Jackets, Falcons in option showdown
Mirror images prepared to square off in Independence Bowl
The Associated Press
SHREVEPORT, La. -- Georgia Tech and Air Force often have the advantage of sneaking up on opponents, thanks to their run-first, triple-option offenses that seem like dinosaurs in today's college football world. There will be no ambushes in Monday's Independence Bowl, though. The Yellow Jackets and Falcons instead might feel like they're looking into a mirror.
Georgia Tech (6-6) is the nation's top rushing team, averaging 327 yards per game, while Air Force (8-4) is right behind at more than 317 yards per game. There are some subtle differences to each team's scheme -- both coaches agree that Air Force likes to take a zone-read approach -- but there's no doubt that there will be very few surprises.
"There's probably more similarities than there are differences,'' Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson said. "The bottom line is it doesn't really matter what you do, it really comes down to execution.''
Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun agreed, but said with both teams so familiar with each other, it might come down to which team is able to strike through the air at the perfect moment. "The key part is what happens in the passing game,'' Calhoun said. "How efficient are you going to be when you do end up throwing the football? And then defensively, how well do you defend the big play?''
In that regard, it appears the Falcons would have an advantage. Georgia Tech will be playing without its star quarterback Joshua Nesbitt, who is out with a broken right arm. The veteran is the most prolific running quarterback in ACC history, and even though his completion percentage (37.1 percent) wasn't pretty, he had thrown seven touchdown passes this season.
Now it's up to Tevin Washington, who completed 20 of 48 passes for 376 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions this season.
Air Force has a more balanced offense. Tim Jefferson has completed 52.2 percent of his passes for 1,342 yards, 10 touchdowns and six interceptions. He's also rushed for 769 yards and 15 touchdowns.
But the Yellow Jackets' real issues come from self-inflicted wounds. Earlier in the week, four players were ruled academically ineligible for the bowl game. The most costly include leading receiver Stephen Hill and starting safety Mario Edwards.
Then on Sunday, Johnson announced that three players -- defensive end Anthony Egbuniwe and defensive backs Michael Peterson and Louis Young -- will miss the first half of Monday's game for a curfew violation. Egbuniwe's 59 tackles are fifth on the team.
Though disappointed, Johnson said the Yellow Jackets wouldn't use the issues as a crutch. "We've got guys who can still play,'' Johnson said. "We've just got to show up to play. We don't have any excuses. One man's misery is another man's opportunity''
Starting defensive tackle Jason Peters agreed. "I think we're mature to handle the situation,'' he said. "That's something we can't control. We've got to have some young guys step up.''
Calhoun said the Falcons' gameplan might change slightly to take advantage of a particular matchup because of Georgia Tech's personnel issues, but there wouldn't be any major strategy adjustments. "They're going to have a darn good football player out there no matter who it is,'' Calhoun said.
While Georgia Tech has suffered through a disappointing season, barely qualifying for the program's 14th consecutive bowl appearance, Air Force sees the game as an opportunity to prove itself against a program from a conference that automatically qualifies for the Bowl Championship Series. The Falcons nearly knocked off Oklahoma on the road earlier this season before losing, 27-24. This time around, leading receiver Jonathan Warzeka wants to finish the job.
Air Force also figures to have the homefield advantage -- Barksdale Air Force Base is located just miles away from Independence Stadium.
"I'd say we're pretty evenly matched across the board,'' Warzeka said. "I think it comes down to who wants it more. We'll give our best and they'll give our best and it'll probably come down to a few plays here or there.''
Georgia Tech (6-6) vs. Air Force (8-4), 5 p.m. ET Monday on ESPN2
- Series Record: Georgia Tech, 3-0
- Last Meeting: 1979 -- Georgia Tech 21-0
What's at Stake
Air Force is trying to knock off an opponent from an automatic-qualifying BCS conference, after nearly upsetting Oklahoma on the road earlier this season. Georgia Tech is trying to finish with a winning record after a disappointing season. The Yellow Jackets have had to deal with numerous issues leading up to Monday's game, including losing four players to academic issues and three more for the first half because of a curfew violation this week.
Air Force's option offense vs. Georgia Tech's option offense. There's no secret what both teams do: run, run and run some more. Georgia Tech ranks first nationally with 327 yards rushing per game. Air Force is right behind at No. 2, averaging nearly 318 per game.
Players to Watch
Georgia Tech -- RB Anthony Allen has rushed for 1,225 yards and six touchdowns this season. He has to carry a large load for the Yellow Jackets since QB Joshua Nesbitt can't play because of a broken arm.
Air Force -- QB Tim Jefferson has rushed for 769 yards and 15 touchdowns, while also passing 1,342 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Facts & Figures
Georgia Tech's streak of 14 consecutive bowl games ranks fourth nationally behind Florida State, Florida and Virginia Tech. But the Yellow Jackets have lost five consecutive bowl games. ... Air Force has averaged 41.6 points in its past three games. ... The Falcons are in their third Independence Bowl and first since 1984. They won back-to-back Independence Bowls in 1983 and '84. ... If Air Force rushes for at least 187 yards and two touchdowns, it will set Mountain West records for both season categories. The Falcons already have rushed for 3,815 yards and 40 touchdowns.