Saturday, December 29

MPC Computers Bowl: Happy almost-New Year from the Blue Turf

Bowl games are normally a time for teams to celebrate the season - take a couple of weeks off enjoy the extra game that comes with a successful season. There's a lot of beautiful, warm places that hold bowls - Hawaii, San Diego, Miami, New Orleans, etc. - so there's no reason to think that the teams involved won't enjoy themselves.

And then there's the two teams that shove off to Boise, Idaho. I'm not sure who thought this was a good idea, large stadium with blue turf or no. This is more of a punishment for those teams that were either too good or too bad to make it to a bowl that actually mattered. Sure, the date of the bowl (December 31st) is at least kind of a big deal, and the matchups are normally entertaining, but if the main benefit of the bowl is "at least the guys have time to get someplace warm for New Year's", it's probably not a good sign for the lifespan of your bowl. The fact that the bowl in the wild blue yonder is called the Humanitarian Bowl is …well, irony.

This was one of the many bowls that fell victim to the massive overnaming of bowls; the MPC Computer bowl matchup in Boise, Idaho only makes me confident in their ability to ineffectively advertise. That’s it. Fortunately for them, the last three games have all been decided by a touchdown or less.

Georgia Tech (by Coach Lawrence)

A 35 point outburst in last season’s Gator Bowl against West Virginia looked to be a vision of things to come in the post-Reggie Ball era at Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets started this season by giving Notre Dame their first loss ever in the Jimmy Clausen-era, 33-3. Clearly a great team, they went on to beat Samford 69-14. Eventually, though, things went like they always do at GT. No real QB, 1-4 record against ranked teams, 7-5 overall. Tarshard Choice leads a rushing attack that averages 202 ypg but Taylor Bennett fell off after the first two games, having a QB rating of 104 (6 TD, 9 INT) and just 182 passing ypg for the team. A +70 ypg differential has been largely offset by a -4 TO margin for the season.

Defensively, Georgia Tech is excellent against the run, allowing 100 ypg and just 2.8 ypc. Indeed, in victory GT outrushes the opposition 261-71! Senior linebackers Phillip Wheeler and Gary Guyton and junior tackle Vance Walker lead a defense that has 110 tackles for loss on the season (9/game). With Tech, it comes down to controlling the line and pounding the ball with their all-conference RB.

Keys to Victory:
1) Run, run, run. In seven wins, GT averages 261 yards rushing and 5.4 ypc. In five losses, those numbers drop to 120 ypg and 3.6 ypc. That’s an absolutely huge difference in both categories; this is in fact going to be one of the key stats determining the outcome of this bowl game. Tech needs to have several run packages ready so that they can counter a Fresno gameplan that will undoubtedly be focused on stopping Choice.

2) Not ironically, stop the run. While the raw numbers aren’t as big either way, GT does give up twice as many rushing ypg in losses than in wins. For Fresno, Tom Brandstater has not been able to fill the shoes of Paul Pinegar, and like GT the Bulldogs run for 248 yards per game in victories and just 112 in defeat. (in fact, they pass for more yards in losses than in wins – due to not preferring that playstyle). GT has one of the top 3 front sevens in the ACC (BC, VT); this group needs to win their battles.

3) Don’t let Bennett lose it! Would anybody be surprised that GT has thrown 8 interceptions in 5 losses, with a 48% completion percentage in those games (it’s not much better – just over 50% - in victories). I’d actually avoid throwing in “obvious passing” situations, just run draws or something. If the defense sees this coming, Tech fans may be hoping it’s merely incomplete. Throwing the ball should be done on playactions and second and short.

Fresno State (by Coach Pendley)

Fresno State has built its reputation on willing to play the mid-major and true-major major teams at their house without requiring a return game. It’s not a bad idea – they’ve done surprisingly well doing that, and I actually kind of like it for both teams involved. A win over Fresno State looks – at first glance – like a solid victory no matter the season simply because of their reputation, and the payouts are normally solid enough for Fresno that they do an excellent job of keeping their facilities funded. It also gives them a bonus – intentional or not – of getting some free attention for recruiting.

This method works even better if they actually win their road games, but taking TAMU to the limit (and arguably winning the game before a questionable call decided it) was nearly good enough. Getting blown out by Oregon wasn’t, but beating Kansas State isn’t terrible. They were the third-place team in WAC play, behind the twin powers of Hawaii and Boise State; Fresno lost to both of those teams (played Hawaii within a TD at Hawaii, no mean feat) but beat everyone else in-conference.

On offense, QB Tom Brandstater has matured this year, but he’s not quite at the level of former Fresno QBs. Yes, that does mean he’s not as good as David Carr, but we’re talking the college version (good) and not the pro one (Akili Smith-esque). He and his 14/5 ratio will return next year. The running game is of the two-headed beast variety, with freshman RB Ryan Matthews and sophomore RB Lonyae Miller combining for 1,431 yards and 21 TDs. They led Fresno State to a staggering 4.70 yards per carry.

As for the Fresno State defense, it could be accurately characterized as “11 chickens running around with their heads cut off.” The pass defense is solid, although they showed an astounding inability to pick off passes (only 3 on the year). The run defense? Well, let’s not talk about that – 192 yards a game, 5 yards a carry, etc. The good news is that they seemed to do better with conventional rushing attacks than they did spread / spread run option-type attacks, although Boise State still rolled them for 282 yards.

Not surprisingly, Fresno State is -9 on the season in turnovers; giving up 21 on the season isn’t terrible, but when your defense simply refuses to actually take the ball it puts the team in an awkward position of not affording mistakes. The impressive part of consistently losing the turnover battle is that Fresno is still averaging 31:30 with the ball.

Keys to Victory:
1: Stop Tashard Choice. I’m not even above a cheap shot – although I don’t openly support the idea of a cheap shot, if a D-lineman happens to “accidentally” not hear the whistle, what can I do about it? Get better helmets. Seriously though, stopping Choice will basically kill Tech’s offense, and forcing the game into Taylor Bennett’s hands is a good thing. He’s no Reggie Ball, but nobody’s going to confuse him with a good QB anytime soon.

2: Season averages for Matthews and Miller. While that sounds pretty simple, Georgia Tech only allows 100 yards per game on the ground. Even if nobody else gets any yardage, Matthews and Miller will have combined for 120 yards, which is significant against a team who’s only allowed 2 teams to top 120 yards.

3: Keep Brandstater upright. Georgia Tech’s D didn’t lead the nation in sacks because they played Notre Dame; they excel in harrying the QB to the point of distraction. This will be GT DC Jon Tenuta’s last game there, so he’s going to try and go out with a flurry. I don’t expect Fresno to keep Brandstater’s jersey clean, but if they can limit the sacks to less than three and avoid hurries and unnecessary hits, the O-line will have done their job.