A pair of ACC Coastal division teams will put what little division title hopes they have left on the line Saturday as reigning division champion Miami travels to Atlanta to face Georgia Tech. Both teams have three losses in conference and are 5-4 overall on the season. The teams however, seem to be heading in different directions.
After beginning the year ranked in the top 10 and later with a 5-1 record, Miami has dropped three straight contests and is now just 5-7 in its last 12 games. The Hurricanes haven’t scored more than 14 points in over a month and most recently fell at home to Duke, 20-12.
The Yellow Jackets began the year just 1-3 but have since won four of five with a 38-28 victory over North Carolina coming most recently. Exclude the 28-14 loss to Duke, and Georgia Tech is averaging 55 points per game in its last four wins.
Miami topped Georgia Tech last season in a thriller in South Florida, 25-24, with the help of an improbable fourth down catch by Darrell Langham that kept the game alive. Miami has won the last three in the series. The winner of Saturday’s contest at Bobby Dodd Stadium will become bowl eligible.
Miami at Georgia Tech
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. ET
Spread: Georgia Tech -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Georgia Tech’s early downs
It’s no secret that the Yellow Jackets will run the ball early and often out of Paul Johnson’s triple-option attack. The Yellow Jackets currently lead the nation with 377 yards per game on the ground, which is about 71 more than the next closest team. The top two rushers for the Yellow Jackets are quarterbacks Tobias Oliver and TaQuon Marshall, and recently the redshirt freshman Oliver has been carrying the load. Over the last two games, he has 335 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the ground. Although he’s tossed a pair of touchdowns, Oliver has attempted just 12 passes this season.
With Oliver likely to man the quarterback position on Saturday, Miami must win the early downs and force the Yellow Jackets into the all-too-rare passing situations. That seems like a manageable task for a stout Miami defense that currently leads FBS in tackles for a loss. Senior defensive tackle Gerald Willis is fourth in the country in that category with 16 stops in the backfield. He and junior Pat Bethel will be tasked with stopping the dive and forcing plays to the outside.
2. Miami’s quarterback situation
While Georgia Tech has a quarterback controversy of its own, the Yellow Jackets seem to be in an infinitely better position under center than Miami. Embattled senior Malik Rosier has gotten the start for Miami in each of the last two games but has been largely ineffective. It looked like the future was now for highly touted redshirt freshman N’Kosi Perry early in the season, but the struggles have been plentiful of late. In addition to facing scrutiny for a video that showed him with large amounts of money, Perry is completing just 39 percent of his passes since the calendar flipped to October.
There is no shortage of playmakers around the Miami quarterbacks. Running back Travis Homer is a solid all-around back while Jeff Thomas can stretch a defense with ease and Lawrence Cager is a red zone mismatch. Despite that, Miami has simply been unable to put points on the board. The Hurricanes will be facing a Georgia Tech defense that ranks in the middle of the pack in the ACC. Safety Malik Rivera leads the Yellow Jackets in tackles and is among three players with at least two picks this season. Georgia Tech ranks fourth in the ACC with 11 interceptions.
3. Ball security
The Georgia Tech offense is methodical, on the field for a long time and runs a lot of plays. Unfortunately for the Yellow Jackets, that also opens the door for turnovers. In nine games this season, the Yellow Jackets have turned the ball over 15 times. Nine of those have come in the four losses as opposed to six in the five wins.
When it comes to turnover margin, both teams have actually been pretty good. Georgia Tech is plus-four for the season compared to Miami at plus-three. The Hurricanes have not lost the turnover battle in any victory this season. Both teams rank in the top 15 in the country in takeaways.
Entering Saturday’s contest in Atlanta, Miami certainly appears to have a front seven capable of slowing down Georgia Tech’s run-heavy attack. With Oliver at quarterback however, the Yellow Jackets have seemed to hit their stride while Miami is reeling after anemic offensive play. The Hurricanes should be able to slow Georgia Tech down, but the offense has been putrid of late and shut out in the second half in each of the last two weeks. Georgia Tech seems to have the momentum and will have the home field on Saturday.