Sun Bowl Gameday: USC vs. Georgia Tech

Original photographs by Matt Kartozian, Kevin Liles and Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports. Photoshopped by Michael Castillo, Reign Of Troy.

2012 Hyundai Sun Bowl

USC Trojans vs. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Sun Bowl Stadium | El Paso, Texas
11:00 AM Pacific | CBS
Announcers: Verne Lundquist, Gary Danielson, and Tracy Wolfson
All-time Series: USC leads 2-1
Last meeting: USC 23, Georgia Tech 6 in 1973
Betting line: USC by 7.5

Four months ago, the Trojans were destined for Miami. They were going to waltz through the Pac-12, Matt Barkley was going to play in the BCS bowl that he long deserved and Lane Kiffin was turning the corner with the media and headed for a run at Coach of the Year.

After a season full of deflation and changes in numbers, that seems like an awfully long time ago.

Today, the Trojans will play a bowl game due east as many predicted, only with a distance measured at hundreds of miles shorter. Instead of playing in an international metroplex and the gateway city to the Caribbean, they’ll suit up against a 6-7 Georgia Tech team just a third of a mile from the capital city of Mexico’s drug cartel.

This isn’t Miami and Matt Barkley will be no where to be found on the gridiron.

Instead, the Trojans find themselves with a freshman quarterback and face to face with a potent triple option attack that has led the ACC in rushing for several years straight.

Can they get the first win with a quarterback not named Matt Barkley in four years? Will Monte Kiffin’s defense stop the triple option in his final game?

We’ll find out at high noon in El Paso. Perfect time for a shootout.

Gameday links

      When Georgia Tech has the ball…

      Georgia Tech brings the triple option to the Sun Bowl, a look that the Trojans haven’t seen in years. In the backfield, Tech will deploy two slotbacks, a fullback and a pair of receivers, a vastly different look than the Trojans are used to seeing. As evident with the fundamentals triple option offense, Georgia Tech’s scheme is extremely run-heavy, as only New Mexico and the three military academies have thrown fewer passes this season. On the ground, the Jackets are fourth in the nation in rushing, averaging 312 yards per game. And despite all of the ball movement in the triple option attack, Georgia Tech lost just 11 fumbles in the regular season, down from the 20 they lost two seasons ago. They’re also very efficient, as evident with a 45 percent third down conversion percentage, and even with an out-dated offense, they still have the potency to score in bunches, as they’re fourth in the ACC in scoring, and lead the nation in rushing touchdowns. The running game is anchored by fullbacks Zach Laskey and David Sims, and speedy slotbacks Orwin Smith and Robert Godhigh. On the offensive line, the Jackets bring an experienced group to El Paso, with 144 starts in the unit, which is anchored by All-ACC guard Omoregie Uzzi. For more on Georgia Tech’s offense, click here.

      With Georgia Tech deploying a triple option attack, the key to stopping it comes from the linebackers, as they will ultimately react to the direction that Yellow Jackets quarterback Tevin Washington attacks when departing the mesh point. Lamar Dawson’s role at middle linebacker changes from the tradition Tampa-2 against a pro-style offense, as he will need to defend against fullback dives and may be used as a spy for Tevin Washington, while outside backers Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard will pursue against Tech’s two speed slotbacks off the edge.

      Georgia Tech’s Projected Offensive Starters:
      QB Tevin Washington #13
      BB David Sims #20
      AB Orwin Smith #17
      AB Robert Godhigh #25
      WR Darren Waller #88
      WR Jeremy Moore #83
      LT Ray Beno #64
      LG Shaquille Mason #70
      C Jay Finch #50
      RG Omoregie Uzzi #77
      RT Morgan Bailey #72

      USC’s Projected Defensive Starters
      DE Wes Horton #96
      DT George Uko #90
      NT Antwaun Woods #99
      DE Morgan Breslin #91
      WLB Hayes Pullard #10
      MLB Lamar Dawson #55
      SLB Dion Bailey #18
      CB Nickell Robey #21
      SS Jawanza Starling #29
      FS T.J. McDonald #7
      CB Josh Shaw #26

