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Visitor's Perspective: Georgia Tech

Editor's Note: Leading up to Thursday night's game, Nathan from Golden Tornado and I are trading posts about our respective teams. You can view my rundown of NC State over on Golden Tornado; this is Nathan's analysis of the Jackets:

Ronald Reagan was the president the last time NCSU won in Atlanta. The Braves were the worst team in baseball still. I was 8 years old, and growing up the child (and grandchild) of UNC alums. So yeah, I pretty much don't remember the last time my Yellow Jackets lost to the 'Pack at home - for all my memory of ACC football, State just goes to Atlanta and loses. Will that be any different this time around? I have no idea, both teams have huge question marks going into the game and are coming off bad losses - it will be interesting to see how well they rebound.

On offense, everything starts (or stops) with Reggie Ball for Tech this year. When he's playing well - like he did against Auburn and UNC - this is a very good offense. Ball has his limitations, in that he's fairly short and therefore has trouble with some throws over the middle of the field. He will also never be the most accurate thrower. Our passing offense utilizes a number of designed rollouts to get him out of the pocket, where he can see better and is more dangerous as a runner. Ball's best throw is an obscenely high mortar trajectory fade that he throws, and combined with CJ and Bilbo's size, it is almost unguardable -this is a route that GT likes to try and run 3 or 4 times per game, especially in the red zone. Ball's decision making has improved dramatically this year, and he should be fully healthy from the meningitis that hospitalized him last week. I actually expect him to play pretty well, as long as our o-line buys him some time.

In the backfield, P.J Daniels is a former first team All-ACC player, and is one of the better backs in the conference. He is normally paired with Mike Cox who is an excellent lead blocker at the fullback spot. Chan Gailey likes to run a ball control offense, andDaniels is the perfect sledgehammer back for him to do it with. Expect to see 25 or so carries for him in the game if things are going well, and another 10 or so for Tashard Choice, the transfer from Oklahoma who backs him up. Daniels has 3 100 yard games already this season, and is the emotional leader of the offense. When he's running well, this is a totally different team.

The offensive line is young, young and younger. They are very athletic, but also undersized, and got absolutely manhandled by VT's physical defensive line in Blacksburg. However, they played very well against Auburn's terrific line in the opener. Auburn's line is smaller and faster and has a pair of bookend DE's, more in the same mold as NCSU's. On Thursday night, I expect to see many of the misdirection and zoneblocking schemes that Tech used successfully against Auburn - as well as several designed QB runs like Ball had early in that game to try and help the offensive line out. Gailey has used a number of misdirection runs, traps and counters to help out the line and to maximize their athleticism as opposed to brute size.This is probably the most interesting matchup of the day, because if NCSU's line dominates the way VT's did, it's going to be a long night in Atlanta for the Jackets.

At wideout there's Calvin Johnson. Quite simply, he's the best WR in college football and absolutely uncoverable by any college corner. He beat Jimmy Williams from VT like a rented mule last weekend, but Ball barely ever had time to throw him the ball. When he did, CJ made the most of it (5 catches for 123yards and 1TD). Johnson is averaging a ridiculous 21.0 ypc this year, despite facing almost constant doubleteams. When he gets the ball in space he's extremely dangerous because of his speed, but more often our passing game calls on him using his leaping ability and body control to make a play in coverage. Unlike Torry Holt, he's a great receiver because of his freakish athleticism and size moreso than his skill and polish - more in the Randy Moss mold. Alongside Johnson is Damarius Bilbo, another big wideout who's finally coming into his own. Originally recruited as a QB, he's bounced around the program without a position, but playing WR exclusively this year he's looked very good. At 6'3" and 220+, he's a physical mismatch against almost any teams #2 corner and he had a huge game against UNC when they rotated the coverage to CJ's side.

The Jacket defense is a tale of two parts so far this year. The run defense has been exceptional, the pass defense has been hide-your-eyes brutal at times. Unfortunately for Thursday night, two of the key components to our very thin defensive line are a bitbanged up, and that may have a huge effect on the game. GT's defense has basically no depth other than at LB, and it's especially bad along the defensive line. Eric Henderson is the best player on the defensive line, a former first team All-ACC defensive end and ACC sack leader. He's actually a better runstopper than pass rusher (in my opinion) and is the anchor of the line when he's healthy. Right now he's questionable for the game with an ankle sprain, and it's unlikely he'll be 100% if he does play.

[Editor's note: here's an addendum from Nathan regarding Henderson:
Eric Henderson is now out for the game, and Darrell Robertson will play instead, and while he's a good pass rusher - he's undersized and is not nearly as effective in the running game. Quite frankly, he's just not Eric Henderson, and when you lose a first team all-conference player it's a big blow.]

Along with him, Joe Anoai is the best tackle on the GT line, a big mean run stuffing Samoan (he's the son of "Sika"from the WWF "Wild Samoans" tag team if you remember that). He also left the VT game early with an injury, though he's likely a go for Thursday.

The 3 linebackers at GT are the strength of the defensive unit, and all 3 starters have a shot at playing on Sundays. Gerris Wilkinson is the senior leader at MLB, and the brains of the defense. Kamichael Hall and Philip Wheeler are both extremely quick outside linebackers and big time hitters -though the best hitter is Gary Guyton off the bench. Even in the defeat to VT, GT's defense gave up only 2.2 yards per rush - and a huge part of that is the fact that our LB's just fly to the ball carrier. Expect to see all 3 of them actively involved in nearly every play, this is one of the better units in the ACC. Tenuta would blitz with the tuba player if he could, but he settles for one of these guys on almost every play instead - I don't think he's been too dissapointed so far to this point.

The secondary. Ugh. James Butler is now playing for the NY Giants, Rueben Houston is off the team (though will likely not be charged with anything) and our starting SS is a converted linebacker. This unit hasn't tackled well, and this has led to several long catch and runs that should have been stopped for short gains. Chris Reis led the team in the sacks last year as an OLB, and is still a terrific blitzer and runstopper at the SS position. He hasn't played very well in pass coverage yet, and the two corners (Scott and Davis) have both struggled as well. If the tackling improves, this unit could be fairly solid - but that is just killing us right now, because Tenuta's constant blitzing requires that the secondary make tackles in one on one situations. Both Auburn TD's came on broken tackles on simple out routes, and that will be this team's defensive achilles heel if they can't fix it.

On special teams, the field goal and punt teams are among the best in the ACC. Travis Bell has missed only one kick inside of 40 yards in his career, and that was the block last week at VT. Ben Arndt is one of the better punters in the ACC. Our kickoff unit has been awful though, and our kick coverage in general hasn't been very good. Expect a lot of high kickoffs to the 15 yard line or so, and the possibility of breaking one for a TD is always there with as poorly as we've covered them. This GT team is just so thin they can't risk playing anyone on special teams and it showed against VT, where we just got dominated completely in that area.

As for a prediction ... well, Gailey led teams have always done well coming off a bye week, and it was sorely needed to get everyone healthy. This GT team hasn't shown the penchant for beating themselves some other versions have, and has already won 3 pretty tough games so far. @Auburn, UNC and UCONN is a nice resume to this point and I'd expect another good performance at home and at night. So ... 20-10 Tech. I don't expect NCSU to be able to run the ball, and asking Jay Davis to beat a Tenuta defense on his own might be too much. But who knows, it's the ACC and every game seems to take a bizarre twist somewhere along the line. Enjoy your time in Atlanta if you are going to the game, Bobby Dodd is a unique experience in college sports.