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January 4, 2010
ORANGE BOWL: WHO GETS THE EDGE?
Georgia Tech rush offense vs. Iowa rush defense: The Yellow Jackets' option offense will get its yards; Iowa just has to make sure it limits the damage from big plays. Tech ranked second in the nation in rushing, topping 200 rushing yards in all but one game this season. RB Jonathan Dwyer rushed for 1,346 yards and 14 touchdowns, and QB Josh Nesbitt can be just as dangerous (991 yards, 18 touchdowns). Sticking to assignments and playing disciplined defense is the key to beating Georgia Tech. Those are among Iowa's strengths. LB Pat Angerer has been a tackle machine.
Georgia Tech pass offense vs. Iowa pass defense: When Nesbit passes, there's little question the ball is going to Demaryius Thomas. He has 46 catches this season, and no other Yellow Jacket has more than eight receptions. Because of the attention Iowa's safeties must pay to the run game, Hawkeyes CB Amari Spievey could be in one-on-one coverage with Thomas. The matchup between the two all-conference performers will be one of the interesting subplots when Tech has the ball. Iowa ranked fourth nationally in pass efficiency defense.
Iowa rush offense vs. Georgia Tech rush defense: Iowa struggled to find a consistent running game this season, averaging only 109.4 yards per game. That's no surprise since the running back position has been snake-bit with injuries. Redshirt freshman Adam Robinson and true freshman Brandon Wegher are healthy after combining for 1,303 yards and 12 touchdowns. Tech couldn't consistently stop the run this season. The Yellow Jackets held four opponents to fewer than 50 yards, but Georgia and Clemson rushed for a combined 662 yards and seven touchdowns in Tech's past two games.
Iowa pass offense vs. Georgia Tech pass defense: QB Ricky Stanzi is back for Iowa after missing the past three games with an ankle injury. He led Iowa to a 9-0 start, but he also threw 14 interceptions. He's helped by a surprising amount of weapons in the receiving corps. Tony Moeaki is one of the best tight ends in the nation. Derrell Johnson-Koulianos led the Hawkeyes in receiving, but Marvin McNutt had a knack for making the big catch. The key matchup will be in the trenches, where DE Derrick Morgan and OT Bryan Bulaga will make life difficult or easy for Stanzi.
Georgia Tech special teams vs. Iowa special teams: Georgia Tech's Jerrard Tarrant could be the best specialist for either team. He averages 14.3 yards per punt return and has returned two kicks for touchdowns. Johnson-Koulianos is Iowa's top return man, averaging 32.2 yards per kickoff return. Both kickers are efficient. Iowa's Daniel Murray had made 18 of 25 kicks, while Georgia Tech's Scott Blair has made 14 of 19.
Georgia Tech coaching staff vs. Iowa coaching staff: The long layoff could be the key for coordinator Norm Parker and the rest of Iowa's defensive staff. The Hawkeyes' defense usually is one of the most sound in the country. Having a month to prepare for the option enhances Iowa's chances. Paul Johnson-coached teams at Georgia Tech and Navy have lost three consecutive bowls (this includes the 2007 Poinsettia Bowl loss to Utah, when Johnson handed the team to interim coach Ken Niumatalolo). Tech defensive coordinator Dave Wommack also has had a month to devise ways to force Stanzi into turnovers.
X-factor: Stanzi has not played since a Nov. 7 loss to Northwestern. His ankle could determine how well Iowa's offense plays in the Orange Bowl. Even when healthy, Stanzi flirted with disaster. The Hawkeyes were undefeated in games he both started and finished this season, but that included a five-interception effort against Indiana and two-pick games against Iowa State, Penn State and Arkansas State.
Georgia Tech will win if: Thomas must be a factor. All eyes will be on Georgia Tech's running game against Iowa's defense, but Thomas is a major reason Tech's offense is so dangerous. With the front seven (or eight) focused on the run game, Iowa's corners could be on an island against Thomas. He has caught three touchdown passes in his past four games.
Iowa will win if: The defense must prove to be as well-coached and disciplined as advertised. Beating Georgia Tech begins and ends with limiting the run game. The Yellow Jackets will pick up yardage, but defensive breakdowns enable Dwyer and RB Anthony Allen to break off big chunks of yards. If Iowa can keep those plays to a minimum, the Hawkeyes will have a chance to win.