This week the Jayhawks head to Atlanta for a game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. It's the return trip in a home and home series that saw the Jayhawks pull the upset a year ago in Lawrence. If Kansas wants to do that this year it will take an even more focused effort, but without question this years Jayhawks look to be far more capable than the team that managed the win a year ago.
In this week's "Opponent Talk" we kick the tires with SB Nation's Georgia Tech blog "From The Rumble Seat". On Thursday I did a quick Q&A with the folks over there and today they return the favor by answering some of mine. I think both sides are cautiously optimistic in this one, and at the same time both sides are a little concerned with the worst case scenario. One thing is for sure and that is that it is going to be a very telling game for both teams on Saturday.
1. Much is being made of the Georgia Tech improvement in the passing game. Tevin Washington is the trigger man. What does he bring to the table and do you feel like Paul Johnson is more committed to the pass in general this year?
I don't think it's necessarily Tevin's abilities as much as Paul Johnson feels like he needs to build confidence in his receivers. So often in 2010, we would drop passes in clutch situations because we were only calling receivers' numbers during end game hail mary situations. We turned our passing game into a display of last ditch futility rather than being a part of our normal offense. We also need to consider our opponents. Western Carolina is a BAD I-AA team. Middle Tennessee was skunked by Tech last year with an arguably better team so passing game's game stock may be a little overvalued (Groupon).
2. Al Groh is in his second year. It sounds like Tech runs a similar 3-4/4-3 look as does Kansas. How has the team progressed from a year ago from a defensive standpoint? Strengths? Weaknesses through two games?
The biggest difference between this season and last is that our defense can be more aggressive because Al Groh isn't worried about his linebackers missing assignments or being out of position. We've not seen a whole lot of big runs but we also haven't played a talented running team yet either.
There are definitely concerns in the passing defense. We have a very young secondary. We replaced four veteran guys in the secondary with some spot starters. I think most Tech fans feel the secondary is more talented than it was but we also know that an inexperienced secondary can yield big plays for an opposing offense. As with the run defense, we haven't met a talented passing offense yet so we don't know what kind of secondary we really have.
3. Do you see Tech coming out extremely motivated because of last years upset in Lawrence or is it a turn the page, new players, new team scenario?
Paul Johnson does a great job of motivating his team after a previous season's loss. At Tech he's 3-2 in games against teams that defeated Tech in the previous regular season. I think we were still the "ACC Champions" mentally when we rolled into Lawrence. Especially after we marched down the field on the opening drive with relative ease, we assumed we could let off the gas.
This season, I don't think we'll be letting up against any opponents or taking any teams for granted. Tech's current group of guys were recruited during 8 and 10 win seasons immediately following a coach terminated for only winning 7 games/year so there is an expectation set during their recruitment that a 6-7 record is incredibly disappointing not just from the fans but from the locker room's perspective.
4. How much has the level of competition played into Tech's top five ranked offensive production early in the season?
It is the reason we are a top offense statistically but since CPJ has been at Tech, we've been a top 4 rushing team and a top 20 time of possession team. That's our MO. The issue was finishing in the red zone where we were ranked 101st out of 120 I-A squads in 2010. When Nesbitt was injured last season, we lost our power running game in 2010. This season, the B-Backs have stepped back into the power running game role so we should see the red zone scoring percentage increase dramattically.
5. Who are the players we should know on both sides of the ball and maybe one under the radar guy that could sneak up on us?
Offensively, besides the quarterback, you need to know Stephen Hill and Orwin Smith. Stephen Hill is following in the footprints of two 1st round NFL draft picks (Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas). He definitely struggled in 2010 and part of that was everyone expected him to instantly become Demaryius Thomas, which he is not. Hill is a route running speed receiver with good height as opposed to Thomas' being a more physical jump ball receiver. Orwin Smith is one of the most talented slotbacks we've seen at Tech during Coach Johnson's tenure. He always averaged around 10 yards per carry throughout his carry because he is the feature recepient of our rocket sweeps, triple option pitches, and half back-esque toss plays. He is also a sure-handed receiver making him a critical piece of our playaction playcalling.
Defensively, there is a lot of youth but the key tacklers are Julian Burnett at middle linebacker, Isaiah Johnson at safety, and Rod Sweeting at corner. Julian is the bull in the middle that eats up running backs. I expect him to have a few tackles on James Sims before the weekend is over. Isaiah Johnson is the most talented player in the secondary. He cracked the depth chart as a true freshman and has made huge strides as a sophomore. Rod Sweeting is the guy that lays down the wood in the secondary.
6. Thoughts on Texas and Kansas heading to the ACC in some sort of a conference realignment package? And what is the word in ACC land on conference realignment as a whole?
I was shocked to hear that ACC Commish John Swofford was being proactive. The proposal in our neck of the woods is a 16 team pod system where there are 4 pods and teams always play eachother in the pod and play home-away series with another pod every two years rotating. It would take 6 years to play all the teams in the conference.
The idea is most likely smoke and mirrors but I know the North Carolina schools would love to add two basketball programs to the fold. They were the guys that adamantly opposed VT and Miami in the 2004 expansion. I'd say the biggest concern is stretching the ACC across a wide track of land and the added cost of travel. Another concern is that the ACC is one of the few conferences willing to allow the Longhorn network to survive. I don't know if I'm a big fan of allowing one team to go rogue on its financial responsibilities to the lower revenue teams (Wake/GT/BC).
7. I think Kansas fans want to be optimistic about this one because of last year and early success this year, how realistic is that and what's your prediction on how this plays out.
I am of the same thinking as you. I think this has the potential for a shootout. We have an untested defense and a cooking offense. Timing is everything with our offense and we have the timing down after two warmup games. I'm hoping for a Tech win 45-42 style. Who cares about defense?