Inside The ACC: Previewing The ACC Championship Game

Florida State emerging undefeated again from the ACC Atlantic is not a surprise. Georgia Tech as a 10-2 Coastal winner? Not at the top of everyone’s preseason predictions. Let’s see how the two teams stack up before this Saturday’s ACC Championship contest.

Florida State Offense

  • Scoring Offense- 34.6 PPG (T-31st nationally)
  • Rushing Offense- 131.7 YPG (104th nationally)
  • Passing Offense- 299.1 YPG (13th nationally)
  • Total Offense- 430.3 YPG (49th nationally)

Florida State’s and Jameis Winston’s offensive regression in 2014 has been well documented. The Seminoles margin of victory shrunk from 42.6 in 2013 to 12.5 so far this season. And Winston’s touchdown ratio has tumbled from 4:1 last season to slightly above even in 2014 (21 touchdowns, 17 interceptions). Receiving far less focus is Winston and the Seminoles’ ability to still find a way to win.

A big reason for Winston’s sophomore struggles is a lack of support from the team’s running game. A season ago Winston was backed up by a 28th ranked rushing attack. When 2013 1,000 yard rusher Devonta Freeman declared for the NFL draft the Seminoles struggled to replace his offensive output, and their rank dropped to 104th in the country. Freshman Dalvin Cook rushed for 728 yards on his way to second team All-ACC honors, and Karlos Williams added 609 yards. After those two there is a drop off of over 400 yards to the Seminoles third ranked rusher.

First team All-ACC senior receiver Rashad Greene has been the teams most dangerous weapon for Winston, hauling in 86 passes for 1,183 yards and five touchdowns. Also tied for the team lead with five touchdowns is fellow first team All-ACC tight end Nick O’Leary. The 6’3″ 250 pound O’Leary is a key redzone threat for the Seminoles, and has far more value than his 44 receptions would indicate.

Florida State Defense

  •  Scoring Defense- 22.0 PPG (27th nationally)
  • Rushing Defense- 145.8 YPG (42nd nationally) 
  • Passing Defense- 225.3 YPG (63rd nationally)
  • Total Defense- 371.1 YPG (47th nationally)

Another area that Florida State has backslid in is their defense. A season ago they featured a nations best scoring defense (12.1 PPG) and third overall total defense (281 YPG). Both of those rankings have ballooned noticeably in 2014, up to 22nd and 47th respectively.

The Florida State defense still boasts some solid players, lead by Mario Edwards jr. up front. The newly minted All-ACC first team lineman had three sacks and 41 tackles for the Seminoles this season. Of those 41 tackles 11 were for a loss, totaling 50 yards. A pair of junior linebackers, Reggie Northrup and Terrance Smith are also key players for the Seminoles front seven. Northrup is the only Seminole to break the 100 tackle plateau(101), and Smith added 82, while tying for the team lead in interceptions with two.

Also checking in with two interceptions are a pair of sophomore defensive backs, Jalen Ramsey and Nate Andrews. Both backs also recorded at least 70 tackles in 2014, tops for the Florida State secondary. Junior corner P.J. Williams was voted first team All-ACC this week after finishing the season with 51 tackles, and an interception and sack apiece. However, the 63rd ranked pass defense is a far cry from the unit that was the nation’s best en route to the schools National Championship last season.

Florida State Special Teams

  • Kickoff Returns- 19.08 AVG (106th nationally)
  • Punt Returns- 10.53 AVG (31st nationally)
  • Kicking- 91.7% (2nd nationally)
  • Punting- 41.62 AVG (54th nationally)

One steady spot for the Florida State unit this season has been their kicking game under sophomore Roberto Aguayo. Aguayo is second in the nation in kicking, missing only two of his 24 field goal opportunities, and converting all of his 49 extra points. Aguayo’s accuracy could be key this Saturday in what figures to be a closely contested game. Punting duties for the Seminoles have been handled effectively by Cason Beatty, who has a 41.62 net on 42 punts.

The Seminoles kickoff return game has been above average, ranking 31st in the country. Sophomore receiver Kermit Whitfield has handled 24 of the teams 37 returns this season for 483 yards and a 20.13 average. Less impressive has been the Seminoles punt return unit, with Rashad Greene averaging a mere 10.67 yards on 15 returns.

Georgia Tech Offense

  • Scoring Offense- 37.2 PPG (T-17th nationally)
  • Rushing Offense- 333.8 YPG (4th nationally)
  • Passing Offense- 135.3 YPG (122nd nationally)
  • Total Offense- 469.1 YPG (24th nationally)

The Georgia Tech offense appears to be a one-dimensional proposition at first glance, but that dimension can wreak havoc on the oppositions defense and game planning. The Yellow Jackets feature a run heavy option offense that keeps passing at a premium, and can cause defensive coordinators fits to figure out.

