run at other teams? Which positions in a 4-3 defense really need to step up their play?
The key to stopping our triple option attack is minimizing the number of well executed plays that our offense needs to exploit your defense. Our first halves are always more inefficient and "sloppy" when compared to our second halves. This is because Paul Johnson pokes and prods opposing teams while constantly looking for a weakness. How does a team stop this approach? Discipline. Your defensive players must hold true to their assignments and NOT follow the ball. The approach of exploiting undisciplined defenses was most evident in the Miami and Florida State games. Both teams had top-10 defenses and typically relied on speed and athleticism to overcome their opponent. Both defenses got burned because they could not stop from following the football, overrunning their assignments constantly. The key to defending the triple option is your linebacking corps. If they can make their tackles and prevent big gains in one-on-one situations, then LSU can prevent a Miami/FSU debacle. Given the amount of time to prepare for our offense, I expect the LSU linebackers to be more prepared than other teams. Can your linebackers instinctively stay at home long enough to eliminate the possibility of the one-on-one match up that comes from the triple option? If they cannot, we will run over you and we will own the possession clock and we will win the game.
2. Other than Georgia, what was your biggest win this year? For that matter, was Georgia the biggest?
Yes, no questions about it, Georgia was the biggest and most important win of the year. It mattered for a multitude of reasons, most notably the pride of the program. For those of you that don't know, Mark Richt had never lost to Georgia Tech in his 6-year tenure at the Cesspool and it had been 7 years since our last win against the Mutts. Also, our win in Athens kept Bobby Dodd's (greatest GT coach of all-time) historical win streak against the in-state rival alive at 8 in a row. Honestly, with the type of success we had throughout the season, we had to beat Georgia to prove nothing was a fluke against a "weak ACC."
Besides UGA, Florida State was our biggest win and once again it came down to program pride. We had not beaten Bobby Bowden and the Seminoles since 1975 and that weight on our shoulders was beginning to take its toll on the fanbase. Breaking through and beating Florida State was a great sense of relief and it showed in the celebration on the football field. You have to remember as well that both of these accomplishments were things that Chan Gailey could not do in the 7 years he was in Atlanta as he kept the program at the definition of "average" and "vanilla". Paul Johnson did all of this in his first year at the helm and has electrified the players and the fanbase.
3. LSU's defense really struggled with passing teams. Even Auburn, North Texas, and Troy put up points against us. Is Georgia Tech going to try to exploit that?
After one full season of football under Paul Johnson, my immediate response would be that we stick to our guns and we will attack your defense through the ground. We completed ONE pass against UGA and put up 45 points. With that being said, we can throw the ball. Watch out for sophomore Demaryius (Bey-Bey) Thomas
as he is our go-to receiver. He can also throw a disgusting block when needed as well. Recently, in preparation for the Chick-fil A bowl, Paul Johnson has begun to implement a new phase into his gameplan, which includes elements of the Run and Shoot.
Be on the watch for some plays that even we haven't seen yet. Otherwise, most pass plays are play action and bootleg so be prepared to contain Nesbitt on the run if the pass protection breaks down.
4. Give me a breakdown of your defense. Where are the strengths? Where are the weaknesses? How did you do against power running attacks? Where could a team with a lot of different options exploit some weaknesses?
Strengths: Our defensive line is our anchor. They are the oldest and most experienced unit of our defense and will live in your backfield. All of them have legitimate chances to be playing on Sundays. Be on the lookout for Defensive Ends Michael Johnson and Derrick Morgan. Give them a one-on-one against inexperienced tackles and they will live in your backfield.
Weaknesses: Our biggest weakness is our secondary, most notably our cornerbacks. This is where inexperience and injuries have plagued us the most. In games where offenses have picked us apart, it has come down to how our secondary has reacted. Be on the lookout for All-American Safety Morgan Burnett, however. He was tied for the lead in interceptions with 6 and typically plays Nickel in the 5 back set.
This season we did not really face a team that was devoted to pounding the ball. The closest to pound-the-ball team we played was Virginia. Cedric Peerman tore us up for 118 yards and his nasty stiff arm threw our linebackers to the ground. The best way to to exploit us appears to be to pick on our inexperienced secondary. The use of a dual-threat quarterback throws the added element into the mix needed for confusion. Frank Beamer ran this type of offense with Tyrod Taylor and Darren Evans in Virginia Tech's 17-14 victory over us in September. Depth at running back would also be key, especially with running backs that use different styles (think retro James Davis and CJ Spiller).
5. How does the future look? Is this year the top of the mountain for you guys, or are you going to stay where you are for a while? Are you going to get better?
We are just beginning our climb up the hill. I will emphasize again, this was Paul Johnson's first year at Georgia Tech
. The success we had this year was with players that were not recruited for his style of offense. Just about every Georgia Tech fan is the extreme optimist right now. Before Georgia Tech, Paul Johnson was the head coach at the Naval Academy and in watching this year's Army/Navy game and in keeping up with The Birddog
(high quality Navy Blogger), it is apparent that very little of Johnson's offense has actually been implemented. That only leads to a greater excitement level and higher expectations. We are only going to get better as we continue to recruit the quality players that we need and as our players continue to develop and comprehend the complexities of Paul Johnson's offense. Did I mention that our starting QB, main RB's, and top WR are all sophomores or younger?
6. How do you guys do recruiting against Georgia? What is your team's approach to recruiting?
Paul Johnson doesn't care about where his recruits rank on recruiting lists. He also doesn't care about what your (or my) opinion is towards his recruiting style. He is the master of his offensive system and he knows which player fits where. He knows how to recruit for schools with limitations, be it academic or military (remember, Naval Academy), so he is not afraid to go after a skeptical recruit. Before Navy, Paul Johnson was at Georgia Southern where he was part of three I-AA National Championship teams. He already has established relationships with high school coaches across the state, which can only help our recruiting.
Regarding recruiting against Georgia...since the Bobby Dodd Era it has become more difficult to get quality football players to come to Atlanta rather than to Athens. This is because we are not the state flagship university and haven't had the coaching stability of Athens. A fan base that adjusted to Bobby Dodd's 10 wins/season would not give coaches in Dodd's shadow the time or patience to build teams. Thus, we fell into a mediocre state in the 70's and 80's. Boss Ross brought us back in the 90's but he didn't stay long enough to build a dynasty. If you really want a program that can determine the worth of a coach, look at Tech. We had Boss Ross's program three years removed from a National Title in 1990 win 1 game under Bill Lewis in 1994. People in this state have forgotten what Georgia Tech used to be.
We think that Johnson will not have as much trouble recruiting in Georgia as Tech coaches have had in the past. Richt is looking for 6'4" pocket passers and 300 lb OL while Johnson is looking for athletic QB's and OLs capable of blocking downfield on the run. We'd also like to think that most RB's will salivate at the chance to carry the ball 10 times a game (as the the third string back). Defensive recruiting will be the true litmus test for instate recruiting dominance and this will most likely come down to on-the-field success.