TN: This season has been a tumultuous one for Georgia Tech, but also for the Coastal Division as a whole. As a result, the Jackets find themselves in the ACC title game at 6-6 (5-3). How do you assess the current state of the Georgia Tech program at the end of the 2012 regular season? How are you feeling about the performance of Paul Johnson in Atlanta?
FRS: Whenever you fire your defensive coordinator in mid-season, things aren't going as well as you would have liked. At the start of the season our goal was to make the ACC Championship game, and we accomplished it, even if it was ass backwards. Fans of the program, level headed ones at least, are not calling for CPJ's head. As the head coach it is his responsibility to hire a defensive coordinator and special teems coordinator that can get the job done, and so far he is 0-4 in those regards. At some point the blame falls on who is doing the hiring, not the coaching. While our offense is clicking as always, at some point Paul Johnson has to answer for the rest of the team, but he is in no danger this season, even with a new AD in the coming months.
TN: After a rough first half of the season that saw the Yellow Jackets sitting at 2-4 with an awful home loss to MTSU, the second half has featured a rebound to finish at .500. What has allowed this turnaround? Do you feel that the loss to Georgia last week halted any momentum after three straight wins?
FRS: What seems to be the reason is the firing of Defensive Coordinator Al Groh, who put up disappointing (to say the least) results during his tenure. But our defense hasn't really played that much better. We won out our last 3 games by playing Maryland post AMQBHG, won 68-50 over UNC (not in basketball), and then closed out with a win over Duke. We just didn't shoot ourselves in the foot in those wins like we had when we lost in overtime to VT and Clemson, and losing to MTSU. I think the team came together when we had to go 3-1 to clinch a bowl game, and the team rallied around that. In terms of the spanking we received between the hedges last week, man it sucked. But we recognize that Georgia is an extremely talented team who is a clearly superior opponent, both in their play and talent. There was a hope of a victory, but I think the important thing was clinching a spot in the ACC Championship game last week.
TN: Paul Johnson's offense has had a quality year, currently sitting at 20th in the country in offensive performance to date (http://footballoutsiders.com/stats/feiplus). It appears that it has also evolved, with a greater frequency of passing and different formations. Is this the case? If so, tell us a bit more about the changes to Johnson's characteristic option attack.
FRS: We are certainly running more wrinkles this year, more trap plays than base option plays, small wrinkles on some QB reads, and an improvement in the passing game. Senior QB Tevin Washington has shown an improvement this year in his passing ability, not throwing deep but just throwing the ball to the open man. He still has his moments of awful throws and reads, but it is still an improvement. Our offense has also opened up with the addition of RS Freshman Vad Lee. Vad's running ability really opens up the offense to take advantage of an over-pursuing defense, because CPJ is much more confident to leave him with less blockers on a counter. Expect to see much more single wing formations to spread the defense thin with Vad in, as opposed to more of a traditional flexbone formation with Tevin.
TN: Who are the playmakers on the Georgia Tech offense that FSU fans should be wary of on Saturday evening?
FRS: Orwin Smith. Our offense starts with him. He was hurt last week against UGA but is expected to play this week. He is our best A-back (the slot backs) and its not even close. He consistently makes at least one defender miss on the option and has the speed to take it to the house from anywhere. Beyond him A-back Robbie Godhigh has become a fan favorite this year, not only because he is 5'6", but because he refuses to be tackled and has made some great plays in the passing game. The player with the most potential in this game though is Quarterback Vad Lee. He really does transform our offense when he is clicking. Obviously as a redshirt Freshman he is going to make mistakes, but the dude loves to throw it deep and is usually very accurate with his throws. He can also make people miss with ease and the QB draw has become an extremely effective play with him in the game. Tech will need those three to be hitting on all cylinders to have a chance offensively.
TN: In contrast, the Tech defense has struggled to date, currently finding itself at 81st in the country in defensive performance. What have been the causes of these struggles? Is there a style of offense against which the Jackets have experienced particular difficulties?
FRS: If by style you mean people who can run the ball, then yea we are having difficulties. Essentially it comes down to a lack of talent along our defensive line. Our linemen have strengths and each will have their moments. But there our times when an opposing offensive line will create a 7 yard bubble past the line of scrimmage on a run play because our defensive line can't keep any sort of positioning. The problems with the defensive line ripple through the entire defense because with no semblance of a pass rush without a blitz from Jeremiah Attaochu (our best defensive player who deserved much better than just honorable mention All-ACC) or Brandon Watts, our secondary is now compromised and likes to give up huge gains in the passing game. Its not pretty to watch. We have our moments, but it has been tough to put it together for large stretches of game time.
TN: Special teams has likewise been a problematic area for GT this season, ranking an atrocious 114th in FBS in peformance. What's up there? How have the Jackets looked to remedy these issues?
FRS: A lot of the negative value associated with our FEI rating is the kicking game. Our Field Goal efficiency is 121st and our kickoff efficiency is 114th. Our return games aren't awful, and are coming on strong as well. Jamal Golden now has 2 kickoff return touchdowns in the 2nd half of the season and is also averaging 12 yards a punt return. We also, comically, just hired a special teams coach this year. You read that right, for 4 years CPJ did not have a Special Teams Coordinator, other coaches just picked up the responsibilities. And once Al Groh got fired, he had to help with the defense. It is frustrating but I think our special teams have a ceiling that our talent level and depth won't be able to surpass any time soon. We recently switched place kickers though, and so far newcomer Chris Tanner is 3-4 on field goals. Other than that though, our special teams are what they are.
TN: Fortunately or unfortunately, we're getting into the season of conference realignment talk yet again. Give us a sense of your feelings regarding the ACC, if you would, and if Georgia Tech might be interested in a move or certain changes to the conference to make it more viable into the future.
FRS: This is my opinion, and there are a lot of people who feel Tech belongs in the ACC, but Georgia Tech should be interested in whatever move gets them more money. With the ACC's addition of Syracuse and Pittsburgh, and likely addition of UConn or UL, its clear we are behind the Big 10/12/SEC and if one of those comes a calling for Clemson and/or FSU we need to join in on the exodus. If the ACC gets raided and Tech gets left out in the cold it would be devastating for our program. Obviously it would suck as a fan who likes to travel to games to be in the Big 12 or Big 10, but if it means a packed house more often, it might be worth it. But would most fans want a situation where we are one of the better programs in a watered down ACC, or lose our bowl streak (4th longest in the country) in the SEC? Thats a tough call. But, if ND becomes a full member and FSU/Clemson stay, that would be enough to keep the ACC attractive enough for Tech's standards.
TN: Finally, how are you feeling about this matchup? FSU opened as a 13-point favorite over the Yellow Jackets. What will GT need to do to win an ACC title on Saturday? How do you see the game playing out?
FRS: I do not feel good about this one. Tech's one hope is to score just about every possession. Against UGA we turned it over at the 3-yard line about to tie the game at 7-7, and that was our only shot. Our defense and special teams is not good enough to keep us in games when our offense isn't perfect, and against a team like FSU or UGA, it is tough to be perfect. We were a 13-point underdog last week and you saw the results. And with the news that Mark Stoops will be coaching his last game as FSU's defensive coordinator, I expect some players to really want to put on a show. In other words, I don't see it happening. Georgia Tech sneaked into this game and realistically they don't have a great shot to keep it close. But that doesn't mean I won't be cheering the Jackets on in Charlotte, I just won't be as upset on Sunday.
Thanks to millsGT49 for his answers! Be sure to head over to From The Rumble Seat to check out their excellent content. Our answers to their questions will be up later.