The schools passing attack, lead by sophomore quarterback Justin Thomas, accounted for only 17 of the teams 54 offensive touchdowns. Thomas completed only 50.3% of his passes for 1,460 yards and 16 touchdowns. 35 of the 81 passes Thomas completed went to senior receiver DeAndre Smelter, who finished as team leader in receiving yards (715) and touchdowns (7).

Not impressed with the Georgia Tech offense? Take a look at the damage that their rushing attack has caused. Thomas was the Yellow Jacket’s top rusher with 861 yards and five touchdowns. Senior Zach Laskey rushed for a team high eight touchdowns, and finished with 748 yards. A week ago Laskey carried Georgia Tech to an upset of rival Georgia, with 140 yards and three touchdowns. Fellow senior Synjyn Days has also been a capable backfield weapon, with 686 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

Georgia Tech Defense

  • Scoring Defense- 24.1 PPG (43rd nationally)
  • Rushing Defense- 167.9 YPG (72nd nationally)
  • Passing Defense- 220.8 YPG (57th nationally)
  • Total Defense-388.8 YPG (60th nationally)

While the Georgia Tech offense has figured out a way to ride their option offense to a 10-2 mark, the defense has never gained traction this season. The Yellow Jackets are one of only three ACC schools to not finish better than 50th in total defense in 2014. In fact, the Georgia Tech defense hasn’t gotten back to the form they showed under former defensive coordinator Charles Kelly since he left for Florida State. Florida State? How nice for Jimbo Fisher to have a former Georgia Tech coordinator to plan for that brutal option offense…but I digress.

It was announced this week that tackle Adam Gostis and Quayshawn Nealy were both voted to the All-ACC second team. Gotsis is an athletic 6’5″, 285 pounder who is far more important to the Yellow Jackets offense than his 28 tackles indicate. He had a key blocked field goal in the teams 30-24 win Saturday over the rival Bulldogs.

Also coming up big in the win was junior D.J. White who intercepted the final Georgia pass of the day to seal the upset. White finished tied with fellow junior Jamal Golden for a team leading five interceptions in 2014. All-ACC snub Paul “P.J.” Davis has emerged as arguably the most important player on the Georgia Tech defense. The hard hitting, sophomore linebacker lead the team in tackles with 97, and probably body count (if that were a statistic).

One key statistic for the Georgia Tech defense is turn over ratio. The Yellow Jackets forced 27 turnovers in 2014, while only surrendering 16. In contrast Florida State was negative four in the turnover category this season. Tech’s nose for the ball on defense could prove vital this Saturday.

Georgia Tech Special Teams

  • Kick off Returns- 22.6 AVG (33rd nationally)
  • Punt Returns- 8.73 AVG (55th nationally)
  • Kicking- 61.1% (T-105th nationally)
  • Punting- 41.3 AVG (63rd nationally)

In stark contrast to the Seminoles Aguayo is the Yellow Jackets kicker, Harrison Butker. The sophomore ranks near the bottom of college football in field goal percentage at a staggeringly low 61.1% (11 of 18). Butker did earn some favor last week, however, with a 53-yard field goal to will Georgia Tech into over time against Georgia. Sophomore punter Ryan Rodwell has been relied on 27 times, and emerged with a 41.3 net in 2014.

The Yellow Jackets rank just below the Seminoles at 33rd in kickoff returns. Jamal Golden averages 25.24 yards per return, and 53.6 per game, and could provide his side valuable starting field position if given the opportunity. Similar to Florida State, Georgia Tech experiences a bit of a drop off when it comes to punt returns. Golden also handles punt returns, but has a much less impressive 4.40 return average.

Outlook and Prediction

Six weeks ago this match up might have been unthinkable, with a predictable outcome. Since that time Florida State has escaped the ranks of the defeated with several narrow victories, while Georgia Tech has won five straight, including consecutive wins over Clemson and Georgia. The momentum is now all in the Yellow Jackets favor, making an upset not only plausible, but possible.

There are several key statistical takeaways from this season that could tip the scales in either team’s favor this weekend. Georgia Tech’s option offense chews up the clock, and they feature a nations best 57.3% third down conversion rate. Florida State struggles defensively on stopping third down conversions, ranking 95th in the category.

However, if the game comes down to a late field goal conversion, Florida State should feel more confident in their chances than Georgia Tech, who’s kicker Harrison Butker has a 61.1% conversion rate on field goals this season.

Momentum and field goals aside, this game should be a battle into the last moments, and could go either way. In the end however, I’ll take the team with the most skilled quarterback in the country. Jameis Winston and the Seminoles are clearly not the team that ran roughshod over the NCAA last year, but they seem to also figure out a way to win when their season is on the line. They are the champions until someone finds a way to change that.

Florida State 30 Georgia Tech 27 (Overtime)

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1 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. I don’t think you’re off base with that prediction, Greg. Lots of people are expecting this game to be a close one, and it wouldn’t surprise me if GT wins.

    Of interest to me will be the size of the crowd. It’s 250 miles from Atlanta to Charlotte, so it’ll be interesting to see how many GT fans make the trek. I’m not sure how many GT alumni live closer than that.

    Looking forward to the game….

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