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Rich Cirminiello outlines his five matchups that will make or break Saturday's Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship Game.
5. Georgia Tech DE KeShun Freeman vs. Florida State OTs Roderick Johnson and Bobby Hart
Someone must pressure Seminole QB Jameis Winston into mistakes and hurried throws on Saturday night. But who? The Yellow Jackets are No. 12 in the league with only 18 sacks, heaping pressure on Freeman to continue igniting the pass rush. He’s just a true freshman, but then again so is Johnson, which ought to create an intriguing battle of the future stars when they go head-to-head. If Winston gets all day in the pocket, he’ll eventually find an open man streaking through a Tech pass defense that’s No. 11 or lower in ACC completion percentage, yards per attempt, pass efficiency D and yards per game.
4. OG Shaquille Mason and the Georgia Tech O-line vs. DT Eddie Goldman and the Florida State D-line
Mason aside, the Yellow Jackets are unheralded, yet so effective, in the trenches. The team’s ability to hold blocks and continue punishing at the second level are central reasons why Tech is fourth nationally in rushing and first in third-down conversions. The Seminoles have seen ground-and-pound offenses this fall, such as The Citadel and Boston College, but Paul Johnson’s system presents unique challenges for any defense. Florida State is banking on its linemen, particularly the 320-pound, next-level Goldman to eat up blocks and occupy space so that the linebackers and safeties can make stops for minimal gain.
3. Florida State TE Nick O’Leary vs. Georgia Tech LBs P.J. Davis, Quayshawn Nealy and Demond Smith
Every quarterback has a safety net, the go-to guy who helps bail him out of a tough spot. For Winston, that teammate is O’Leary, a proven senior with some of the stickiest hands in the country. Peeling the onion on O’Leary’s 44 receptions for 517 yards and five touchdowns reveals a ton of clutch grabs, especially on third downs. Davis and Smith, in particular, possess the speed and range to stick close in pass defense, but they’ll need to be extra attentive to O’Leary, whose tight routes make him extremely difficult to shut down.
2. Georgia Tech QB Justin Thomas vs. Florida State LBs Terrance Smith and Reggie Northrup
When facing Thomas and the Yellow Jacket triple-option, it’s all about discipline and maintaining gap integrity for opposing defenses. Overcommit or get sloppy, and Thomas will burn you with his feet or with a timely pitch to B-backs Synjyn Days or Zach Laskey. Thomas has grown up exponentially as a sophomore, executing the offense with a minimum of unwise decisions. The Seminoles certainly harbor elite athletes, such as Smith and Northrup, in the back seven of the D. But athleticism alone is never enough to derail a finely-tuned offense that looks to Thomas as its fledgling orchestrator.
1. Florida State QB Jameis Winston vs. Georgia Tech CB D.J. White and FS Jamal Golden
The number 27 will be crucial to the outcome of this weekend’s clash in Charlotte; it’s Tech’s ACC-high number of takeaways as well as FSU’s ACC-high number of turnovers. No ACC quarterback has thrown more picks than Winston, and White and Golden have been the Jackets’ chief thieves when the ball is in the air. When the Ramblin’ Wreck D is swarming, the unit completely transforms the tenor of a game. If White, Golden and the rest of Ted Roof’s frenetic defense can create havoc for Winston, Georgia Tech is capable of being the first team in more than two years to upend the unbeaten Noles.
The 2014 ACC football season has officially come to an end and Florida State and Georgia Tech will be squaring off in this year's ACC Championship game in Charlotte, NC. In this week's version of CP's Top 3, the ACC Digital Network's very own Clinton Portis gives his Top 3 keys to this year's ACC title game!