With a combination of its triple-option offense, a nothing-to-lose mentality after already securing a bowl bid and a better red-zone performance, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets can in fact upset the 13th-ranked Florida State Seminoles in Saturday night's ACC championship game.
The fact that the Yellow Jackets are 0-3 against Top 25 teams and just 6-6 overall makes this look like a severe mismatch on paper. But considering both are coming off of blowout losses to their archrivals and the game is being played on the neutral Bank of America Field, anything can happen.
Here are the keys for Paul Johnson's bunch to pull an incredible upset over the heavily favored Seminoles.
Capitalize on unique offensive schematics
Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher himself has admitted to not only being worried to bouncing back from a 37-26 home loss to No. 4 Florida, but also preparing for the Yellow Jackets' offense.
According to a report by David Scott of The Charlotte Observer, Fisher is concerned with the quick turnaround:
Oh, it's a huge challenge...We have to have a lot of discipline. We have to have a lot of confidence in what we're doing. One of the advantages that Georgia Tech does have is that when you don't play them after an off week or a long period of time, that one week turnaround is extremely tough."
Without projected first-round NFL pick DE Tank Carradine, the Seminoles may have more trouble than usual stuffing the run without their leading tackler.
Against the Gators, Florida State yielded 244 yards to their opponent's run-heavy attack. The Yellow Jackets essentially do nothing but run the ball, and rolled up 306 yards on the ground against Georgia.
That was even without senior RB and leading rusher Orwin Smith, who will unfortunately miss the Seminoles' game as well (h/t Atlanta Journal-Constitution).
Whichever quarterback is in between Tevin Washington and Vad Lee will also have the opportunity to surprise the Seminoles with the occasional pass. If Georgia Tech can control the clock but doing their typical ground-and-pound routine, that should give way to the potential for a few big pass plays.
All of those factors should combine to make this game closer than anyone other than Yellow Jacket fans may expect.
Shut down Devonta Freeman
The FSU running back leads the 'Noles with 10 rushing touchdowns and has managed to shoulder the majority of the load despite a season-ending injury to the explosive Chris Thompson in the game against Miami (FL).
If the Seminoles establish the run early, the pressure will be off of EJ Manuel. He is the most efficient passer in school history, and is used to having a solid running game to back him up. Manuel himself even has the capability to make plays with his feet.
But as the Gators showed last week, Manuel will press and make some of the wrong reads when teams stuff the box and force him into obvious passing situations.
There is massive pressure on Manuel to win this game after being unable to prove himself against Florida, and getting into his head early will serve the Yellow Jackets well. Meanwhile, Georgia Tech is only in this game because the Hurricanes imposed a postseason ban upon themselves, so there has to be a certain chip on their shoulder to prove themselves in that context.
As porous as the Yellow Jackets' defense looked against Georgia, it's difficult to blame them. After all, the Bulldogs may be headed for the national championship game as it is.
A bounce back performance is a must for this Georgia Tech defense, but any success they have will be rooted in how effective they are in stuffing Freeman.
Convert in the red zone
It's going to take touchdowns and not field goals to beat the Seminoles. While that sounds rather obvious, it was glaringly so in the Yellow Jackets' last game. Despite racking up 426 total yards on the ground, Georgia Tech was unable to find the end zone until the game was already well in hand for the Bulldogs.
There can't be a repeat of that performance on Saturday night, but the matchup at least somewhat plays into the Yellow Jackets' favor.
Florida State ranks just 86th in the nation in red zone defense (h/t NCAA.com), and of the 22 scores the Seminoles have allowed, 14 have been touchdowns.
That's not exactly the stonewall effort they're used to between the 20s—the area of the field that Georgia Tech had no problems with against their in-state rival. If they can move on the Bulldogs, chances are the Yellow Jackets can move on the Seminoles at least equally as well.
Short passes are typically effective in the red zone off of play-action, but they should be especially so in the Yellow Jackets' case.