This is the third in a series of in-depth articles that I will be doing about the Orange Bowl. This article focuses on the less talked about matchup —Iowa's offense vs. Georgia Tech's defense.
Ever since the BCS bowl pairings came out on Dec. 7, it has been clear that the matchup to watch in the Orange Bowl will be Georgia Tech's quick option offense against Iowa's stout defense.
But what about the matchup when Iowa has the ball?
Few have talked about the matchup of the lesser units on each team—the Iowa offense and the Georgia Tech defense. Neither unit is bad, they're just inconsistent, and the Orange Bowl might be decided by which team shows up.
Will it be the Iowa offense that threw four interceptions in the third quarter against Indiana, or the offense that scored four touchdowns in the fourth quarter to beat the Hoosiers?
Will it be the Georgia Tech defense that gave up just 19 points to Duke and Virginia or the defense that gave up 64 points to Clemson and Georgia?
With units this inconsistent, there's really no way of predicting which unit will show up. It's hard to pick which will be victorious.
I'm not trying to make either unit look awful. Both are excellent when their game is on and both have extremely talented players, such as Georgia Tech defensive end Derrick Morgan and Iowa wide receiver Marvin McNutt.
The key for both teams will be to stick to their game plan, something that has caused problems for both. The team that can do this most effectively will win the game.
Iowa's game plan is somewhat unpredictable because it changes nearly every game. First they look like a run first offense, then they come out throwing the ball. But it's likely that their Orange Bowl offense will revolve around quarterback Ricky Stanzi.
Stanzi injured his ankle in the first half of a game against Northwestern on Nov. 7. By kickoff, he will not have played in nearly two months and will surely be rusty and nervous, playing in a BCS bowl for the first time.
The logical game plan would be to run the ball and keep it out of Stanzi's hands as much as possible. But Iowa offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe normally does the opposite of logical.
Expect Iowa to come out throwing the ball, expecting to have a very good game with Stanzi back. One of the Hawkeyes' benefits will be the progression of their wide receivers.
At the beginning of the season, young wide receivers Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Marvin McNutt were largely unproven. The coaches were worried that Johnson-Koulianos (DJK, as he's called in Iowa City) hadn't lived up to his potential. Meanwhile, McNutt is a converted quarterback and hadn't played receiver before this season.
But as the season progressed, so did both receivers.
Johnson-Koulianos—with 687 yards—is proving his legitimacy as a number one wide receiver.
McNutt made numerous big plays this season, including a touchdown catch as time expired to beat Michigan State, a 92-yard touchdown to start a rally against Indiana, and a touchdown catch over the head of a defender to tie Ohio State.
Iowa will also undoubtedly mix the tight end into its offensive scheme.
Tight end Tony Moeaki has battled injuries throughout his career, but he has been stellar when healthy. Head Coach Kirk Ferentz calls him "the best tight end I've ever coached;" high praise coming from someone who's coached NFL Pro Bowler Dallas Clark.
One of the Hawkeyes' favorite plays is a play action pass to the tight end. That play did wonders for the Iowa offense all season, especially against Michigan and Wisconsin.
One of the keys to Moeaki's role in the offense will be the running game. The backfield has been a question mark for Iowa this year, rattled by injuries even before the season started.
Jewel Hampton, a sophomore who rushed for almost 500 yards behind Shonn Greene last year, was the presumed starter for 2009, but he hurt his ACL in camp and missed the entire season.
Second string running back Jeff Brinson was also hurt in camp and was unable to play this season.
Third stringer Paki O'Meara was a disappointment and he ended up being pulled, leaving fourth string freshman Adam Robinson and his freshman counterpart Brandon Wegher to carry much of the load.
Both were pleasant surprises this season, with Robinson rushing for an Iowa freshman record 775 yards.
But the production dropped off in the last few weeks of the season because both Robinson and Wegher were battling injuries. But with both back for the bowl game, expect the Iowa rushing attack to be much improved from November.
So after this it looks like Iowa's offense should dominate, right? Well, that's if everything goes according to planned. And anyone who has watched Iowa football this year knows that everything doesn't always go according to planned for the Hawkeyes.
While Stanzi has made a number of big plays this season, he is also very interception prone, throwing 15 in just 9 1/4 games this season.
His decision making isn't great at times and it is likely to be off even more, having sat out for two months and playing in his first ever BCS bowl.
Georgia Tech's defensive plan will be focused on attacking Stanzi.
To win, they have to make the most of his bad throws and force turnovers. Even in his best game, Stanzi has made mistakes, but some teams haven't been able to make the most of them.
The Yellow Jackets need to take advantage of Stanzi's forced throws, but they need to pressure him as well and make him feel uncomfortable in the pocket.
They have the tools to do so with All-American defensive end Derrick Morgan. Morgan's job will be to force a likely jumpy Stanzi into mistakes. It won't be an easy task, with All-Big Ten offensive tackle Brian Bulaga lining up on the other side of him.
Stanzi may hold the key to this game, whether the winner is Iowa or Georgia Tech. The Hawkeye defense will do its job and keep Iowa in the game, but Stanzi's play may determine the winner.
If he can limit turnovers, Iowa has a good chance of winning, but if Georgia Tech makes him uncomfortable and takes advantage of his mistakes, it will take home the oranges.
And while the Iowa offense and the Georgia Tech defense may be the lesser units in the Orange Bowl, they will still play a vital role in the game's outcome.