Let's say, before the season began, you saw a prediction that the Orange Bowl (with its automatic ACC tie-in) would feature the following two teams:
Scheme-insistent offensive juggernaut featuring superior athletes at nearly all positions, a questionable defense, blowouts a-plenty
Slightly below-average offense, murderous defense, a quarterback with the uncanny ability to keep both teams in the game at the same time, deficits in vast majority of games played
You would probably look at Team B, frown, then ask, "Who the hell is the ACC dragging to the OB this year? North Carolina?" Then you'd start speculating about how much Texas was going to beat them by before settling on "two berjillion or so."
In fact, the most remarkable aspect of this matchup between Iowa and Georgia Tech is how Iowa's so much more of a typical ACC team than Georgia Tech is.
What we like about Georgia Tech is that they're a perfect example of how far, physically, the game has progressed in the last half-century or so. Watching highlights of vaunted triple option attacks from the '50s and '60s, like so:
and then comparing them to today's Georgia Tech offense:
...you think two things. The first is "Is that Keith Jackson doing the highlights in the first one?" (It isn't.) The second is "man, Georgia Tech's offense kicks the crap out of those old guys." And we're not talking about some worthless whodats of the era; Ernie Davis won a Heisman, and these two teams were a combined 19-1 going into the game, and Syracuse won the national title. Meanwhile, Georgia Tech isn't playing for the national title. They're hardly worthless whodats in their own right, of course, but the point is that such a level of physicality is more widespread these days.
One unit that's willing to crack helmets like that, fortunately, is the Iowa defense. While it's going to be a bit of a bummer that the pass defense--Iowa's sterling forte for the 2009 season--will basically only be tested on the fly routes that Josh Nesbitt heaves up about 10-15 times a game (to decent effect), it's at least encouraging that the Iowa defense will have a little idea of what's coming.
On one hand, one of the dirty little secrets of the Iowa football team is that the rush defense isn't all that great; they ranked 33rd in rushing defense on the season and were shown to be especially vulnerable by UNI, ISU, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio State. With the exception of Wisconsin (whose offense effectively disappeared as soon as John Clay returned from having his entire body severed at the waist in the 2nd quarter), each of those teams has a mobile quarterback, and O HAI JOSH NESBITT HERE TO CONFOUND YOU WITH TRIPLE OPTION DEATHNESS SIR. The lesson, it would seem, is that when the Iowa defenders have to take a second to find the ball, bad things can happen.
On the other hand, only Michigan and Ohio State put up monster numbers on the Iowa defense, and they essentially schemed to do that and only that. Once again, you're probably thinking "oh, just like Georgia Tech," and if they were an opponent waiting where, let's say, Indiana would be, we'd say for sure: Iowa is super-screwed. Hell, Ferentz even admitted so himself:
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz vividly remembers flipping his television one night last fall and instantly becoming mesmerized by Georgia Tech’s spread option offense.
"I can’t imagine trying to get ready for them in a normal week," Ferentz said.
But the Iowa defense has a full month to prepare for this game, and they'll likely use all of it on defense, defense, defense. Pat Angerer (who, by the way, is 4th in the nation in tackles; were you aware of that?) is going to be the super-duper key man here; he may do the Iowa offense the most good by taking himself away from the play by crashing the middle of the line, forcing Nesbitt and Jonathan Dwyer to the outside, where superior pursuit men like AJ Edds, Jeremiha Hunter, and Tyler Sash thrive. Oh, Angerer's still going to get his tackles; Tech's counter game probably won't do very well against an observant linebacking corps and a disruptive defensive line, so once that ball goes outside the guards, Angerer should be flying toward the outside. But the real difference between getting run over and keeping the Ramblin' Wreck somewhat in check is going to be the play of the ends and outside linebackers, guys who'll be tasked with keeping 3-yard gains from turning into 8-yard gains.
In fact, beating Georgia Tech can be done, of course; if Iowa's offense is "below average", Georgia's is "LOLOLOLOL I either peed or came I was laughing too hard to tell", and the Bulldogs still beat their rivals 30-24 over Thanksgiving weekend. In the process, Georgia put together a clinic for a team like Iowa on how to beat Tech: methodical drives, run run run run, and make Josh Nesbitt work as hard as possible. Nesbitt carried the ball 19 times for only 41 yards (and 1 TD) against Georgia; the passing went little better, as Nesbitt was just 6-12 for 135 yards and a score. Altogether it's a decent day in fantasy football; in real life, it's not a recipe for Georgia Tech success.
Knowing nothing about the key matchups (whoever's tasked with blocking Adrian Clayborn, for one, will be vitally important), my immediate gut reaction is a negative one; even given a month to prepare, Iowa's still going to give up a substantial amount of yardage--that's just the way it is with Tech's offense--and I'm pessimistic that, even with Adam Robinson, Dace Richardson, and Ricky Stanzi as close to 100% as possible, Iowa will be able to move chains with enough regularity to properly limit the amount of possessions the Yellow Jackets get. Georgia ran all freaking over Tech, but Robinson and Brandon Wegher usually only put up big stats on teams in full surrender mode, like Iowa State.
Essentially, then, this game will probably come down to punting. Not the punters, but willfully giving the ball to the other team instead of scoring points, on account of the offense's inability to move the ball into scoring position. Iowa sent up 57 punts over the course of the regular season. Meanwhile, Georgia Tech attempted 30. If that rough 1:2 ratio holds up and Iowa attempts twice as many punts as the Yellow Jackets next month, it will probably mean Georgia Tech has won handily. Their offense is just too good, and Iowa's, well, isn't.
But if Iowa registers a similar amount of scoring chances--or, even better, forces turnovers before Georgia Tech can punt or score points--the Hawkeyes should be in (relatively) good shape. The Tech defense is porous enough that a trip inside the 25 should yield a touchdown more often than not, and whether the same holds true vice versa (and how often each scenario should take place) may end up determining the winner of the 2010 Orange Bowl. Can't wait to find out more.
(I'm still calling this an L on first blush; don't read too much into that, though, as I said the exact same thing about Wisconsin. Whoops!)