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Florida State football: Georgia Tech preview and prediction

Georgia Tech looks to halt the Seminoles win streak and save the nation from FSU entering the playoffs.

Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

Once more Paul Johnson has his team in the ACC Championship game, for the 4th time since 2005. Unfortunately the only time Georgia Tech has actually won the game, they've had to vacate it due to NCAA violations. The Yellow Jackets bring a strong offense that causes teams fits and an opportunistic defense that could be just what the doctor ordered against the 'Noles.

Georgia Tech's defense is predicated on constantly attacking with the blitz and keeping their DBs back to prevent the big play, much like Syracuse. While there isn't a ton of talent on this defense, there are definitely bright spots. Isaiah Johnson is a fantastic safety who has kept teams off the board by helping to prevent the big play while Quayshawn Nealy has provided a strong, steady presence at the linebacker position.

But when Georgia Tech isn't causing turnovers, its defense is a liability. Despite facing a mostly mundane set of offenses (and a downright bad group of quarterbacks), and having an offense of their own that holds the ball to limit possessions Georgia Tech's defense ranks 70 against the run and 59 against the pass in total yards. However they rank 12th in total turnovers forced and FSU is ranked 115th in turnovers lost. Georgia Tech's defense is extremely reliant on turnovers.

If Florida State protects the football, it will score on a high percentage of its possessions. Period. If it doesn't, it will need to be fantastic in the red zone on the possessions in which keeps the ball.

The Yellow Jackets will likely try and be as physical as possible with FSU's younger receivers, as young receiver typically do not get off press and grab very well. The Noles will likely mix up their play calling to keep Georgia Tech off balance but as long as they can minimize turnovers they should be fine on this side of the ball.

Georgia Tech is also not very big up front, so if Florida State is assignment sound on the offensive line, it should be able to run the ball effectively, and though Georgia Tech is good at preventing the big play, play action over the top may be the recipe.

The concerns: No Karlos Williams in pass protection and short yardage situations (concussion), Jameis Winston's busy week with the Code of Conduct hearing, and relying on a lot of young skill position players.

Time: 8:00 ET | Line: FSU -3.5 | O/U 60

V. Georgia Tech's Offense

Georgia Tech does not run an offense that will surprise teams, but they do run one that is extremely difficult to defend. Part of the success of the triple option is the fact teams don't normally face opponents that run it, but Paul Johnson takes it to another level with his mastery of adjustments.

The key to stopping the triple option is stopping the dive with as few players as possible. Constant success on the dive play allows the offense to stay on schedule and wear defenses down up front. Defensive linemen must be prepared to clear their feet from cut blocks, but not over commit and leave themselves open to being bulled over. It's certainly a fine line to walk and is only made tougher by the fact that Tech fields an experienced offensive line with decent size. Derrick Mitchell has really improved of late, and Eddie Goldman has been great all year, but this is still easier said than done, and it will certainly challenge Florida State linebackers Matthew Thomas and Reggie Northrup (Terrance Smith won't be starting as his knee continues to be an issue).

This year's version of the Tech attack is perhaps Johnson's best ever, and is easily the best offense Florida State has faced this year.

After stopping the dive, defenses must worry about the QB run and pitch with their outside defenders. The further the ball goes outside in the triple option, the higher the boom or bust rate. If FSU can constantly force the ball wide they'll have a better shot of slowing the Tech attack. However losing contain, something FSU's DBs have struggled with at times, is asking for trouble.

Making this all the harder is the bevy of different blocking schemes the Jackets can employ and here's where Johnson's adjustments are the most deadly. FSU will have to enter Charlotte with multiple methods of stopping the triple option while not biting on play action and still being sound on pitch plays. The Noles showed they could do this earlier in the season by holding the Citadel to 0 points, but that was against a 5-7 FCS school and not a 10-2 ACC Coastal winner.

In a surprise to no one, Tech fields a fantastic backfield but its best backs are the B-backs (fullbacks) with Synjyn Davis taking over for Zach Laskey when Laskey was out with an injury. Now Laskey is healthy and Georgia Tech can freely rotate between both bruising backs to wear down defenses and keep their offense on schedule. Paul Johnson also has the best throwing QB he's ever had at Tech (maybe best QB period) in Justin Thomas. The red shirt sophomore reads his options on running plays very quickly, is extremely athletic and can move the ball through the air quite well.

