Free Article: Keys to the Game, Matchups, and Game Projection: Georgia Tech

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After a heartbreaking loss to the #2 Boston College Eagles last Thursday,
Virginia Tech will try to rebound in a visit to Atlanta to play the Georgia Tech
Yellow Jackets. The Hokies have been an excellent road team in ACC games with a
13-1 record, plus Virginia Tech will be looking for revenge from last year’s
38-27 upset in Blacksburg. Georgia Tech must win to hang on to a slim chance for
defending their Coastal Division championship. So, will the Hokies stay focused
and not let Matt Ryan beat them twice on Thursday night, or will the Ramblin’
Wreck continue last year’s trend and knock off Virginia Tech?

The two Techs have played in the most ESPN Thursday night games, and the two
teams meet in a game that is eerily similar to the 2004 game in which the Hokies
rallied in the fourth quarter to pull out the win and go on to win VT’s first
ACC championship. Much like three years ago, turnovers and field position will
be critical in this game, but the deciding factor may be which team can make
plays in the passing game. Bryan Randall hit freshman Eddie Royal on a huge pass
play in the fourth quarter, and then sealed the deal with a big play to freshman
Josh Morgan. Royal and Morgan are now seniors, and Tech will need more big plays
from them to defeat the Yellow Jackets.

The Georgia Tech offense has lost all-world wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who
will not be missed by any Hokie fan, but still is a dangerous unit with some
talented young players. Without Johnson, the Yellow Jackets rely more on ball
control behind a strong running attack and efficient short passing game. Even
though Georgia Tech’s two top running backs, Tashard Choice and Rashaun Grant,
are out for this game, the Yellow Jackets still have talent at tailback and a
veteran offensive line with three multi-year starters, so the Hokies’ defense
will be challenged.

Defensively, Georgia Tech is noted for its attacking scheme. Defensive
coordinator Jon Tenuta is well known for his zone blitzing schemes and his
ability to disguise the defense. Tenuta will bring blitzers from all angles,
which should be a challenge for either of Virginia Tech’s two quarterbacks,
Tyrod Taylor or Sean Glennon. The Hokies’ offensive line is improving with each
game, and this unit will need to play its best game against one of the toughest
defensive schemes in college football.

So, what are the keys to this game?

Keys to the Game

When Virginia Tech has the Ball:

1. Handle the Blitz

The
primary key for any offense facing Jon Tenuta’s defense is to pick up the blitz.
Georgia Tech will blitz more than 80% of the time, so VT’s protection schemes
must be adjusted properly to protect the Hokie quarterback. The Yellow Jackets
will blitz every player on defense at some point, and Tenuta would bring the
water boy if he could get away with it. With an extra week to prepare for the
Hokies, I would be certain that Tenuta will have some interesting blitz packages
devised for Virginia Tech.

Recognizing the blitzes is critical for the blockers, and the quarterback
needs to call the proper protection scheme at the line. From the perspective of
experience and recognizing the defense, Sean Glennon would appear to be the
Hokies’ best option at quarterback; however, Tyrod Taylor’s elusiveness could be
very beneficial in avoiding the rush and giving VT more options in rolling out
the quarterback. Either quarterback will have a challenge against the Georgia
Tech defense, but I suspect that we will see Tyrod Taylor quite a bit in this
game.

The player to watch on the Yellow Jackets’ defense is middle linebacker
Philip Wheeler (#41, 6-2 230, r-Sr.) who may be the best blitzer in the country.
Last year Wheeler recorded nine sacks, and he is on pace to record a similar
number this year. Wheeler will come from all angles, and Georgia Tech often uses
him on stunts with linemen. In last year’s game, Wheeler recorded the big hit on
Glennon that forced a fumble and changed the momentum of the game just as VT was
rallying. The Hokies need to keep an eye on Wheeler at all times.

2. Convert on Third Down

As Will aptly pointed out in his Boston College game review, Virginia Tech
was unable to sustain drives by converting on third down, which probably cost
the Hokies the game. VT needs to move the chains and control field position,
especially since Georgia Tech’s offense will not move the ball easily on the
Hokie defense. So, how do you move the ball consistently against a gambling
defense?

