Georgia Tech vs. LSU
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta
TV, radio: ESPN (Charter channel 32), 1240-AM
Web site: www.ramblinwreck.com
ATLANTA — Georgia Tech and LSU have assumed unfamiliar roles for tonight’s Chick-fil-A Bowl.
LSU is unranked and wants to prove its five-loss regular season was an aberration. Georgia Tech hopes to show its nine-win season and No. 14 ranking were signs of more success to come with first-year coach Paul Johnson.
One year ago, the Tigers were preparing to beat Ohio State in the BCS national championship game. LSU coach Les Miles said Tuesday the game against Georgia Tech provides an opportunity to “be who we are.”
LSU lost five games in a regular season for the first time since a 3-8 finish in 1999. It was a painful fall after the Tigers’ 2007 national championship.
“We came into the season with high hopes and high goals, and we kind of had a disappointing season,” running back Charles Scott said. “We’re looking at this bowl game as a chance to go out on a high note and give these seniors a positive last memory at LSU. Also, it gives you some momentum going into the next season.”
Georgia Tech has the first-year coach, but LSU looks more like a team starting over.
The Tigers (7-5) will give freshman quarterback Jordan Jefferson his second start. Jefferson also started in a loss to Arkansas to close the regular season.
The Tigers, who lost three of their last four games, could face changes on defense after ranking 11th and 12th in the Southeastern Conference by allowing 25.9 points and 221 yards passing per game, respectively.
One of the co-defensive coordinators, Bradley Dale Peveto, already has been introduced as the new head coach at Northwestern State in Natchitoches, La. The other, Doug Mallory, confirmed this week he is a candidate to be defensive coordinator at New Mexico.
Miles on Monday wouldn’t say if he has an agreement to hire former Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis. The agreement was reported by ESPN. Miles said he wouldn’t discuss the matter before he returns to Baton Rouge.
Miles said the bowl game provides an opportunity to put a positive end on the disappointing season.
“We’re fortunate we’ve had a healthy period of time to prepare, not just our offense or for Georgia Tech, but to prepare our minds to play hard, play fast and be who we are,” Miles said.
Before this season, Georgia Tech (9-3) was usually the team with something to prove in a bowl game. The Yellow Jackets lost five or more games in seven straight seasons before Johnson’s arrival.
Johnson produced immediate results. His spread option offense used players not recruited for the system to produce the nation’s third-best rushing attack, and a defensive front led by senior end Michael Johnson set the stage for big plays.
Only a tiebreaker kept Georgia Tech from playing for the Atlantic Coast Conference championship.
Johnson said he hopes his team uses the bowl game to give the program its first 10-win season since 1998.
“I think it’s an exclamation point for this season and can be a springboard into next season as well,” he said.
A key will be the ability of LSU’s defense, more successful against the run, to defend the option offense.
LSU coaches are grateful for the extra time to prepare for the system.
“I certainly think playing them in a three-day (practice) period would have been difficult for us,” Miles said.
Other coaches this season have made similar statements about the difficulty of preparing for Georgia Tech’s offense in one week, but the Yellow Jackets were 5-0 in games this season when opposing coaches had more than seven days to prepare. The 5-0 mark included wins over Miami and Georgia to close the regular season, and Georgia Tech scored more than 40 points in each of the two games.
“Of course, the extra repetitions in practice will help LSU some, but we don’t want to be known as a team that is good because the other defense can’t practice enough for us,” Georgia Tech center Dan Voss said. “We want to be known as a team that runs our offense and is dominant with it.”
The focus has been on the spread option offense, but Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said Miles’ decision to start Jefferson also gives his defense a new challenge. Jefferson attempted only 48 passes in six games.
“It’s a little bit different because you don’t have anything but that last game and bits and parts of a few other games to work with, but you can tell from that he’s going to be a great quarterback,” Wommack said.
Wommack said Jefferson, who had 19 carries for 50 yards against Arkansas, provides all-around skills “so that forces you to have a few more wrinkles in your defensive package.”