Unfortunately for Thomas his top target was lost during the Georgia game with a torn ACL. DeAndre Smelter had more than double the receptions of any other Georgia Tech receiver and at 6'3" was able to sky for any jump balls Tech wanted to throw. Smelter also blocked well on the edge and his replacement, Michael Summers, does as well but can Summers be a deep target when Tech asks him to be?

This makes Tech's passing game less effective because it takes away some of the effectiveness of the "throw it up on third down" play in obvious passing situations. But Tech is still very good at getting guys wide open with faking the option and then throwing. If FSU doesn't blow too many coverages, you have to like its chances in one-on-one matchups.

FSU has faced run heavy teams for the last 2 weeks and performed well. Both Boston College and Florida force teams to defend the run inside out and set the edge well and FSU has answered the call. While the Tech flexbone offense isn't a carbon copy of either of those teams, some of the same concepts apply.

The key will be to get Georgia Tech off schedule, by stopping the initial run on first down for less than two yards, and taking some chances with blitzes to get Tech behind the chains.

Special Teams

FSU has spent most of the week reworking their kick return coverage and after a "blocked" punt against Florida you can expect them to be doing the same with punt blocking. How much these changes will help is anybody's guess at this point but they'll need it as Tech has been quite good on special teams.

Ryan Rodwell has been an okay punter for Tech, not really booming many kicks leading to a not-great average of about 41 yards/punt. Kicker Harrison Butker has been inconsistent at best both having 2 blocked kicks against Georgia while hitting a 53 yard field goal to send the game into overtime and executing a great onside kick.


FSU has been living on the edge for quite a while this year but can that continue? The most worrying thing about Georgia Tech is their propensity for producing turnovers and their desire to limit the possessions as much as possible. If Paul Johnson were to get his way each team would only see 8 possessions this game meaning turnovers are much more damaging. However, I do think FSU's defense matches up very well against Tech and I wonder how effective the passing game can be without Smelter. Either way it's hard to predict a blow out in this one.

Florida State 28, Georgia Tech 21

Bud: Florida State 38, Georgia Tech 27. I think that Georgia Tech will score on some big plays, but that FSU will be able to get enough stops so that the Yellow Jackets are unable to hold the ball forever. Not having Karlos Williams (to pick up Tech's blitzes) and Terrance Smith are my main concerns, as is Jameis Winston's stressful week. But Winston has often been his best when the pressure is greatest, and I expect that the staff has communicated to Winston that he has already faced five defenses that were clearly better than this one (Louisville, Clemson, Florida, Miami, Virginia), and that as long as he is smart with the football, and patient, Florida State will drive and score.

Staff Predictions

ricobert1: I’ve gone back and forth on this one. I really like GT’s ability to methodically execute on offense and Thomas can make defenses who sell out vs. the run pay. But the loss of DeAndre Smelter will hurt their PD situations if FSU can stay on schedule: Smelter was targeted 5 times on PD vs Clemson, coming away with 3 catches for 40 yards for 2 1st downs and 1 TD. I also see GT D is ranked 52nd. Syracuse has the 50th-ranked D, so I’m thinking a mid-30s performance is reasonable even if the weather is not. 35-31, FSU.

FSUed: This could be the kiss of death, but the resident Debbie Downer is actually solidly optimistic on this game. The Noles run D has been steadily improving – stifling UF’s strong attack will be a confidence boost. On offense, there seems little chance GT can shut down the FSU attack.  41-28 FSU.

PhenomeNole: I've been taking a lot of shit this year for being the resident optimist. But I believe in this team. I love this matchup. I think that this is the best that we have matched up on the DL with GTs offense in the Paul Johnson era. On Offense, FSU should have a field day. GT won't be able to sell out against the run like they did against UGA because FSU has an actual quarterback. I like Dalvo to go for a buck eighty. Noles Roll: 42-24

NTAT: I actually have a good feeling about this game, and I haven't had a true good feeling about a game since Virginia. I'm most concerned with cut blocking, but my hope is that the Citadel experience has prepped the linemen adequately. Jameis has the hearing behind him and not hanging over his head like it was in the UF game, and after a quiet last week I think Rashad Greene torches the GT secondary. Add in a healthy dose of Dalvin and I'm thinking it's a 34-24 win for the Noles.