Running the ball will be difficult against a defense that attacks the line of
scrimmage as often as Georgia Tech. The key for consistently moving the ball
will likely come from the short passing game. The Hokies need to use short drops
and hit quick passes. VT’s tight ends could be critical in this game and could
be a big weapon on third down. The Hokie wide receivers need to run precise
routes, which has not been a strength of this group.

Another weapon, if Tyrod Taylor is at quarterback, is the sprint out with a
pass-run option. If Taylor can get outside of the rush, then some big plays
could open up. Georgia Tech generally does a good job in keeping plays inside,
but if Taylor can elude the rush and put pressure on the corner, then big
yardage could be available either passing or running.

Obviously, another key in converting on third down is to limit the
third-and-long situations. The Hokies need to avoid negative yardage plays,
particularly on first down. In coaching terminology, VT needs to stay ahead of
the chains. Potentially, Virginia Tech could have some success running directly
up the middle with the power running game. Georgia Tech likes to play a
defensive tackle, Darryl Richard (#95, 6-3.5 285, r-Jr.), directly on the center
which could be a challenge for Beau Warren. BC used a similar strategy with huge
Ron Brace, and the Hokies countered by blocking down on the nose with a guard,
usually Sergio Render. If VT can move the tackle out of that gap, then holes may
open up since Philip Wheeler often vacates the middle, provided the linemen or
fullback can pick up the stunting players.

3. Limit Turnovers

I would bet if I were to poll Hokie fans on the biggest key of this game,
over 80% would say turnovers… and they would be right. Last year the Hokies
gave up some big passing plays early in the game, mostly due to the talent of
Calvin Johnson, but ultimately what cost Virginia Tech the game were some costly
turnovers. Turnovers have been a key factor in every Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech
game over the last four years.

First and foremost, the quarterback must protect the ball. The quarterback
will be hit against Georgia Tech; what he cannot afford to do is fumble. The
quarterback for Virginia Tech must play an intelligent game for the Hokies to
win. He needs to read the coverages and picks up the zone blitzes. Opportunities
will be open against Georgia Tech, but Tenuta is great at disguising his blitzes
and coverages. The Hokies need to play conservatively, but set up opportunities
in the passing game and take advantage of those opportunities when presented.

When Georgia Tech has the Ball:

1. Stop the Run

Just
looking at the statistics would tell any fan that stopping the run is critical
for containing the Georgia Tech offense. The Yellow Jackets had the leading
rusher in the ACC in Tashard Choice, and his back-up, Rashaun Grant, is a
quality back. However, VT fans should not be overly excited since the next two
backs, Jonathan Dwyer (#21, 6-0 197, Fr.) and Jamaal Evans (#20, 5-8 196, So.),
are also very talented. Both have outstanding speed (probably faster than Choice
and Grant) and look to be tough runners. However, both are inexperienced and
look to be better running outside than inside right now, generally not an
available option against Bud Foster’s defense.

The key to Georgia Tech’s running game is their offensive line. While
individually not that talented a group, this offensive line works well as a
unit, and they have a great deal of experience playing together. Left tackle
Andrew Gardner (#64, 6-6 298, r-Jr.) is probably the only NFL prospect, but
right guard Matt Rhodes (#61, 6-3.5 280, r-Sr.) and center Kevin Tuminello (#60,
6-3.5 292, r-Sr.) have extensive experience and are very tough, technically
sound linemen. The left guards, Dan Voss (#77, 6-4 305, r-So.) and Trey Dunmon
(#74, 6-4 305, r-So.), and right tackles, A.J. Smith (#53, 6-6.5 300, r-Jr.) and
Cord Howard (#71, 6-5 300, r-So.) are relatively inexperienced and have
struggled against quicker players.

The blocking scheme that appears to be the most effective for Georgia Tech is
the trap play, particularly with Rhodes pulling and fullback Mike Cox (#40, 6-0
250, Sr.) leading into the hole. Cox may be the best all-around fullback in the
country and he is a major reason that the Yellow Jackets have been successful
running the ball. The Hokie linebackers, and Brett Warren in particular, must
key on Cox since most of the running plays follow "Bull," as he is
known on the GT squad. Watch for some big collisions between Mike Cox and Brett
Warren in this game.

