This is the seventh in a series of articles that I will be writing about the Orange Bowl. In this one I analyze each phase of the game and make a prediction. To view my past Orange Bowl coverage, check out my profile. The last article in the series will be a keys to the game article that I write with Georgia Tech Featured Columnist Zach Ostermann.
While it may not be an attractive game for most of the country, the Orange Bowl features a very exciting offense vs. defense matchup. Georgia Tech's exciting triple option offense will go up against Iowa's elite defense in what promises to be a tight game up until the end. Let's take a look at the matchup and see who has the advantage in each phase of the game.
When Iowa runs the ball
This is a tough phase to predict. On one hand, Georgia Tech's run defense is somewhat average, but so has the Iowa rush offense.
Iowa's running game is led by freshmen Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher. Both have missed time this season due to injury, causing the run game to diminish toward the end of the season.
But with both Robinson and Wegher healthy, the Hawkeyes should have a much easier time running the ball in the Orange Bowl. The offensive line has performed very well over the past few games after finally getting basically injury free.
On the other side of the ball is Derrick Morgan, an outstanding defensive end for the Yellow Jackets who will be a possible top five pick in the upcoming NFL Draft if he decides to leave school early. His presence will definitely be felt, but it may not be enough to overcome the poor play by the rest of the defense.
Iowa gets a slight edge here simply due to the fact that the Hawkeye offensive line should be able to overpower the Tech defensive line, helping Robinson and Wegher succeed.
Advantage : Iowa
When Iowa throws the ball
Iowa receives a big boost at quarterback with starter Ricky Stanzi back after he was injured on November 7 against Northwestern. Well... it might be a big boost.
Stanzi has been extremely inconsistent this season, but when he's good, he's outstanding.
Stanzi will be the difference maker in this game. If he is jumpy and forces the ball to receivers, he will undoubtedly throw more interceptions and lose the game for Iowa. But if he stays calm and doesn't try to force plays, he has the chance to exploit the weak Georgia Tech secondary.
Stanzi's receivers should be a very big help as well. Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos (DJK) have matured over the course of the season and have turned into very good receivers, something Iowa hasn't had since 2004.
But the passing game's biggest asset will be tight ends Tony Moeaki and Alan Reisner. The Hawkeyes love to throw to their tight ends on play action and will likely incorporate them a lot in this game.
Outside of the Big Ten, very few teams use two tight end sets and the ACC is no exception. Miami acted like they had never seen a tight end before as Wisconsin's Lance Kendricks and Garrett Graham bowled over the Hurricanes in the Champs Sports Bowl.
Georgia Tech needs to adjust to that set if it wants a chance at shutting down the passing game.
Advantage : Iowa
When Georgia Tech runs the ball
Paul Johnson's Georgia Tech offense has mastered the triple offense and made his team's rushing attack one of the best in college football. After the Orange Bowl, quarterback Josh Nesbitt and running back Jonathan Dwyer will have both rushed for 1,000 yards this season (Dwyer has already reached that mark).
The option offense has fooled almost every team that Tech has played, but it is in for a big test against one of the best defensive fronts in the nation. Nesbitt and Dwyer will undoubtedly have success rushing the ball, but don't expect their normal success against the best and fastest defensive line and linebackers they have seen all year.
Look for Iowa linebacker Pat Angerer to have a big day along with defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Broderick Binns.
Surprisingly, the key for Georgia Tech won't be the running game. Normally, the triple option alone can win them games, but this time, against an extremely good defense, it won't be able to win the game for the Yellow Jackets by itself. The run will keep them in the game, but they must rely on the passing game to win.
Advantage : Georgia Tech
When Georgia Tech throws the ball
While Georgia Tech is primarily a running team, it isn't afraid to throw the ball deep. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas has over 1,000 yards receiving and has the ability to make big plays, especially when the safeties are baited in by the run.
But Thomas and Nesbitt may have their hands full against the Hawkeyes. The Iowa secondary is one of the most opportunistic in the country and ranks fourth in the nation in interceptions. Safety Tyler Sash leads the unit with six picks, but he gets help from fellow safety Brett Greenwood and possibly NFL-bound corner Amari Spievey.
