September 23, 2017 Atlanta - Georgia Tech running back KirVonte Benson (30) runs for a first down against Pittsburgh at Bobby Dodd Stadium. (HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM_
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC/AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC/AJC

Georgia Tech preparing to face tough Miami front-seven

It’s no secret Georgia Tech players and coaches are excited for the chance to play on a national stage Saturday. A 3:30 matinee with the Miami Hurricanes, televised on ABC is the perfect way for the Yellow Jackets to show they belong with the big boys of the Atlantic Coast Conference. 

For Georgia Tech to be considered one of the elite teams in the ACC and beat No. 11 Miami, they will literally have to triumph over some big boys down at Hard Rock Stadium as the Hurricanes defensive front-seven attempts to showcase why it is considered one of the top front-sevens in the country.

“This is really going to be a big test for us,” junior quarterback TaQuon Marshall said. “I am excited about it.”

Miami is ranked fourth in the NCAA in tackles for loss per game with nine and fourth in the ACC in points allowed per game at 17.3. 

For the Hurricanes, it begins with their big defensive tackles R.J. McIntosh (6-foot-4, 293 pounds) and Kendrick Norton (6-foot-3, 312 pounds), who have a combined six tackles for loss this season. Moving to the defensive end spot, the Hurricanes have two strong, speedy guys who live in their opponent's backfield. Chad Thomas and Joe Jackson have combined for 7.5 tackles for loss.

“I see a big strong physical group of guys,” offensive lineman Parker Braun said. “(The Hurricanes defensive line) seem like they are coached really well so it should be a good competition.”

Braun, along with center Kenny Cooper and guards Will Bryan and Shamire Devine, make up the area coach Paul Johnson calls the “guard box”. This year’s “guard box” has had a tremendous amount of success pushing defensive lines backwards when Georgia Tech is trying to run a B-back dive or Marshall keeps the football and runs up the middle. 

It’s when the Yellow Jackets runners get the next level of the defense that worries Johnson.

“(Miami) may have the best group of linebackers in the league,” Johnson said. “And they take a lot of chances. They're very aggressive. And when they happen to guess right, they get you, and hopefully we can guess right some against them.”

All three of Miami’s linebackers are sophomores and all three gained valuable experience starting from day one as freshman. Middle linebacker Shaq Quarterman leads the group while Michael Pinckney and Zach McCloud flank him on both sides. Quarterman and Pinckney were named Freshman All-Americans last season. 

“They can fly around,” Marshall said. 

Georgia Tech found that out last season when Quarteman returned a Justin Thomas fumble for a touchdown, one of three fumbles the Hurricanes forced against the Yellow Jackets a season ago. 

To make sure that doesn’t happen this season and to counteract the fumbling troubles that have been rampant throughout the beginning of the year, Marshall said the Yellow Jackets have been putting an emphasis on ball security drills in practice the last two weeks. 

Miami will arguably present the toughest defense Georgia Tech has faced this season. Up until this point, the triple option has only been slowed by one team. And funny enough it was by FCS Jacksonville State, who kept Tech to a season-low 210 rushing yards and 322 total yards. Taking away that matchup, the Yellow Jackets have averaged 458 rushing yards and 531.7 total yards in their three other games. 

Miami’s rushing defense gives up an average of 148 yards per game, which is 11th in the ACC. While Georgia Tech will likely surpass that average, Miami’s defense would be remised to give up over 400 yards rushing to the Yellow Jackets.

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