ACC Championship Game Primer
By Brandon Rink
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An Orange Bowl berth is on the line this Saturday in Charlotte.
Momentum? Not exactly on their side.
National stakes? Not really.
A good game? Quite possible.
No. 12 Florida State (10-2) and Coastal champ Georgia Tech (6-6) meet in Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium on Saturday, trying to take some momentum into the postseason with a spot in Miami’s Orange Bowl.
Both on the rebound after double-digit losses to SEC rivals last week, the ‘Noles enter as two-touchdown favorites.
But the news hasn’t been good out of Tallahassee this week, with leading tackler and starting defensive end Cornellius Carradine tearing an ACL, and defensive coordinator Mark Stoops taking the head coaching job at Kentucky midweek (still coaching Saturday).
Add that to facing Georgia Tech’s spread option attack on a week turnaround, and the Charlotte showdown has a bit of intrigue.
Time / Place / TV: 8 p.m. ET / Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC / ESPN
Florida State players to watch (2012 stats): QB E.J. Manuel (2,967 passing yards, 22 TD, 9 INT); RBs Devonta Freeman (571 rushing yards); James Wilder Jr. (514 rushing yards); WRs Rashad Greene (614 rec. yards); Kelvin Benjamin (479 rec. yards); Kenny Shaw (471 rec. yards); DE Bjoern Werner (13 sacks); LBs Christian Jones (76 tackles); Telvin Smith (9.5 TFL); CBs Tyler Hunter (3 INT); Xavier Rhodes (2 INT).
Georgia Tech players to watch (2012 stats): QBs Tevin Washington (1,097 passing yards, 618 rushing yards, 25 total TD); Vad Lee (528 passing yards, 489 rushing yards, 12 total TD); A-back Orwin Smith (673 rushing yards); B-backs Zach Laskey (623 rushing yards); David Sims (422 rushing yards); LB Jeremiah Attaochu (8 sacks); S Isaiah Johnson (82 tackles).
Stats to watch:
1) Georgia Tech rush attempts/yards per carry
FSU ranks second nationally in rush defense (85.1 YPG), but is coming off its worst performance of the season, surrendering 5.2 yards per carry to Florida last week in a 37-26 loss. The Yellow Jackets average 5.6 yards per carry, but in FBS wins, they averaged six yards per attempt. In losses, Georgia Tech ran just 43 run plays per game.
2) E.J. Manuel completion percentage/overall game
In the Seminoles’ two losses, E.J. Manuel, currently eighth nationally in pass efficiency, had two of his worst passing games (17-of-29 with a TD and INT in the 17-16 loss to NC State; 18-of-33 with a TD and 3 INT in the Florida loss). Especially with running back Chris Thompson’s absence due to injury, FSU’s success is tied to Manuel having a big game Saturday.
3) Turnover Margin
Georgia Tech has a high-turnover-risk offense, but the team is in the plus overall in turnover margin (+.25 per game). Meanwhile, FSU is having trouble holding on to the ball, ranking 95th nationally in turnover margin. An early pick or fumble for the two-touchdown favorites, and Georgia Tech could seize momentum.
Georgia Tech offense vs. FSU defense: Against top-10 rushing defenses (like FSU), the Yellow Jackets have had mixed results. At home against BYU, Georgia Tech’s spread option was shut down – 3.3 yards per carry for a season-low 117 yards and no offensive touchdowns. A week later at Maryland, they took advantage of the Terps’ offensive woes, averaging 6.6 yards per carry on 56 attempts. FSU has kept opponents under 100 yards rushing in eight of its 12 games this season, but gave up almost double its previous high last week to Florida (244) last week. Losing leading tackler Cornellius Carradine (80 tackles on the season) last week to a knee injury is another blow for the ‘Noles, despite their deep defensive line. It’s a different caliber of defense, but the last time Paul Johnson had this one game playoff for the ACC title, he rolled up 333 rushing yards and 39 points on Clemson en route to an ACC championship. Oh, and FSU’s defensive coordinator just took a head coaching job, midweek, at Kentucky.
Seminoles offense vs. Yellow Jackets defense: Neither side is coming in with momentum. FSU was held to a season-low 300 offensive yards last week, with five turnovers mixed in for good measure. The Yellow Jackets were swarmed by efficient Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray (14-of-17 for 215 yards and two touchdowns) and the 1-2 freshman tailback punch of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall (163 rushing yards and four touchdowns). The difference in the matchup with a smoke-and-mirror No. 19 FSU total offense against the No. 59 Tech defense is in scoring offense, as the ‘Noles have only been shut down by one team (NC State, 16 points; 43.8 per game in the rest of their games) in 2012.
Edge: Florida State
Misc. (Coaching, Intangibles, Trends, etc.): Johnson and Fisher each have an ACC title game under their belts – Johnson is 1-0 beating, Clemson 39-34 in ’09 in Tampa, and Fisher is 0-1, losing to Virginia Tech 44-33 in the first game in Charlotte in ‘10. In the Tar Heel State this season, Georgia Tech is 1-0 (68-50 win at UNC) and FSU is 0-1 (17-16 loss at NC State). Fisher has lost four games as a double-digit favorite in four seasons. The Yellow Jackets have won the last two meetings in this series (31-28 in 2008 and 49-44 in 2009), breaking a run of 12-straight losses from 1992-2003.
Edge: Georgia Tech
Pick: Florida State 41-24