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November 17, 2006

Duke at Georgia Tech scouting report

The road to victory has been frustrating for Duke so far this season, and the challenge doesn't get any easier this week with a trip to Atlanta to face Coastal Division champion Georgia Tech.

Devils Illustrated sizes up the matchup and gives the weekly prediction.

QUARTERBACK

After three years of up and down play, Georgia Tech signal caller Reggie Ball has put together his best season as a senior, although he is currently banged up with an injured leg and some other bumps and bruises. He struggled against North Carolina last week in a 7-0 win, but overall this year he has been very dangerous. Yellow Jackets coach Chan Gailey says Ball will likely not be asked to run the ball as much because of his leg injury, but for the year he has run for 316 yards and been more efficient in the passing game despite just a 47 percent completion percentage. Duke freshman Thaddeus Lewis now has plenty of games under his belt, but his learning curve still continues and he doesn't have a weapon like Calvin Johnson to rely on at receiver. Lewis could really use a couple of solid games to close the season, because it's been since the second half of the Miami game that he played really consistent football.

EDGE: Medium Georgia Tech

RUNNING BACK

Georgia Tech running back Tashard Choice has arguably been the key difference in the Yellow Jackets being a championship caliber team this season. He's the third leading rusher in the ACC and will likely top 1,000 yards for the season against Duke. The Blue Devils are depleted at the running back position with Justin Boyle lost for the season after suffering a knee injury last week. Requan Boyette and Clifford Harris stepped in nicely against Boston College, but their combined production doesn't approach the consistency that Choice has provided Georgia Tech.

EDGE: Medium Georgia Tech

RECEIVERS

Calvin Johnson by himself gives the Yellow Jackets an advantage against everybody at this position. Few other players in college football can affect defenses' gameplans the way Johnson can. There's another Johnson Duke has to be aware of though, and that's James Johnson, who has caught five touchdowns this year as a decent number two receiving option. Duke's wideouts have made progress this year, but they are still looking for that extra bit of consistency that could elevate them up another level. Calvin Johnson's ability to make plays all over the field and in the tightest of coverages is a very scary thing for the Devils this week.

EDGE: Large Georgia Tech

OFFENSIVE LINE

Like every other team in the ACC, Georgia Tech has an experience edge over Duke at this position. The Yellow Jackets start four upperclassmen and a third year sophomore on the line, and that unit has paved the way for the league's second best rushing attack and have also done a great job keeping heat off of Ball. Duke's offensive line has improved considerably over the last few weeks, but left tackle Cameron Goldberg may very well be sidelined with an abdominal pull. If Goldberg can't play, Duke can't afford any other injuries up front. Freshman Jarrod Holt should get the majority of snaps at left tackle with Garrett Mason also getting extra snaps. Duke has been fortunate with injuries on the O-Line so far this year, but playing without Goldberg adds more questions to a unit that though improved, is still at the bottom of the league.

EDGE: Large Georgia Tech

DEFENSIVE LINE

Though not a real big group, Georgia Tech's defensive front has been very effective this season. The Yellow Jackets are fifth in the league in run defense, allowing just 3.2 yards per carry and less than 100 yards per game. Defensive end Adamm Oliver is the top playmaker. Oliver rushes the passer well and just finds ways to get into the backfield. Joe Anoai is the anchor in the middle. The 280 pound senior is effective against the run but has enough athleticism to get to the quarterback through the middle. Duke's defensive front has fallen dramatically in recent weeks. Three straight bad outings have raised legitimate questions about whether it has run out of steam down the stretch. Losing senior standout Eli Nichols won't help against Georgia Tech. There are still good players available though, and freshman Ayanga Okpokowuruk is developing nicely as Nichols' top replacement. There is a lot of pride in this group, particularly under the leadership of senior Casey Camero, so we expect a better effort this week.

EDGE: Medium Georgia Tech

LINEBACKERS

KaMichael Hall and Philip Wheeler are two of the ACC's best linebackers. Both players have 67 tackles and Wheeler has huge big play ability as a blitzer. Gary Guyton is not a bad player in his own right, and the Yellow Jackets can cause Duke major problems with their athleticism and speed at this position. Duke could use some more speed at linebacker, although the Blue Devils have made their fair share of plays this season with their aggressive blitzing schemes. Blitzing against Georgia Tech can be dangerous because of Ball's mobility and Johnson's presence on the outside, but expect Duke to continue to play aggressively to try and rattle Ball into making a couple of bad throws. Jeramy Edwards has been playing very solid football and will be looking for his fifth straight double digit tackle performance. Codey Lowe's production has tapered off over the last two weeks, but he certainly wants to close his career with two more good games to end what has been a very good senior season.

EDGE: Medium Georgia Tech

SECONDARY

Experience also abounds in the Yellow Jacket secondary, which has been a strength for the Ramblin Wreck this season. Junior safety Jamal Lewis has been a rock all season in run support and has also made three interceptions that he has returned for an average of 45 yarrds. Kenny Scott and Avery Roberson handle the two corner positions, while junior safety Djay Jones has three interceptions on the season. The Jackets rank second in the ACC in pass efficiency defense, although they only rank ninth in passing yardage allowed per game. Duke meanwhile, ranks last in pass defense and last in pass efficiency defense. The last three games have been forgettable, although John Talley's interception last week against Boston College might have been one of his best ever. Going against Georgia Tech's Johnson tandem may be the toughest challenge of the season.

EDGE: Large Georgia Tech

SPECIAL TEAMS

Georgia Tech punter Durant Brooks is the top punter in the league. He's boomed kicks for a 44.9 yard average and has dropped an incredible 27 punts inside the 20-yard line. Kicker Travis Bell's numbers don't look great, but three of his five misses on the year have come from beyond 40 yards. Duke would almost certainly have at least one win and maybe two or three victories with that type of production in the kicking game. Joe Surgan didn't try any field goals last week, but his season has been a nightmare, while Alex Feinberg has struggled with placement. The Yellow Jackets have a big advantage in punt returns with Andrew Smith, but Duke's Jabari Marshall has consistently been a big threat for Duke in the kick return game. Marshall had statistically his worst game as a returner last week, so it's fair to expect a return to his more usual production in Atlanta.

EDGE: Large Georgia Tech

OVERALL

Georgia Tech has already clinched its spot in the ACC championship game, so the Yellow Jackets could be primed for a bit of a letdown, and they didn't exactly look great against North Carolina last week in a 7-0 win. But even if they do give Duke some opportunities to gain momentum and stay competitive, will the Blue Devils take advantage of them? They have failed to capitalize on opportunities on basically a weekly basis. When there is a 10 game track record of such performance, and the Jackets have an incredible playmaker like Calvin Johnson, it's hard to envision an upset for Duke at Bobby Dodd Stadium

Prediction: Georgia Tech 30-9


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