TimScribble: Upon writing this, I'm about 2.5 hours removed from having my wisdom teeth removed. So, if anything is off, I apologize. I think FSU's DL will sell out on the run with GT's top WR out. Tech will have some methodical drives, but FSU's O clicks and wins. 34-24.

pbysh: After Louisville I promised myself to never doubt this team again, but at this point it is hard to ignore that our glorious streak is on life support. I think a lot of the focus is on GT's triple option, which I expect to have moderate success against us. The game will ultimately be decided, however, by our efficiency on offense and ability to avoid turnovers. I think we make one mistake too many. 28-24 GT's.

jmnpb996: I think any "floundering", "flagging", "waning" or any such similar terms about FSU's recent performances are melodramatic. They were excellent in all non-special teams and non-Jameis units against Florida, and played arguably their best game against BC. They'd have blown out both teams if ACC refs weren't averse to calling bear hugs on opposing DBs. The offensive line is playing excellently - they were very good against a good Florida DL, running for the highest YPC Florida has allowed all year. Derrick Mitchell showed some very good things against Florida, also.

I'm more confident in this matchup than many. I think the wide OLB/deep Mike looks they used in 2012 ACCCG and again against Citadel this year are a great way to attack Pawl Jawhnson's offense. I expect them to continue. I also think that Northrup and Walker, who can often be liabilities against other teams, match up well against this team. Add the all-world Goldman/Edwards duo, a surging Mitchell and RAMSEY DA GAWD, and I don't see another 2009 punt-less outing for GT - who will miss their top WR and perimeter blocker in Smelter.

The rain and GT's aims for a low possession game makes this a low scoring, relatively low possession game, with 10-11 for each team - some stalled drives due to rain issues for FSU and loss of Smelter for GT will keep it above Paul's goal of 8. 34-20 FSU.

Dustin Tackett: I like this matchup for Florida State. All of the scientific calculators and pocket protectors in the world couldn't help come up with a scheme for Georgia Tech's defense to stop the Seminoles' offense, so there's that.

Yes, the triple option is pesky. And yes, FSU has struggled at times against the run, but they've also been improving. GT missing their best wide receiver doesn't help when throwing up contested balls either.

I'll take FSU to make it 29 straight, 31-17.

RaysnNoles: Since I already booked my flight to Dallas I'm going to go ahead and say Noles win by 5 points and the total score is right under 60 points.

Kyle Griffis: GT will burn the clock and the weather may or may not be rough, but Charles Kelly will show his worth against that option offense. I'm expecting a little more efficiency from the offense. 'Noles escape 27-17.

FrankDNole: With much of the pressure off his shoulders, I think Winston will come out BC style hot and lead TD scoring drives on the first couple of drives.

Unfortunately GT will also score early until the defense gets their feet under them and start shutting them down more often than not.

At that point (~3rd Q) an angry and disrespected Nole team takes over the game and pulls away.

FSU 34 - GT 20

The K-Man: "The conduct hearing that broke the camel's back"

Even the greatest boxer on earth can only absorb so many body blows. Florida State keeps asking their prize QB to dig a little deeper. Shake it off. Get off the canvas. Hang in there. One more round.

Mere mortals would've thrown in the Gatorade towel months ago. Hit after hit, distraction after distraction, the reigning Champ lived to hear the bell...and fight another round.

Winston's face on the sidelines last week told a thousand words. His face outside the anonymous campus hearing building told a thousand more. The young man was carrying not only 20 pounds of court documents and phone records, but the crushing burden of a shelled-out town and university.

Seminoles are expecting this Bama-born modern day Ali to stay focused, hang on the rope, and game plan for an unfathomable 13th round.

With a looming gavel ready to slam down at any moment...

On a cold and dreary Carolina December evening...

Sorry, folks. It's been a hell of a fight, but the tank is empty. Your ride stops here. Jameis reverts to Dallas August default mode, chucks the wet ball to Rashad 20 times, and FSU survives the rumble in Swofford's jungle.

Noles like a butterfly - 34

Stings like a bee - 27