Utah's matchup versus Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl is a combination of strengths going up against strengths. UteZone breaks down the offensive and defensive matchups and gives Utah's keys to success for the game.
Utah Offensive Breakdown
Utah Offensive Coordinator and newly christened Hawaii Head Coach Norm Chow has a lot to prove as he calls the shots one last time for the Ute offense. Expect Chow to pull out his full arsenal in the Hyundai Sun Bowl as he wants to go out with a bang for the Utes while also exciting the Hawaii fan base.
John White IV will be back to full strength on Saturday after suffering an ankle injury that forced him to leave the Colorado game, but one has to wonder just how much pounding the Utes' workhorse can take. Tauni Vakapuna filled in admirably for White in the Colorado game, and could get a chance to take some of the load off of White. The Sun Bowl could also prove to be an opportunistic time for freshman Harvey Langi if White IV is still hampered by the injury but early indications are positive for the NCAA's 10th leading rusher.
It is well documented that the Utes are 7-0 when White IV rushes for over 100 yards. It will be interesting to see early on how the Georgia Tech defense gears up to stop the run as they rank 70th in the NCAA in rushing defense giving up 162.92 yards per game.
By now Ute fans know what to expect from quarterback Jon Hays. Over the last five games of the season, Hays played solid when the run game was clicking, but he will have to do more with his arm on Saturday. The junior signal-caller is averaging only 6.9 yards per pass attempt while completing 57.4% of his passes, numbers which will have to improve if Georgia Tech can slow Utah's running attack.
Georgia Tech's pass defense has been solid most of the year, as they rank 30th in the NCAA surrendering only 198.25 yards per game while also forcing 13 interceptions on the season. The Yellow Jackets will be without sophomore conerback Louis Young (disciplinary reasons) for the bowl game, so expect the Utes' offense to come at his replacement with a steady dose of junior (db)DeVonte Christopher(/db) and freshman (db)Dres Anderson(/db).
The passing game will not click unless White is healthy enough to be effective on the ground. If White can avoid any setbacks, the offense should balance out just enough to put the game in the Utah defense's hands for the victory, which is something that they relish.
Utah Defensive Breakdown
The Utes rank seventh in the NCAA in rushing defense and 29th in total defense. The Yellow Jackets rank second in the NCAA in rushing offense averaging 316.8 yards per game. Simply put, Georgia Tech likes to run the ball. The Utah defense likes to stuff the run. The big question is 'Who will give?'
Utah is no stranger to facing an option offense after facing the Air Force Academy for years. However, Georgia Tech provides a different challenge as they have greater collective size and speed than the Academy.
Georgia Tech Head Coach Paul Johnson has admittedly had nightmares while watching the game footage on Utah's defense as he is trying to devise a way to avoid the Pac-12's Morris Trophy, Star Lotulelei. That task is easier said than done with the depth and athleticism of Utah's front seven even without injured starter Dave Kruger.
The Yellow Jackets will attack the Utes with a stable of solid ball-carriers. Expect the Utes to key on quarterback Tevin Washington (890 rushing yards, 14 rushing touchdowns) as he has carried the ball 87 more times than their next leading rusher, David Sims (698 rushing yards, 7 rushing touchdowns). Orwin Smith and Embry Peeples are not featured as much as Washington and Sims but they provide Georgia tech with the big play potential as they both average over 10 yards per carry.
If there is an area where Utah's defense could be vulnerable against the Georgia Tech attack, it would be their pass defense. Yes, the Utes rank fourth in the NCAA in interceptions with 19. Yes, the Utes are 23rd in the NCAA in pass efficiency defense. That said, defending the pass while keying heavily on all of the running options is a difficult task. It is also an area where the Utes historically struggle against option offenses.
Georgia Tech does not boast prolific passing numbers, but they do possess the quick-strike ability. Quarterback Tevin Washington is only completing 46.7% of his passes - throwing for 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions - but it only takes one big pass play to keep the defense honest. The Yellow Jackets have that big play threat in Stephen Hill, who has 785 yards receiving and 30.2 yards per catch on the season. The most telling statistic from all Georgia Tech players who have caught a pass this season is the yards per catch. The team average is 24.1 on 71 receptions, and all but one player that has received a pass is averaging over 17. IF the Yellow Jackets can successfully go up top, they have the chance to burn the Utes
Georgia Tech's athleticism on offense could cause Utah fits. Look for the Yellow Jackets to be able to move the ball and get some sizeable gains but the athleticism and aggressiveness of the Utes' defense will ultimately win out. Utah's defense is fourth in the NCAA creating 32 turnovers on the season and that is the key to stopping Georgia tech's potent rushing attack.