Behind Enemy Lines: Duke football vs Georgia Tech

Before every football game this year, The Blue Zone will sit down with a football writer from the opposing school’s student newspaper to get the scoop on their team and season.

This week, The Chronicle’s Nick Martin spoke to the The Technique’s assistant sports editor Joe Sobchuk about this Saturday’s clash between No. 20 Georgia Tech and the Blue Devils.

The Chronicle: After its incredible close to 2014, many—myself included—had Georgia Tech pegged as a top-15 team. That being said, playing against a talented Notre Dame defensive front, the Yellow Jacket offense struggled to keep up with a Malik Zaire-less Fighting Irish squad. What can GT take from last week’s game and improve upon to ensure it doesn’t drop to 2-2 and 0-1 in conference play?

The Technique: The offense simply needs to execute better, and the defense cannot keep giving up long passes. Justin Thomas looked uncomfortable in South Bend, making a few poor reads on the option and pitching the ball behind his A-backs on multiple occasions. Aside from giving up a 91-yard touchdown run the defense played respectably against the run. However, their performance against the pass is another story, as there were receivers open downfield far too often. They will need to clean up their act defensively in order to have a chance in this game.

TC: It’s not really a secret that Justin Thomas is one of the most talented signal callers in the nation. That being said, he looked very mortal in last year’s contest in Atlanta, tossing two interceptions in split time with Tim Byerly. Combine Deandre Smelter’s departure with a strong Duke secondary, and it would seem as though Thomas and Co. will have a tough time busting up the Blue Devil defense through the air. Considering rushing attack is in its usual strong condition, do you think the lack of any sort of catch-them-sleeping passing game will hurt the Yellow Jackets this Saturday?

TECH: it will certainly hurt the offense, and it is one of the main reasons that Notre Dame’s defense was so effective in their victory. Last year, both Smelter and Darren Waller brought NFL-caliber skillsets to the offense that the Jackets cannot replace this season. Waller’s strength and height made him a prime target in jump-ball situations while Smelter’s sure hands, solid run blocking ability and rapport with Thomas allowed him to get open and make plays downfield. it seems like Thomas has not yet built enough chemistry with the current receivers Michael Summers and Ricky Jeune to give the team a legitimate passing threat, so the Blue Devils’ secondary should not have to gameplan as hard in that aspect as they did a year ago. I expect Duke to commit more defenders to the run and have more success at slowing down the option compared to previous attempts.

TC: If you’re a Duke defensive coordinator, what’s your best advice to your unit on how to stop the seemingly unstoppable Thomas-led option?

TECH: The best way to stop the option is to have an athletic and front seven that can stick to their assignments. Obviously it is easier said than done, but we saw Notre Dame do it last week as they held the Jackets to just 4.6 rushing yards per attempt.

TC: The Blue Devils also played their first real opponent last week, and after two weeks of fantasy numbers against lowly Tulane and N.C. Central, they looked mediocre, at best, on offense against Northwestern. Quarterback Thomas Sirk, though certainly a threat on the ground, has struggled to find his targets downfield. What aspects of the Duke offense have the Georgia Tech players and coaches been keying in on this week in order to have a Wildcat-esque performance at Wallace Wade?

TECH: Their main focus is most likely on stopping Sirk, as he has the ability to burn teams both through the air and on the ground. Hopefully the team will correct some of the sloppy play that we have seen out of the defensive secondary so far, and stay in coverage long enough to get pressure on Sirk and force him to make tough throws.

TC: What’s your final prediction for Saturday’s game?

TECH: I think it is going to be a very tight game. Both offenses are going to be able to move the ball, so I think the outcome will be determined by which team can do so more efficiently and capitalize on red zone opportunities. The homer in me says that Tech will come out with a close win, but I would not be terribly surprised if the Blue Devils earn their second win in a row in this series. If I had to give a score prediction, it would be 31-27 in favor of the Jackets.

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