Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The pure excitement of oranges

This will be brief since I've only got a few minutes before kickoff, but I said I'd do a preview for every BCS game and damn it, I'm doing a preview.

The Orange Bowl got the short end of the BCS stick this year, getting probably the two least desirable teams in the mix: Iowa and Georgia Tech. There's nothing sexy or must-see about this one unless you really enjoy the intricacies of the triple option or you happen to be from Iowa.

The obvious intrigue comes from Iowa's defense and whether it can stop the second-ranked rushing attack in the country. For as good as that defense has been this year, the results against quality rushing offenses haven't been very impressive. Here are some numbers:

Iowa State: 190 rushing yards on 34 attempts (5.6 per carry)
Arizona: 148 rushing yards on 25 attempts (5.9 per carry)
Penn State: 109 rushing yards on 33 attempts (3.3 per carry)
Michigan: 195 rushing yards on 45 attempts (4.3 per carry)
Wisconsin: 87 rushing yards on 33 attempts (2.6 per carry)
Ohio State: 229 rushing yards on 51 attempts (4.5 per carry)

You'd expect better from a defense that finished 10th in the country in yards allowed, but Iowa's real strength was its passing D (ninth in yards allowed, fourth in efficiency), and that'll be all but irrelevant against a team that threw 159 passes this year (just over 12 per game) and ran 751 times. I expect the Yellow Jackets to be able to run the ball with some success; between Josh Nesbitt, Jonathan Dwyer and Anthony Allen, I expect a cumulative total of at least 200 yards. I'll be surprised if they don't get within a touchdown of their 35-point-per-game average.

Iowa's offense, on the other hand, is pretty bad. Ricky Stanzi will be back from an ankle injury suffered early in the loss to Northwestern, but it's not like he was tearing it up before he got hurt: 56% passing with 15 touchdowns and 14 picks won't intimidate anybody. I guess Adam Robinson finished with 775 yards on 167 carries, which isn't bad, but when that's the strength of your offense, you have problems.

Fortunately for Iowa, Georgia Tech's defense is equally bad: 66th in rushing defense, 85th in pass efficiency defense, 52nd in yards allowed and 56th in points allowed. It's the resistible force against the movable object. The one (very) bright spot is junior defensive end Derrick Morgan, who has 12 sacks this year and is being projected as a top-10 pick if he decides to leave school. If you like to watch the line of scrimmage, check out the battle between Morgan and all-Big Ten tackle Bryan Bulaga; it'll be crucial when Iowa tries to throw.

The Hawkeyes love to run up the middle repeatedly for about three yards a carry and then use the bootleg to go downfield to Marvin McNutt or tight end Tony Moeaki, and I think that'll be effective against a Tech defense that has a lot of holes in the secondary. Basically, expect a couple big plays and a whole bunch of crappy ones.

I actually think this'll turn out to be a decent game, although there's the possibility of a Georgia Tech blowout if the running game clicks early and Iowa has a turnover or two. Neither team is built to come from behind, but it would be particularly hard for an Iowa team with a weak offense against a Tech team that can not only grind out yardage but accumulate points at a pretty decent rate. But assuming neither team falls apart in epic fashion, I think Georgia Tech's collection of backfield talent will be just a little too much for a punchless Iowa team that could have easily finished 7-4 this year.

Prediction: Georgia Tech 30, Iowa 21.

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