Unlike most defenses Georgia Tech has faced, Iowa is extremely disciplined. Norm Parker's defense relies on a bend-don't-break philosophy and rarely gives up big plays, something Georgia Tech's passing game lives on.
When Kirk Ferentz recruits players, he looks for character, not star ratings, which will pay off in the Orange Bowl. Don't expect the safeties to be baited by the run and they should shut down the Georgia Tech passing game by keeping everything in front of them.
Advantage : Iowa
With both kickers and punters about even (although Iowa fans might not be too please with kicker Daniel Murray), this aspect of the game will be decided in the return game.
Iowa has had issues with punt returns this season after Andy Brodell graduated. Colin Sandeman took over the return duties, but has been inconsistent. After he got hurt, the Hawkeyes shuffled through returners, but had fumble issues. Sandeman is back, and although that may be a relief for Iowa, it isn't much to cheer about either.
Georgia Tech has been very successful on punt returns and Jerrard Tarrant has returned two for touchdowns.
But kickoff returns have been the opposite. Iowa's Derrell Johnson-Koulianos has a return average of 32 yards, including a 99-yarder against Ohio State. Georgia Tech's Orwin Smith averaged a modest 25.3 yards per return.
Each team has different strengths and weaknesses in special teams and this battle could go either way.
Advantage : Even
The Orange Bowl features possibly the best coaching matchup of the bowl season. Iowa's Kirk Ferentz and Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson were both finalists for the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year Award. But both have completely different styles.
Johnson is an offensive-minded coach and has reinvented the triple option, turning it into one of the best offenses in football. He implemented it at Navy, and now has perfected it at Georgia Tech.
Ferentz runs a very vanilla offense and defense and continually does more with less. He turns recruits that nobody else wanted and turns them into stars and finds physical, quick, and disciplined players that fit his team.
Once again, these are two of the best coaches in college football and each will motivate his respective team and have them ready to play on January 5.
Advantage : Even
The Orange Bowl announced that it expects Iowa to bring 35,000 fans to Miami in what may essentially turn into a Hawkeye home game 1,500 miles from Iowa City.
Georgia Tech doesn't travel very well and that's the reason it has missed out on some bigger bowl games in the past, while Iowa's reputation for bringing fans en masse has helped it reach some bowls it probably shouldn't have been.
The "who wants it more" factor isn't there because both teams are ecstatic about playing in a BCS bowl.
But there are questions about who will be prepared the best. Georgia Tech was hot at the end of last season, but got annihilated by LSU 38-3 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Paul Johnson claims that won't happen again and he may have a point with a much more disciplined team.
After being blown out by USC in the 2003 Orange Bowl, Kirk Ferentz has made sure to keep his teams focused on the game.
"We spent a lot of time probably celebrating or taking bows in December instead," Ferentz said of his 2002 team.
Since then, he has had great success in bowl games, with wins over Florida, LSU, and South Carolina. And while the Hawkeyes aren't a lock to win, expect them to be prepared come Tuesday.
Advantage : Iowa
Prediction: Iowa 27, Georgia Tech 24
Georgia Tech will jump out to an early 7-0 lead after a great kick-off return. But that will be it for the first quarter for Tech as the Iowa defense stiffens up and stops the option. Stanzi will have a slow first quarter, but Robinson and Wegher will carry the team to two field goals.
The second quarter will be fairly boring, as Georgia Tech tacks on another touchdown, making it 14-6 heading into halftime.
The offenses come to life in the third quarter as Georgia Tech tacks on 10 more points, driving down the field twice, largely through the ground. Stanzi starts to settle down and puts together a few nice drives, but only puts up points on one, making it 24-14 heading into the fourth.
Iowa's in familiar territory, playing from behind once again. Pat Angerer and Adrain Clayborn step up and shut down the option in the fourth, allowing the Hawkeyes to take advantage of the time of possession battle.
Stanzi starts the quarter with a big strike to Marvin McNutt, cutting the Tech lead to four. He then hits tight end Moeaki with five minutes left, making it 27-24 Iowa. Now forced to throw the ball, Nesbitt panics and is picked off by Tyler Sash, putting the Yellow Jackets away. Iowa comes out with the Orange Bowl win and plenty of momentum heading into 2010.