Tech's option vs. Iowa's defense in Orange Bowl

By: Chuck Harter | Monday, January 4, 2010

This year’s FedEx Orange Bowl is the least glamorous of the BCS Bowl games, but it’s certainly the most intriguing – and difficult – matchup to handicap from a betting perspective.

Tuesday night’s Orange Bowl (5;00 p.m. PT, FOX) at Land Shark Stadium in Miami between No. 9 Georgia Tech (11-2, 8-4 ATS) and No. 10 Iowa (10-2, 7-4 ATS) is a game that’s all about a contrast in styles.

The Yellow Jackets have one of the most impressive running attacks in the country behind their triple option offense, while the Hawkeyes feature arguably the best front seven on the defensive side of the football outside of the likes of Alabama and Florida. If there’s a team that can match up with Georgia Tech’s unorthodox approach on short notice, it is Iowa.

Oddsmakers opened the Jackets as 2 ½-point favorites for the showdown, while the total was listed at 51. With about 63% of the wagers on the spread having come in on Georgia Tech through early Thursday morning, books have offered a little more room to underdog bettors looking to pad their bankroll.

The Jackets are now available in the range of minus 3 ½ to minus four, while the total has fallen to 50 ½ points at most outlets.

My impression is Iowa is the sharp play against the spread on Tuesday night, even if it’s the second banana in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes come into the Orange Bowl sporting essentially the same record as the ACC champions, but how they got here is what separates them from Georgia Tech.

The Hawkeyes were only 1-2 SU (1-2 ATS) to end the regular season, but starting quarterback Richard Stanzi left the first game (a 17-10 loss to Northwestern as 14-point favorites) of that stretch with a severely sprained ankle.

Stanzi is expected to start under center for Iowa after having surgery to repair his high ankle sprain. He hasn’t exactly put up the best numbers this season (15 touchdowns, 14 interceptions), but Stanzi makes big plays at the right time.

With backup James Vandenberg calling plays, the Hawkeyes lost 27-24 at Ohio State as 16 ½-point underdogs, and put up only 225 yards offense in their 12-0 shutout of Minnesota in their Big Ten finale as 12 ½-point favorites. With Stanzi running the show, Iowa is 10-0 and a bankable 6-3 ATS.

The Hawkeyes have a better resume to their credit than the Jackets, with the aforementioned tight loss at the Horseshoe and wins at Penn State and Wisconsin and at home to Arizona under their belt.

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For their part, the Jackets’ signature wins came against Clemson (twice) and at home to Virginia Tech. One of the victories against the Tigers was at home, while the other came in their 39-34 win as one-point chalk in the ACC championship game in Tampa Bay. Georgia Tech also lost to Georgia in the penultimate week of the regular season, and fell at Miami earlier in the year.

Iowa hasn’t seen anything like Georgia Tech’s offensive formation, but it has the horses – and the time – to effectively deal with the triple option. Adrian Clayborn is one the best defensive linemen in the nation, while linebacker Pat Angerer was a finalist for the Bronco Nagurski Trophy. Bolstering Angerer behind the line of scrimmage is fellow senior linebacker A.J. Edds, giving the Hawkeyes the right pieces to deal with Jackets quarterback Josh Nesbitt and running back Jonathan Dwyer.

Iowa will also get a boost with the return of running back Adam Robinson (high ankle sprain), who put up 775 yards rushing this season. He’ll allow the Hawkeyes to spell off an underrated passing game that includes wideouts Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos.

The Hawkeyes get a lot of press for their 10th-ranked scoring defense (15.5 points per game), but they sport an offense good enough to cover against the Jackets on Tuesday night.

Iowa certainly has some trends working in its favor rolling into the Orange Bowl. The Hawkeyes are 10-3 ATS in their last 13 games against teams with winning records, and are 6-1 against the number in their last seven contests following an ATS defeat.

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