Know the Opponent: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Durham native Vad Lee leads the Ramblin' Wreck into Wallace Wade Stadium Saturday.

Durham native Vad Lee leads the Ramblin’ Wreck into Wallace Wade Stadium Saturday.

Two early season undefeateds clash on Saturday in Durham as the Blue Devils host the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Duke has lost nine in a row to the Ramblin’ Wreck, but with a much-improved defense and Brandon Connette at the helm of the read-option offense, they hope to break yet another losing streak under Coach Cutcliffe.

To give us an inside look at the Yellow Jackets, we welcome back Ken Sugiura of the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Ken covers the Georgia Tech beat for the AJC and is among the best sports writers in the ACC. Prior to his work in Atlanta, he wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer. His work can be found on the AJC Georgia Tech blog, and also on Twitter @ajcgatech. Thanks for joining us, Ken!

The Yellow Jackets completely dominated Elon in their season opener. As they head into their ACC opener at Duke, what, if any, questions remain unanswered for this year’s team?

I think there’s a lot of questions about the real potential of this team that weren’t really answered against Elon, because it was such a mismatch. I think the main thing is what this defense is capable of. It’s funny to say that after the defense posted a shutout and returned two turnovers for scores, but the pass rush wasn’t great, the third-down defense was so-so and defensive coordinator Ted Roof felt like the tackling was lacking at times. I think the defense will be better next year, but it’ll take games like Saturday’s to provide a better indication of that.

This year, Georgia Tech returned one of the most experienced teams in the country from last year’s 7-7 squad, but many pundits still picked them to finish in the middle of the ACC Coastal. What has to go right for the Yellow Jackets to return to the ACC Championship game?

To get back to Charlotte, I think Vad Lee has to prove to be a consistent and sound decision maker at quarterback. He has a ton of potential, but he’s going to make mistakes as a first-year starter. He just needs to limit those as much as he can. The offense could stand to find a deep threat in an inexperienced group at wide receiver; Darren Waller is the most likely candidate. The defense has to be able to be better on third downs and play better in the fourth quarter. Staying healthy, particularly on defense, will be important, as well.  If they can do those things, I think they’ve got a shot, although the schedule won’t help much. The Duke game is the first of four consecutive games against Coastal opponents, a pretty challenging stretch.

Georgia Tech has won 9 in a row against the Blue Devils by an average margin of 3 touchdowns, yet the oddsmakers think this year’s game could be decided by about a touchdown or less. With their starting QB out, how do you think the Blue Devils can keep this close, or even steal an upset win?

The past three years, the games have all been undecided going into the fourth quarter. The 2010 and 2011 games could have easily been won by Duke. So I don’t know how much difference there is between the two, despite the nine-game winning/losing streak. For Duke to stay close, I think the Blue Devils defense is going to have to force some turnovers to limit Georgia Tech’s chances, and limit the big plays that the offense is capable of making in order to make the Jackets play long possessions.

On the other side, Brandon Connette is going to have to complete some passes. The standard strategy for a Ted Roof defense is to take away the run and force teams to pass, and that may be doubly so against Connette. If he can keep the heat off with some plays in the passing game, that’ll loosen things up.

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