2007 Football Game Preview: Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech

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Thursday, November 1st, 2007, 7:30

TV: ESPN

Forecast (from WeatherUnderground.com):

Click the “Atlanta Weather” link to the right.
Game time forecast, as of 3:00 pm Wednesday: Partly cloudy, 57 degrees, no chance
of rain.


Click here for TechSideline.com’s VT/GT roster card


#11 Virginia Tech (6-2, 3-1 ACC) @ Georgia Tech (5-3, 2-3)


by Chris Coleman, TechSideline.com

Virginia Tech will look to get back on track this Thursday night when they
travel to Atlanta to take on the always dangerous Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
Despite the loss to Boston College, the Hokies still control their own destiny
in the ACC. Wins over Georgia Tech, Miami and Virginia would give Tech the
tiebreaker over all other Coastal Division contenders and guarantee them a spot
in the ACC Championship Game.

The Yellow Jackets are having trouble on the offensive side of the ball, just
like the Hokies. Their top two running backs will miss Thursday night’s game,
including All-ACC running back Tashard Choice. Offensive lineman Nate McManus is
also out. Points will be hard to come by for both teams.

This game is obviously critical for the Hokies. If they lose it, an ACC
Coastal Division crown will be very hard to get.

The Georgia Tech Offense

The Georgia Tech offense is very one dimensional, and one dimensional
offenses always struggle with Bud Foster’s defense. Here is a look at their
numbers this season.

The
Georgia Tech Offense
Category Stat National
Rank
ACC
Rank

Rushing

219 ypg
13 1

Passing

171.5 ypg
107 12

Total

390.5 ypg
58 3

Pass Efficiency
104 113 12

Sacks Allowed

0.75 spg
3 1

GT’s offense is normally led by Tashard Choice, the ACC’s leading rusher.
However, Choice will miss the game Thursday night with a knee injury, according
to head coach Chan Gailey. The Yellow Jackets would normally turn to backup
Rashaun Grant, but Grant is out as well with a lower leg injury.

With both of those guys out, sophomore Jamaal Evans (5-8, 196) and true
freshman Jonathan Dwyer (6-0, 197) will split carries. Evans is listed as the
starter at this point. With one more year of experience than Dwyer, he is a
better blocker and does the little things that a running back is supposed to do.
He has 21 carries for 89 yards this season.

Dwyer has the ability to be a special tailback and is GT’s definite starter
next season when Choice is gone for good. Dwyer was a Parade All-American and
one of the top 10 prospects in the state of Georgia last year. He has 48 carries
for 281 yards and seven touchdowns this season and is averaging a gaudy 5.9
yards per carry. However, the little things limit his playing time, such as pass
blocking. All true freshmen struggle with that, and Dwyer is no exception.

Blocking for Dwyer and Evans will be the best offensive line in the ACC,
although they’ll have to re-earn that title, as they recently lost one of their
top linemen to injury. Senior right guard Nate McManus has been lost for the
season with a shoulder injury. He had started 32 consecutive games for the
Yellow Jackets, but his college career is now over.

The
coaching staff moved Matt Rhodes (6-3, 280, r-Sr.) to right guard, and Dan Voss
(6-4, 305, r-So) is starting at left guard. Try Dunmon (6-3, 305, r-So.) will
split time with Voss. Needless to say, it’s a big dropoff from a senior who had
started 32 straight games to two sophomores who have barely played.

GT’s other top linemen are left tackle Andrew Gardner (6-6, 298, r-Jr.) and
center Kevin Tuminello (6-4, 292, r-Sr.). The Yellow Jackets’ offensive line
isn’t overly big, but they get off the ball well and move well, and they play
stronger than their size would indicate.

That said, I think they are going to struggle to run the ball on the Hokies.
VT has allowed an average of 46.5 yards per game on the ground over the past six
games. Four of those opponents have failed to get 40 yards on the ground against
Tech, and two of them were even held to less than 10 yards! Even if Georgia Tech
was healthy on offense, I don’t think their running game would be very
consistent.

Don’t look for the Yellow Jackets to get much out of the passing game either.
Taylor Bennett (6-3, 205, r-Jr.) is their starter, and he has not had an
impressive season. He has thrown all but seven of Georgia Tech’s passes this
season, 212 in all, and has only thrown two touchdown passes. That’s pretty
amazing, in a bad way.

Bennett is completing just 51.4% of his passes for 1,337 yards, with two
touchdowns and three interceptions. His numbers aren’t very impressive, and many
of his passes have that wobbliness to them that just screams
“interception,” although he’s only tossed three picks this year.

At receiver, James Johnson (6-0, 190, r-Jr.) was expected to be the go-to guy
this year, but that hasn’t been the case. Greg Smith (6-3, 195, r-So.) is the
leading receiver with 25 receptions for 339 yards. Demaryius Thomas (6-3, 220,
r-Fr.) is their big play guy, with 24 catches for 374 yards and two touchdowns.
He is a guy that can go up and get the football at its highest point.

