Man I love this time of year. My Hokies have always eliminated themselves from national title consideration by now, so the pressure is off. Now we just go out and TCB against our ACC foes and make our way on down to Charlotte (that's right, no more will we be forced to adhere to the influence over the conference that the geography-challenged Florida State Seminoles displayed in the past). Especially those who who beat us last year. Georgia Tech is one of those teams, and the Hokies are out for retribution.
Tech started out 0-2 (after losing to FCS foe James Madison) and got an appropriate backlash from the fan base. That seems so far in the past, as the Hokies have really hit their stride, scoring over 40 points in their last 4 games and 5 out of their last 6 en route to a 6-game winning streak. Offensively and defensively it's like we're watching a completely different Tech squad than the one we saw choke against JMU...because we are.
Looking in on Georgia Tech you'll see one of the hardest teams to get a read on in all of college football. The Yellow Jackets are 5-3, but until Week 6, had yet to put together consecutive wins. The Jackets may be 5-3, but their 5 wins are against FCS South Carolina State, a depleted UNC team, an underwhelming Wake team that just got THROTTLED by Maryland, UVA, and Middle Tennessee State. They have been beaten by a very bad Kansas team that lost to FCS North Dakota State and only mustered 3 points, AND has been outscored by 147 points in its last four games. The Yellow Jackets were also soundly beaten by ACC foes NC State and Clemson.
With that being said, let's look into some of the keys of the game. We'll start with the Hokies.
For Virginia Tech to win this ball game they must do three things...
1. STOP THE TRIPLE-OPTION- This is the most obvious of the three concerns. Last year in preparation for the Triple-Option attack, the Tech coaching staff put true freshman (and now the Hokies' up-and-coming DB) Antone Exum at scout team QB to imitate Josh Nesbitt. The staff also had the great idea to simulate the speed of their option attack by starting the play out with the ball in Exum's hands. Although the preparation methods were novel, the Hokies were pounded by the Jackets' run game, which put up over 300 rushing yards against them.
You have to make the Jackets beat you through the air. Even in last season's GT win, the Jackets only completed one pass (for 41 yards) on 7 attempts to deep threat WR Demaryius Thomas. He's gone, and so is the semblance of any passing game. Without a legitimate receiving option, senior QB Josh Nesbitt has seemingly regressed as a passer. The only discouraging thing as far as the Hokies' D is concerned is that last year's defense was ten times the defense that this one is. So I do have my reservations about the Hokies' ability to stop the Jackets ground game.
2. DON'T FALL BEHIND EARLY- I saw a stat the other day in a Roanoke Times article that said since Paul Johnson came to GT, when he leads through 3 quarters he is an undefeated 20-0. When losing through 3 quarters he's 3-10, including 1-3 this season. So the onus is on the Hokies to get out to an early lead. The way that the Jackets plays makes it hard for teams to climb back into games because they keep so much time of possession. But it is equally hard for Georgia Tech to climb back into games as it has to run the ball which eats up more clock.
3. DON'T TURN THE BALL OVER- This is always key, but it is compounding when you play GT. If you lose the ball it can be a long time before you get another chance. A turnover down late in the game usually spells the end for GT opponents.
For the Yellow Jackets to win they must do these three things...
1. STOP VIRGINIA TECH's OFFENSE- This should be the top priority for the Yellow Jackets since they are unlikely to win shootouts with other teams. Nobody save JMU has truly stopped the Hokies' O, and frankly that was more about the lack of rest (4 days) after Boise State and the Hokies' poor play. They will be challenged to stop Tyrod Taylor, who is looking like the favorite for ACC Player of the Year and is playing as well as any other quarterback in the nation according to Duke's Coach David Cutcliffe who saw him last. Additionally the Hokies bring back Ryan Williams this week, who has been injured and missed the last 5 games before returning for a few measly carries against Duke.
2. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF VT's YOUNG DEFENSE- To really be effective, Georgia Tech will have to pick on the Virginia Tech players who have struggled this far, namely, Jeron Gouviea-Winslow. Also starting MLB Bruce Taylor has a high ankle sprain that will limit his effectiveness and minutes. Taylor has been one of the best players all season long for Tech on defense, and his backup is an inexperienced walk-on Jack Tyler who has only seen spot duty on special teams and on D in recent blowouts. If the Jackets can break some tackles (which they should since no team has missed out on that opportunity against the Hokies all year) they can make this interesting.
3. DON'T TURN THE BALL OVER- Again, this is pretty common stuff, BUT especially with GT's grind it out ground game, they can't afford to put the ball on the ground. Not only will it break up GT's necessary long drives, but it will also give the Hokies the chance to capitalize off of turnovers, something Frank Beamers' Virginia Tech teams have been doing well for over 20 years now.
In all honesty, it's hard for me to see the Hokies lose this game, especially at home with a Lane Stadium Thursday night crowd backing them. I know this was a few years ago, but Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit were asked by Athlon what was the loudest stadium they had broadcasted in, and they both answered it was either a tie between LSU and Virginia Tech, or Virginia Tech was a close second. But they conceded that on Thursday Night games at Lane Stadium, there is no place LOUDER. They're right. They went on to describe the fans on those nights as "rabid."
The Hokies' offense will not be stopped in this one as they will rip through GT's less talented defense and Al Groh's 3-4 scheme just like they did when he was at UVA. Georgia Tech will keep it close early because of their pace and Tech's inexperience on D, but if Virginia Tech can keep them under 250 yards rushing it's a wrap.
PREDICTION: VT 38- 21 GT