Florida State and Georgia Tech meet for the second time in three seasons in the ACC Championship, and both programs head into this matchup with plenty at stake. The Seminoles have won 28 games in a row and need a victory to stay in the mix for a spot in college football’s new four-team playoff format. The Yellow Jackets are in the driver’s seat to make an appearance in the Orange Bowl if Florida State makes the four-team playoff, and coach Paul Johnson’s team may still land there even with a loss on Saturday night.
It’s been a rebound year for Georgia Tech after going 14-13 in the two previous seasons. The Yellow Jackets won 10 games, including key rivalry matchups against Clemson and Georgia. Johnson was named ACC Coach of the Year for Georgia Tech’s success in 2014, and the seventh-year coach has the program poised to finish in the final Associated Press poll for the first time since 2009.
On the other sideline, Florida State isn’t as dominant as it was in 2013, but the Seminoles are still one of the best teams in the nation. Coach Jimbo Fisher’s team enters the ACC Championship with three consecutive wins by five points or less, and the Seminoles have solid road wins over Miami and Louisville, along with a neutral site affair against Oklahoma State.
Florida State owns a 13-9-1 series edge over Georgia Tech. The Seminoles won 12 consecutive games against the Yellow Jackets from 1992-03. Georgia Tech won back-to-back matchups in 2008-09, but Florida State won the last meeting between these two teams in 2012 in a 21-15 victory in the ACC Championship.
Championship Week Previews and Predictions:
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Georgia Tech vs. Florida State
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Florida State -4
Three Things to Watch
1. Florida State’s Run Defense
Stopping Georgia Tech’s option offense is going to be a handful for Florida State’s defense, especially on just one week to prepare. The Seminoles do have some experience against the option this year, as they played FCS opponent Citadel and allowed 250 rushing yards on 56 attempts. In eight ACC contests, Florida State allowed 133.6 rushing yards per game and limited opponents to 3.5 yards per carry. Anytime a defense matches up against an option attack, it’s important to play assignment football. Of course, that’s easier said than done, especially after Florida State’s defensive line was banged up in the win over Citadel. Facing a team that uses cut blocks is not something defensive linemen particularly enjoy, but the Seminoles have the talent to win the battle at the line of scrimmage. Defensive tackle Eddie Goldman and end Mario Edwards Jr. earned All-ACC honors this season and are two of the best players against the run in the ACC. Georgia Tech’s leading rusher is quarterback Justin Thomas (861 yards), but B-backs Zach Laskey and Synjyn Days will do the heavy lifting on the ground. Laskey averages five yards per carry, while Days has a 5.9 mark in 12 games. Thomas doesn’t throw it often, but he averages 17.8 yards per completion. Even though receiver DeAndre Smelter is out due to a knee injury, if Thomas, Days and Laskey produce on the ground, it should open up downfield passing opportunities for the passing game. If Florida State limits Georgia Tech’s big plays on the ground, it will extend its winning streak to 29 games.
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2. Turnover Battle
Florida State knows every possession against Georgia Tech is going to be valuable. The Yellow Jackets dominate the time of possession (averaging 34:02 per game), which limits the overall opportunities by the other offense. In the Seminoles’ win over Florida, they recorded 13 possessions (including end of half kneel downs). Against Citadel, Florida State had only nine offensive possessions. In addition to its ability to control the clock and limit offensive possessions, Georgia Tech has the best turnover margin in the ACC (+11) and has generated 27 takeaways this year. On the flipside, Florida State has been generous with giving the ball away, as it has lost 27 turnovers in 12 games. In last week’s win over Florida, the Seminoles lost four turnovers and still managed to win. However, against the Yellow Jackets, Florida State cannot afford to have a similar performance in the turnover department. It’s pretty simple to see Georgia Tech’s formula for a win on Saturday night: Control the clock and keep quarterback Jameis Winston on the sideline and win the turnover battle. If the Yellow Jackets are +2 or +3 in turnover margin on Saturday night, there’s a good chance Johnson’s team hoists the ACC trophy.
3. Georgia Tech’s Defense
Even if Georgia Tech’s offense has success against Florida State’s defense, will the Yellow Jackets get stops against the Seminoles? Statistically, Georgia Tech’s defense has struggled in 2014. The Yellow Jackets rank 13th in the ACC in yards per play allowed (6.1) and seventh in points allowed (24.1 ppg). This unit also ranks low in the conference in sacks (18 – 12th in the ACC) and struggled to get off the field on third downs. However, this unit played better in the second half of the season, limiting Clemson to just six points on Nov. 15, held Georgia to 24 points after the Bulldogs entered the season finale by scoring at least 34 points in their last three games and has forced 17 turnovers over the last five games. Despite their recent performance, the Yellow Jackets are going to have their hands full on Saturday night. Florida State’s offense averages 34.6 points per game and is third in the ACC by recording 6.3 yards per play. Quarterback Jameis Winston has tossed 17 picks this year, but the sophomore is still one of the best passers in the nation and is capable of carrying this offense to another national title. Winston has plenty of help from his supporting cast, which includes standout receiver Rashad Greene (86 catches) and a rising star in freshman running back Dalvin Cook (5.9 ypc). If Winston limits his mistakes, and Florida State doesn’t turn the ball over against an opportunistic defense, all signs point to the Seminoles being able to move the ball – and rather successfully.
The star power in this matchup is clearly with Florida State. Winston, Cook and Greene are capable of scoring 30-40 points if the Seminoles don’t make careless mistakes with the ball. On the defensive side, Georgia Tech’s option offense on a week to prepare is going to be tough for the Seminoles. Keep an eye on third downs – can Florida State put the Yellow Jackets in long-yardage situations? The worst scenario for the Seminoles would be for Georgia Tech’s offense to dominate time of possession and win the turnover battle. Will Florida State clinch a playoff spot and win its third ACC title in three years? Or will the Yellow Jackets spoil the Seminoles’ unbeaten season and win its first ACC title since 2009.
ACC Championship Predictions
FSU (-4) vs. GT