      When USC has the ball…

      For the second time in two games, Max Wittek will get the start in place of an injured Matt Barkley at quarterback. Wittek showed signs of promise against Notre Dame, completing 14 of 23 passes for 186 yards. However, he does have the scouting report of being a high-risk, high-reward quarterback, making him prone to plenty of touchdown potential and his fair share of interceptions, as we saw against the Irish. Today, he’ll possibly be without his two biggest crutches from November, Biletnikoff Award winner Marqise Lee and running back Curtis McNeal. Lee ‘crumpled’ to ground during Saturday’s practice and is questionable, while McNeal has practiced just once since the Trojans got to El Paso. If McNeal can’t go, USC will have to rely heavily on Silas Redd, who missed time in November due to an ankle injury. At receiver, with or without Lee, look for Robert Woods to have a big role in the Trojans’ passing game in what seems likely to be his final game in a USC uniform, as he’s rumored to announce his declaration for the NFL Draft after the game.

      The Yellow Jackets bring a 3-4 defense to the Sun Bowl, which may loom large as four of the Trojans’ five losses have come to teams that deploy a three-man front. Leading the way for Georgia Tech on defense is safety Jemea Thomas, who has a knack for making highlight reel catches and coming up with interceptions in big spots, as he did in the ACC Championship Game against Florida State. Thomas is second on the team in tackles to fellow defensive back Isiah Johnson, but Johnson will miss the Sun Bowl with what is being called a ‘lower extremity’ injury. He’ll be replaced by a trio of defensive backs including freshman Jamal Golden, who has two interceptions in 2012. As a whole, Tech has a formidable defense that is in the middle of the pack nationally in most categories, while being ranked 70th in pass defense, one spot ahead of the 71st ranked Trojans. With Curtis McNeal’s status in doubt and Isiah Johnson out of the game, it could signal a very aerial game for Max Wittek and company.

      USC’s Projected Offensive Starters
      WR Robert Woods #2
      TE Xavier Grimble #86 or Randall Telfer #82
      LT Aundrey Walker #70 and Max Tuerk #75
      LG Marcus Martin #66 or Abe Markowitz #50
      C Khaled Holmes #78
      RG John Martinez #59
      RT Kevin Graf #77
      WR Marqise Lee #9
      QB Max Wittek #13
      RB Silas Redd #22
      FB Soma Vainuku #31

      Georgia Tech’s Projected Defensive Starters:
      DE Emmanuel Dieke #93
      DT T.J. Barnes #90
      DE Izaan Cross #94
      OLB Jeremiah Attaochu #45
      ILB Quayshawn Nealy #54
      ILB Jabari Hunt-Days #32
      OLB Brandons Watts #11
      CB Rod Sweeting #6
      S Demond Smith #12
      S Jemea Thomas #14
      CB Louis Young #8

      Game Notes

        • This USC’s 49th recognized bowl appearance dating back to the 1923 Rose Bowl. The Trojans are 32-16 and only Alabama has more postseason wins, with 34. For Georgia Tech, this is their 16th consecutive bowl appearance but they have lost their last seven bowl games.
        • Both USC and Georgia Tech have played twice in the Sun Bowl. The Jackets are 1-1 with a loss to Utah last year and a 17-7 win over Texas Tech back in 1970. The Trojans have lost both appearances in the traditional El Paso bowl game. Their first appearance was back in 1990 in the John Hancock Bowl, which was a 17-16 loss to Michigan State. In 1998, Carson Palmer’s freshman year, USC lost to TCU, a game in which they had negative 23 yards rushing.
        • The last time USC played in the state of Texas was in that 1998 Sun Bowl. They’re 9-3 overall in the Lone Star State with the only non-Sun Bowl loss coming to the Baylor Bears in 1960. After the 1994 season, USC earned a bid to the 1995 Cotton Bowl, where they routed Texas Tech 55-14 in Dallas, their only bowl win in Texas.
        • The Trojans are 5-1 all-time against teams from the state of Georgia and haven’t lost to an ACC team since 1998 when they fell 30-10 at Florida State against Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles.
        • If you’re keeping count on similarities to 1998, it was the year of USC’s last trip to the Sun Bowl, last game in Texas, last loss double-digit loss to UCLA, and last loss to an ACC team. As of now, all but the ACC loss have been repeated in 2012. With a win in the Sun Bowl however, the Trojans would match the win total from that season: eight.

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        Tags: Football Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Sun Bowl USC Trojans

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