The Yellow Jackets will throw the ball to their tight end a lot. Colin Peek
(6-6, 250, r-So.) has 19 catches for 190 yards on the season. They can also use
fullback Mike Cox (6-1, 250, Sr.) as a weapon. Georgia Tech’s passing game as a
whole is inconsistent. Sometimes it’s the receivers, sometimes it’s the
quarterback. Sound familiar?

The Hokies would like to get pressure on Bennett. He’s not very mobile and
doesn’t throw well on the run. The Hokies will be able to blitz more than they
did last week against Boston College, and they’ll probably have to if they want
to get consistent pressure. GT is allowing just 0.75 sacks per game, which ranks
third nationally.

The Georgia Tech Defense

Georgia Tech’s defense is coached by Jon Tenuta, and it is the most
aggressive defense in the ACC. Tenuta likes to bring blitzes from all angles and
from every position on the field. Generally this is very successful because the
Yellow Jackets have a lot of great athletes on defense, but that strategy is
also risky because it exposes the defensive backs against the pass.

The
Georgia Tech Defense
Category Stat National
Rank
ACC
Rank

Rushing
87 ypg 8 2

Passing
200.88 ypg 34 4

Total
287.88 ypg 7 1

Pass Efficiency
117.11 40 7

Sacks
3.63 T-4 1

Tackles for Loss
9.5 2 1

Georgia Tech has proven to be a very good team against both the run and the
pass. They sack the quarterback and play in the offensive backfield more than
almost any team in the country.

The Yellow Jackets are undersized up front, but they have a lot of playmakers
on the defensive line. Defensive end Darrell Robertson (6-5, 245, Sr.) leads the
team with 13.5 tackles for loss. He also has 4.5 sacks. Defensive tackle Vance
Walker (6-2, 275, Jr.) is a regular in opponents’ backfields. He has 10 tackles
for loss and leads the team with 5.5 sacks.

The other linemen are defensive end Adamm Oliver (6-4, 265, r-Sr.) and
defensive tackle Darryl Richard (6-4, 285, r-Jr.). They are both very disruptive
players, particularly Richard.

Georgia Tech has a slight depth problem on their defensive line. Michael
Johnson (6-7, 250, Jr.) is the only backup listed on the depth chart at
defensive end. Backup defensive tackle Marcus Harris (6-1, 280, r-Sr.) is a
walk-on who has played in just three games this year. However, he is listed in
the two deep.

Jon Tenuta uses a very good group of linebackers to help put pressure on the
quarterback. Philip Wheeler (6-2, 230, r-Sr.) is the most-hyped player on
Georgia Tech’s defense. Wheeler puts constant pressure on the quarterback. He
leads the team with 48 tackles, and he also has 6.5 tackles for loss and five
sacks. Wheeler crushed the Hokies on the blitz last year, so the offensive line,
running backs and quarterback have to be aware of where he is at all times.

The other linebackers for Georgia Tech are Gary Guyton (6-3, 240, Sr.) and
Shane Bowen (6-1, 225, So.). Guyton has 45 tackles and eight tackles for loss on
the season. Bowen splits time with Anthony Barnes (6-3, 235, r-Fr.). They have
combined for 7.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.

Georgia Tech’s defensive backs are sometimes left on an island behind the
blitz, but the Yellow Jackets play a lot of zone to try and minimize big plays.
Still, there will be places to throw the football, if VT’s quarterback (either
Glennon or Taylor) and wide receivers are on the same page.

GT will use three cornerbacks in this game, and they all have a lot of
experience. Avery Roberson (6-2, 200, r-Sr.) is the biggest corner, while Jahi
Word-Daniels (6-0, 185, Jr.) leads the team with six pass deflections. Former
wide receiver Pat Clark (5-11, 185, Sr.) will back up both starters and should
see plenty of action.

Georgia Tech’s corners are not lock down man-to-man defenders. They are more
comfortable in a zone defense, so when the Hokies catch them in man-to-man
coverage, they need to take advantage.

The Yellow Jackets have talented safeties in Jamal Lewis (6-0, 199, Sr.) and
Djay Jones (6-1, 200, Sr.). These players are very experienced. Lewis is
especially good. He was First Team All-ACC in 2006. Currently he is second on
the team in tackles with 47. He also has 5.5 tackles for loss and one sack.

Georgia Tech’s secondary isn’t very active when it comes to getting
turnovers. They have just five interceptions as a team this year, and one of
those was by a wide receiver. Backup true freshman safety Morgan Burnett, a
Virginia Tech recruiting target, leads the team with three interceptions. He
should be on the field quite a bit Thursday night. Jahi Word-Daniels is the only
starting defensive back with an interception this year.

Watch out for fumbles when Georgia Tech is blitzing. The Yellow Jackets have
forced 14 fumbles this year, and recovered 10 of them. Whoever is playing
quarterback for Virginia Tech must be aware of backside pressure.

