Preview Capsule – Virginia Tech
Georgia Tech (5-3, 3-2 ACC) at Virginia Tech (6-2, 4-0)
Time: 7:30 p.m./Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Va.
Last meeting: Georgia Tech won 28-23 in 2009
Georgia Tech: Inconsistency has hampered the Yellow Jackets all season offensively. One week, they seem to have found the magic formula to operating like an unstoppable unit, and the next, they fall inept. Blocking has been issue No. 1 for the group, linemen and slot backs have struggled with getting defenders to the turf and opening up running lanes in the option game. As you’ll recall, following last season’s win over Virginia Tech, the Yellow Jackets were called out by Hokies head coach Frank Beamer who contended they committed several chop blocks. Georgia Tech denied it, but the ACC cleaned up its blocking rules language in the offseason anyway. But either way, chops or not, the Yellow Jackets’ blocking must improve if the run game is to have any success against the Hokies. In the passing game, drops have marred what could be a respectable year for quarterback Joshua Nesbitt.
Virginia Tech: While Georgia Tech ranks fifth in the ACC in scoring offense, the Hokies lead the way, averaging 37.0 per game. Anchoring their multiple threat scheme will be quarterback Tyrod Taylor. The senior has hurt teams with his right arm and legs, as he has thrown for 15 touchdowns and 200.2 yards per game. He has only had three interceptions. On the ground, he leads the team with 527 yards rushing. Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson all week has lamented the fact that the Yellow Jackets have had trouble tackling Taylor in previous seasons, and even jokingly said his team hasn’t been able to “bring him down in a phone booth.” Additionally, Virginia Tech’s offense has had 66 plays so far that have gone for 20 yards or more. By contrast, the Yellow Jackets have 41.
EDGE: Virginia Tech
Georgia Tech: Georgia Tech’s defense has been a sore spot all season. As a result, it ranks 53rd nationally. Installation of the Yellow Jackets’ new 3-4 defensive scheme has come with some growing pains, as runs up the middle and screen passes have allowed teams to dink and dunk their way toward scoring changes against them all year. Against Virginia Tech, the season’s buzzword “containment” makes a comeback, as defenders must keep Taylor inside the pocket as much as possible. An elusive ballcarrier, the quarterback is known for extending plays and finding receivers wandering deep downfield to keep plays alive. Keying him often and wrapping up on tackles will be matters of importance Thursday night.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies have far less to work on, as they have improved defensively throughout the year. After being gashed in Weeks 1 and 2 against Boise State and lower-division foe James Madison, the group has held steady during the six weeks since. But of all those performances, none have been as dominating as Virginia Tech’s shutout of Boston College, and the seven points it allowed in a 44-7 blowout win over Duke two weeks ago. Defensive end Steven Friday has been a constant force in opposing backfields, and linebacker Bruce Taylor, charged with replacing the ever-dominant Cody Grimm, leads the team in tackles (55) and tackles for loss (11.5). Taylor is, however, playing through a high ankle sprain, so watch for how well he runs laterally against the option.
EDGE: Virginia Tech
Georgia Tech: Johnson earlier this week was blunt and honest when referring to the woes that have befallen his kicking game units. His punt return team has averaged just six yards a return this season, and his punters have been up and down throughout the year. In kick returns, the Yellow Jackets haven’t broken any really long runs and continue this 12-year drought since their last kick return for a score. The only quasi bright spot has been place-kicker Scott Blair, who made nine consecutive field goals at one point this season. Blair is now 11-for-13.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies have long made special teams their claim to fame under Frank Beamer. Labeling their exciting brand of play “Beamer Ball,” they have made it an expectation for some type of kick return to go for a score, or a punt or field goal to be blocked or for some type of fake to go perfectly according to plan. With defensive back Jayron Holsey starring at punt return, the Hokies already have one special teams score this season. A playmaker, Holsey also has five interceptions.
EDGE: Virginia Tech
Georgia Tech: In certain big-game scenarios — specifically contests that come at the end of a conference postseason push, a postseason game, a rivalry game or a game following a loss — Paul Johnson’s Georgia Tech teams are 13-6. (That includes Virginia Tech as a rival). Following last season’s 28-23 win, the series began to take on a rivalry feel as Johnson had his troops anxious to answer the bell after a narrow three-point loss at Virginia Tech the year before. Johnson has long been able to get his teams playing with a workmanlike, chip-on-their-shoulder mentality, and he will need to do the same Thursday night. With its season on the line, Georgia Tech cannot place “losing” in its vocabulary.
Virginia Tech: Ranking 10th on the all-time winningest FBS coaches’ list, Frank Beamer has seen his share of success in Blacksburg. Only Penn State’s Joe Paterno has more wins among active coaches. Despite being derided by Yellow Jackets fans following his complaints after last season’s loss, Beamer has nonetheless proven he has a winner’s and competitor’s spirit. Knowing that Georgia Tech is a foe he has had trouble with and will continue to face as a division opponent, Beamer sent defensive coordinator Bud Foster this offseason to Iowa to learn better ways of stopping the Yellow Jackets’ unique spread option scheme. The Hawkeyes beat the Yellow Jackets in last year’s Orange Bowl 24-14. Like Johnson, Beamer hates to lose. At the end of what has become a budding rivalry, one will surely be heartbroken.
Offense: Georgia Tech’s offensive line/A-backs vs. Virginia Tech’s defenders. Blocking has been issue No. 1 for the Yellow Jackets the past two weeks, as coaches have tried to correct timing problems and execution concerns with linemen and A-backs. Watch for how well Georgia Tech’s line and it’s A-backs are able to bring the Hokies to the ground.Defense: Mario Butler vs. Jarrett Boykin. With all the attention that has been paid to Virginia Tech’s rushing offense, the Hokies’ receivers could fly under the radar. Boykin, a tall junior receiver leads the team with 31 receptions and five touchdowns. Butler, Georgia Tech’s most experienced true cornerback, likely will be matched up with him.