(Cord Howard and Co. are the key to Georgia Tech's Orange Bowl success—or failure.)
Offensive linemen are football's favorite forgotten men.
Fullbacks were really hip, then the spread offense made them disappear like witness protection. Tight ends have become too prolific to be obsolete. (Thanks, Shannon Sharpe.)
No, offensive linemen are nameless, unimportant, tattooed walls of humanity who will, without fail, be credited at least once for an impending win or loss by the second voice on the broadcast team.
In reality, linemen are what makes the world turn for every offense. And yes, they are underappreciated. (I would know—I was one once.)
But in the spread option, which requires its big boys to pull and trap the same way the Constitution requires the president to deliver the State of the Union, it's actually become worthwhile to learn the names on the backs of Georgia Tech's largest jerseys.
In coach Paul Johnson's first two years at Tech, three offensive linemen have made the All-ACC first or second teams. Howard's made both—second in 2008, first in 2009.
Granted, it's not uncommon to see teammates get this recognition. Miami and Florida State alone are good for one or two all-conference hog mollies apiece.
But where the Jackets differ is that what's asked of their offensive line is quite a departure from what would be considered usual.
With all the movement and misdirection involved in running the triple option, so must come corresponding action from the offensive line, which means Tech requires a leaner, more athletic breed of lineman.
So what to do, then, when faced with a team like Iowa, which is large and physical on the interior line, where Georgia Tech loves to run its All-ACC workhorse, Jonathan Dwyer? There are several answers to that question.
When LSU cleaned house against the Jackets in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl last season, it was in no small part because Georgia Tech was soundly beaten at the point of attack, shutting down Dwyer and stunting the Jackets' entire offensive gameplan.
Similar efforts by Georgia, Miami and Clemson (game No. 1) had the same basic effect this season.
So when Paul Johnson meets with his big boys one last time before Tuesday's Orange Bowl, he's probably going to mention something about winning the battle at the point of attack.
But the Jackets don't need to simply outmuscle Iowa. The ACC Championship against Clemson, which sports a lot of talent on the defensive line, saw the Jackets flip the script, pushing the ball to the outside from the beginning (the first two plays were both long Roddy Jones runs) to negate the Tigers' advantage up front and attack them where they were more vulnerable.
That kind of gameplan wouldn't have been feasible last season, when Dwyer was far and away Tech's greatest weapon. But with Josh Nesbitt's growth within the offense, Tech doesn't necessarily need the dive to kick-start its offense.
In the end, it all comes down to execution. Georgia Tech's offense requires its linemen to be incredibly technically sound, and they are.
Last year against LSU, the Jackets came out admittedly fat-headed and complacent, and a bigger, more physical team made them pay.
They know what to expect now, Iowa offers no surprises. The Hawkeyes will play tough, disciplined, and physical.
When toe finally meets leather, it will be down to the big men up front, because it's with them the Jackets win or lose.
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