Pitt senior DT Aaron Donald had one of the most impressive defensive performances in Pitt history on Saturday night at Georgia Tech. His 11 tackles, a career-high six tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and a sack solidified his position as the nation's most disruptive defensive tackle. Pitt Live Wire brings you Aaron's impressive performance in this week's "Did You See That??"
The Panthers lead the all-time series against the Yellow Jackets, 5-2. Pitt has won all five regular season matchups versus Georgia Tech, while the Yellow Jackets triumphed both times when the two programs met in the Sugar Bowl and Gator Bowl in back-to-back seasons during the 1950s.
The Last Time
Pitt and Georgia Tech last met on Sept. 18, 1976 at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta. After dominating Notre Dame the previous week, the Panthers earned another convincing road victory by beating the Yellow Jackets, 48-14. However, the second game of Pitt's most recent national championship-winning season got off to a worrying beginning as starting quarterback Robert Haygood left the game with a severe knee injury, but reserve passer Matt Cavanaugh stepped in and threw for 117 yards, including two scoring strikes to Gordon Jones. Eventual Heisman Trophy-winner Tony Dorsett rushed for 113 yards and found the end zone three times.
Coming off his first bowl victory in five attempts with the Yellow Jackets, Paul Johnson enters his sixth season as the Georgia Tech head football coach. The man who led Georgia Southern to two Division I-AA championships and turned around the Navy program has also been a success at Georgia Tech, steering the Yellow Jackets to five bowls, two ACC Championship Games and an Orange Bowl berth. His 148-65 career record in 16 seasons as a head coach is a testament that his old-school triple-option offense can still succeed at any level of modern college football. A man who didn't play college football and usually goes what's trendy and popular, Paul Johnson hopes to continue to prove naysayers wrong with a veteran Georgia Tech squad that has high hopes in 2013.
Looking at the Yellow Jackets
Offense: 4 starters lost, 7 returning
1. Lee set to become starter - After receiving sparse playing time at quarterback last season, redshirt sophomore Vad Lee appears to be the favorite to become the new Georgia Tech quarterback following Tevin Washington's graduation. The athletic Lee posted more than 1,100 yards of total offense and scored 13 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman, with his big-play ability allowing Coach Paul Johnson to use him in certain situations. Considering his obvious talent, Lee could become a star this season if he improves his decision-making skills to effectively run Georgia Tech's complicated offense every play.
2. Experience at every other position - Lee could be the only non-upperclassman to start for the Georgia Tech offense this season. Running backs David Sims and Robert Godhigh and offensive linemen Ray Beno, Will Jackson and Jay Finch are all projected senior starters, while running back B.J. Bostic, wide receivers Corey Dennis and Darren Waller and linemen Shaquille Mason and Morgan Bailey could all start as juniors. That amount of experience around Lee should make the quarterback's difficult challenge of directing the triple option just a little bit easier - and that much harder for opposing defenses.
Defense: 3 starters lost, 8 returning
1. Senior-laden unit seeks consistency - With as many as eight defensive projected starters entering their senior seasons, the Yellow Jackets' defense will also be an experienced group. In 2012, the GT defense never found a rhythm; solid performances against Virginia Tech, Maryland, Florida State and USC were negated by hapless showings versus Miami, Middle Tennessee State, Clemson, BYU, North Carolina and Georgia. Overall, this experienced defense should improve on the 28.3 points per game it allowed last season.
Keys to Victory
1. Avoid big plays - When trying to stop a team that runs the triple option, limiting big plays is always a must. One missed assignment or one missed tackle can lead to an easy touchdown for the opposition. Fortunately for Pitt, the Panthers face Navy the week before the Georgia Tech matchup, so Coach Paul Chryst's defense should be accustomed to the triple option before the key ACC clash against the Yellow Jackets. But the Pitt defense must be ready every play because Paul Johnson's Georgia Tech version of triple option includes more formations and more passing than it did while he was at Navy.
2. Don't let the crowd intimidate - By this point in the season, Pitt will have already traveled to Duke, Virginia Tech and Navy for away games, so handling the crowd noise and atmosphere that ACC fans create shouldn't be a problem for the Panthers. But with a homecoming crowd of 50,000-plus likely to fill Bobby Dodd Stadium to see a new ACC opponent, Pitt would benefit greatly from quieting the rowdy Ramblin' Wreck faithful with an early big play.
Check back next week for a preview of Pitt's week 9 opponent, Notre Dame.