Special Teams

Georgia Tech has the formula on special teams to beat the Hokies. They are
set up for success against VT on special teams more so than any other team this
season.

Durant Brooks (6-0, 202, r-Sr.) is Georgia Tech’s punter. All Brooks has done
this season is average 45.2 yards per punt, with a net of 40.83 per punt. That
net punting average is #1 in the nation. Brooks has downed 19 of his 41 punts
inside the 20 yard line.

Travis Bell (6-0, 220, r-Sr.) is a very good placekicker as well. For the
season, he is 17-of-20 on his field goal attempts, with a long of 51. He has
great range and accuracy. If this turns into a field goal battle, the
competition between Bell and Dunlevy will be interesting. Both guys are very
good kickers.

Few teams excel on kickoffs more than Georgia Tech. I’m not talking about
just kickoff returns, where the Yellow Jackets average 25.6 yards, which ranks
11th in the nation. Whenever the Yellow Jackets kickoff, opponents are averaging
just 16.6 yards per return. That’s top-notch coverage, considering that kickoffs
were pushed back to the 40 yard line.

Georgia Tech is also averaging 11.2 yards on punt returns, which ranks 33rd
nationally, and as mentioned above, it’s very difficult to get a good punt
return on the Yellow Jackets.

GT out-punts their opponents, has a field goal kicker that can matchup with
anyone, gets very good returns out of their kickoff and punt return units, and
doesn’t allow the opposition to get any field position yardage on special teams.

Overall, this is as good a special teams unit as Virginia Tech will face this
season.

Conclusion

If Virginia Tech had an average, middle of the road offense, they would be
the easy pick to win this game. Georgia Tech isn’t likely to have much luck
moving the ball against Bud Foster’s defense. Taylor Bennett is no Matt Ryan,
that’s for sure.

However, the Hokies don’t have an average offense, they have a bad one. They
have one that doesn’t match up all that well against Georgia Tech’s blitzing
style of defense, especially with a new center in the game. Unless there are a
rash of turnovers on each side, this is going to be pretty boring game,
methinks, as both sides sit back and wait for the other team to make a mistake.

Normally I would take the Hokies in a game like this without putting much
thought into it. However, whenever the Hokies lose, generally special teams is a
big factor. We saw that last Thursday night against BC. We saw it against NC
State in 2004, against Syracuse in 2001, and every time the Hokies have played
Florida State. There are other examples out there that I’m just not thinking of
off the top of my head.

So be very wary of Georgia Tech’s special teams on Thursday night. If they
outplay the Hokies, then it could be a long night.

Still, I look at this game and I’m just not sure how one team is going to
beat the other. I’m not sure either team will really deserve to win the game
when it’s over, but one of them will. I expect it will be the team whose offense
doesn’t lose it for them.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 13, Georgia Tech 10

Will Stewart’s Take: In many respects, this game looks like a dead-even
matchup. Strong defenses, strong special teams, and struggling offenses.
Underneath the numbers are some differences, though: Georgia Tech can run the
ball, but the Hokies can’t; and the Yellow Jackets, with their blitzing style,
are more susceptible to the big play.

Mounting long drives will be difficult for the Georgia Tech offense. The
running game is their strength, but it’s highly unlikely that they’ll be able to
go the length of the field just rushing the ball, so they’ll have to convert
third downs with the passing game. They won’t be able to do that with any
consistency.

Flipping to the other side of the ball, the Hokies will also have great
difficulty mounting long drives. VT doesn’t have a statistically strong running
game or passing game, and Ryan Shuman’s absence means mistakes will be
made along the OL, which will kill drives.

The key, then, will be big plays. Which team can get into the other team’s
red zone and cash in a field goal or touchdown?

Believe it or not, the Hokies are the top team in the ACC in red zone
offense, from a percentage standpoint. The Hokies have scored 18 of 19 times
(94%) in the red zone (13 TDs, 5 field goals). The problem is that VT ranks 11th
in the ACC in red zone appearances, ahead of only Duke (17 red zone trips).

If Georgia Tech can make it into the red zone, they have converted a
respectable 25 of 29 trips (86%, 16 TDs and 9 FGs), which is fifth in the ACC.

Defensively, Georgia Tech is 4th in the ACC in red zone defense (11 of 15
scores), and the Hokies are seventh (17 of 21 scores).

Those statistical differences are minute, but this is where I’m hanging my
hat: With Choice and Grant out, plus an anemic passing game, the Jackets will
have trouble getting into VT’s red zone, via the long drive or the big play. The
Hokies will struggle to move the ball, too, but with GT’s blitzing style, I like
VT’s chances to hit on a big play or two and get into GT’s red zone. Once the
Hokies are there, I think they can convert, even if it’s just field goals.

As always, big plays on defense and special teams will throw this analysis
out the window.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 13, Georgia Tech 6

(P.S. In case you’re wondering, I read Chris Coleman’s preview info, except
for his prediction. Then I write my prediction.)

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