We're very fortunate to have the SB Nation network of team-specific blogs to talk with each week. This installment of our Opponent Blogger Q&A series features a chat with Tyler Duke of From The Rumble Seat, SB Nation's Georgia Tech site. We talk Paul Johnson, the loss of DeAndre Smelter, and the keys to a Georgia Tech upset of FSU for all of the ACC's marbles in Charlotte.
TN: After a win in a crazy game for the ages at Sanford Stadium, it was announced that Paul Johnson would be offered an extension. Today it was announced that Johnson had won ACC Coach of the Year honors. How do you feel about the state of the Georgia Tech program, and are you happy with its trajectory under Johnson?
FTRS: I would've certainly had a different answer if you asked this one year ago. Paul Johnson has revived the entire state of the program this season with wins over Virginia Tech, Miami, Clemson, and Georgia - all teams he's struggled to beat recently. Johnson finally has a quarterback he is completely confident with under center to do everything he needs in the offensive system. When he has the quarterback that suits the system, Johnson can really do some magical things. The trajectory looks good due to this. Justin Thomas still has two eligible seasons after this one that he should be at Georgia Tech for. The Yellow Jackets should be set up pretty well as long as he's running the offense.
TN: Georgia Tech checks in at 12th overall by F/+ this week with the nation's second-best offense by that measure after finishing 34th overall with the 31st-ranked offense a year ago. What has led to these significant improvements?
FTRS: This team is just completely better offensively. That's due to quite a few things. As I just said, Justin Thomas has been awesome running the offense. He very rarely makes a bad read and possesses speed that no other quarterback has had under Johnson. His arm is also underrated as he's been very effective throwing the ball when he's needed to, which is why the Jackets are one of the best in the nation on 3rd and 10+. The offensive line has played extremely well, and guard Shaq Mason is playing as good as anyone right now. The emergence of Synjyn Days has been huge at the B-Back position as he filled the void when Zach Laskey was injured. Now that Laskey is back, they provide a scary one-two punch. They are balanced as a unit, and everyone seems to be doing their job, which is something I could not have said last season.
TN: We were sorry to hear about the loss of excellent wideout DeAndre Smelter to a torn ACL. What did he bring to the GT offense, and what does his loss mean to the Jackets?
FTRS: Losing Smelter is really tough. I hate it for him more than anything. He has really been coming on strong this season, and his draft stock seemed to be rising quickly. Hopefully it can heal quickly, and we'll be seeing him on Sundays in the future. As far as the Jackets, losing Smelter is tough for the offense. He's capable of breaking off a big play at any time. He and Justin had really formed a great connection on back-shoulder throws that helped the offense convert some big first downs. Smelter is also a very capable blocker that did a great job at sealing the perimeter when needed. Michael Summers will see most of the action replacing him. Summers hasn't shown much receiving, but he's known to be a very good blocker.
TN: Which match-ups will Georgia Tech's offense look to exploit against the Florida State defense?
FTRS: I don't know if there's a particular matchup with the Seminoles that Johnson is looking to go right after. I think the dive play will definitely be emphasized as FSU doesn't seem particularly stout up front lately. I'm sure a lot of focus will be put on neutralizing Mario Edwards Jr. as much as possible. From there, Johnson will adjust based on what the FSU defense is giving him. It will definitely be an interesting chess match between him and former Georgia Tech assistant coach Charles Kelly. They both know each other's tendencies well, and the outcome could be based on who does a better job at adjusting throughout the game.
TN: The Tech defense enters Saturday's game ranked 52nd in performance by F/+. What does this unit do well, and where has it struggled?
FTRS: 52nd isn't too bad considering how the defense looked throughout the first half of the season. Ted Roof has done a great job at mixing up the schemes this year and figuring out what situations to put his guys in to get the mod success. The strength of the unit is forcing turnovers. They don't stop the run especially well, they don't rush the passer well, and they're susceptible to giving up chunks of yardage in the passing game, but they know how to force very timely turnovers. This is an opportunistic defense if I've ever seen one. The tackling has also been much better as of late. The last few games have shown a Tech defense that swarms to the ball and gets as many guys on the ball carrier as possible.
TN: How do you see the Yellow Jackets' defense attempting to limit the FSU offense?
FTRS: I'm expecting the Jackets defense to bring a lot of pressure on Saturday. Roof has used a lot of zone blitzing as of late to force some mistakes from the quarterback. That should be the case against a turnover prone Jameis Winston. Roof knows the unit isn't shutting down anyone, and they will give up some points to a very good Florida State offense, but if the defense can force two or more turnovers, it puts the Jackets in a very good position to pull off an upset.
TN: The GT special teams check in at 18th in the country to date. That's an observation rather than a question. How cool was that kick at the end of regulation against Georgia?
FTRS: Special teams had quite the up-and-down performance against uga. They allowed two blocked kicks and a first down run by the georgia punter. To counter that, the executed an awesome onside kick late in the 4th quarter, as well as the shocking 53-yard field goal to send then game into OT. I still can't describe the kick. It was the longest kick this century by a Georgia Tech kicker, and it came at the best time possible. A picture of it is definitely my background right now.
TN: Finally, give us a prediction. FSU opened as a 5-point favorite over the Jackets. How do you see this game playing out, and who hoists the #goacc trophy at the end of the night?
FTRS: I've gone back and forth on this all week. I doubted my Jackets last week and chose the bulldogs, and now I regret it. I have no doubt this will be a close game. I really can't see either team running away with it. I've watched a good bit of film this week and checked out quite a few numbers, and I really do like Georgia Tech to take home the ACC trophy at the end of the night. I see a few early turnovers hurting Florida State that they would usually be able to come back from, but Tech does a nice job at controlling the ball and won't allow the Seminoles to gain the lead late. Georgia Tech 34, Florida State 28.