Dec. 31, 2012
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Sun Bowl may not pop off the top of your head the way the Orange, Sugar or Rose Bowls do when the topic of sizzle comes up, yet Georgia Tech’s Yellow Jackets are pleased to be back in El Paso for today’s contest against USC for several reasons.
In no certain order…
The folks there in the furthest western reach of Texas go well beyond friendly, as Omoregie Uzzi’s tweet suggested the other day, and El Paso and its surroundings are unique in enough ways to make the trip intriguing beyond a return to, say, Charlotte.
It may not be as easy to get to El Paso as it is to get to Charlotte, or Memphis, or the Georgia Dome, but getting to any bowl at all for Tech has become a big deal. This marks the 16th straight year that the Yellow Jackets have had a postseason. The way the 2012 season started . . . it sure didn’t look good.
“Our season was kind of a roller coaster… we got off to a really rough start at 2-4,” head coach Paul Johnson said. “We lost two big conference games in overtime. One, we blew a 17-point fourth quarter lead (Miami). The other we lost in the last 40 seconds after we took the lead (Virginia Tech).
“I think it had a tremendous effect on our team, especially early on, but to the credit of our seniors and the assistant coaches and the guys on the staff, we kind of got the thing turned a little bit. . . . I think we’re just excited to have a chance to play especially after the way the season started . . . the seniors didn’t want to be the ones that broke that string… and I think that was a big part of the push to have an opportunity to play.”
Plus, playing the Trojans is a nice consolation prize if those two words have to be used together. Tech and USC have played each other three times. The Jackets won in Los Angeles in 1961, and the Trojans won in 1969 in Los Angeles and in 1973 in Atlanta.
“[When] we found out we had a chance to come back to El Paso and the Sun Bowl and play a quality opponent like Southern Cal it just made it more exciting for our guys,” Johnson said. “They have a chance to play a team that was preseason ranked No. 1 in the country.”
USC may be coming from a different place, and that is not a reference to the Trojans traveling east to arrive in El Paso.
While the Jackets were scuffling through the first month and a half of the season, USC was off to a 6-1 start. The Trojans’ only loss in that span was at Stanford. Then, the season went jiggy.
“We started the season 6-1 and we were at Arizona on the road up by 15, halfway through the third quarter and had the ball,” said USC coach Lane Kiffin. “… unfortunately from that point forward, we ended up losing that game and had a bad month.
“In a five-week span we went 1-4… and it was obviously a very depressing way to finish the season, especially our last two losses.”
The Trojans lost to UCLA, which hasn’t happened much in recent years, and then gave No. 1 Notre Dame all kinds of what-for despite playing without quarterback Matt Barkley. He won’t play today, either, because of injury and instead redshirt freshman Max Wittek – a big lad with a big arm – will run the offense.
This is a tough deal for USC. Those folks have seen nothing remotely like Tech’s Wing T offense, and only a few approximations of the triple option that the Jackets run within it. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, Lane’s paternal influence, has already resigned. This will be his last game with the men of Troy.
“I don’t know that there’s another (offense) around like it,” Lane said. “It’s extremely difficult to defend. It seems like no matter what people try to take away they have the answers (adjustments).
“It reminds you of when Nebraska was making their great runs and it always seemed like coach [Tom] Osborne, like coach Johnson, they had the answer to go to as soon as you took something away.”
Tech quarterback Tevin Washington, with one rushing touchdown today, can break school season records for rushing touchdowns, most touchdowns overall and most points scored in a season.
The USC coach didn’t sound like he had much faith in that happening. Then again, Tech hasn’t tried to defend a wide receiver like the Trojans’ Marqise Lee, either.
“It’s very different, obviously, different styles,” Kiffin said. “Nothing that we played simulates this so we’re fortunate that we have a bowl game to play. I don’t know how people do it in one week to prepare for them. Fortunately we have extra time.”