Georgia Tech likes to use the power trap plays to set up other running plays,
mostly reverses with either a wide receiver or running back lined up wide. Also,
the Yellow Jackets like to set up play-action passes off the runs, so the
Hokies’ secondary and backside protection need to stay disciplined in their
assignments.

2. Provide Pressure from the Outside

The major problem that Georgia Tech will face with inexperienced players at
running back will be the ability to recognize and pick up the blitz. Look for
the Hokies to bring a lot of pressure off the edge, with Cam Martin and Xavier
Adibi blitzing. In addition, Chris Ellis and Orion Martin should be tough for
Georgia Tech’s right tackles to handle. The Yellow Jacket offensive line leads
the ACC in allowing the fewest sacks, but the Hokies should be able to apply
pressure on Taylor Bennett (#13, 6-3 205, r-Jr.) from the outside.

The ultimate goal for Bud Foster is to shut down the running game for Georgia
Tech and make the Yellow Jackets one-dimensional. GT is last in the ACC in
passing, and their ability to protect Bennett will be limited if the Hokies know
they are going to pass. Georgia Tech has solid receivers, but lack the big-play
threat that Calvin Johnson presented last year. James Johnson (#89, 5-11.5 190,
r-Jr.) was a solid complimentary receiver to Calvin Johnson, but he has had
limited success this year. Greg Smith (#5, 6-3 195, r-So.) has good size and
looks to be a solid possession receiver. Demaryius Thomas (#8, 6-3 220, r-Fr.)
has excellent size and looks to be the best big-play threat for Georgia Tech.

In previous years Georgia Tech’s tight ends were primarily blockers, but
Colin Peek (#84, 6-6 250, r-So.) has been one of the Yellow Jackets’ most
successful receivers this year. He has very good speed for his size, and has the
ability to get deep. Peek reminds me a lot of Sam Wheeler and Georgia Tech uses
him similarly.

3. Create Turnovers

Just like a key for the Hokie offense was to limit turnovers, a key for the
VT defense is to create turnovers. With young running backs for Georgia Tech,
the Hokies should attack the ball since most young players do not protect the
ball as well. Also, Taylor Bennett has shown a tendency to throw interceptions,
particularly when pressured. Bud Foster will devise some coverage schemes that
could confuse the inexperienced quarterback, and the Hokies need to get some
picks in this game.

Turnovers have been critical in Georgia Tech’s losses this year. A muffed
punt in the fourth quarter against UVA proved to be a key play in setting up the
Wahoos’ rally. The Hokies need to play very aggressively in this game. I am sure
after the BC loss that Bud Foster will have his crew fired up and ready to play
a huge game.

Match-Ups to Watch

1. Ed Wang (#77) vs. Darrell Robertson (#90)

Ed Wang will face another big challenge in pass rushing specialist Darrell
Robertson (6-4.5 245, Sr.). Robertson is a rangy, athletic defensive end with
very good speed rushing ability. Georgia Tech also plays Michael Johnson (#93,
6-5.5 250, Jr.) a great deal, and he is another effective pass rusher off the
edge. Johnson appears to be more physical than Robertson, but not as quick. Wang
has the mobility to handle Robertson and Johnson, but he will have his hands
full.

The other defensive end, Adamm Oliver (#42, 6-4 265, r-Sr.) was second-team
All-ACC last year. He will be matched up with Duane Brown for most of the night,
and this should be another battle to watch. Oliver is not as talented as
Robertson, but he has a very high motor and plays aggressively. Brown cannot
afford to let up against Oliver, who is always hustling.

2.
Chris Ellis (#49) vs. Andrew Gardner (#64)

Chris Ellis played a tremendous game against Boston College, and he will face
another big challenge in third-team All-ACC tackle Andrew Gardner. Gardner is
the most athletic of the Georgia Tech linemen, showing good footwork and use of
his hands. He is not physically overpowering, but relies mostly on his mobility
and positioning. Gardner reminds me a lot of former VT tackle Dave Kadela. Ellis
could improve his NFL stock even more with another big game against Gardner. A
recent NFL draft report that I received has Ellis as one of the fastest rising
players in the country. He is now projected as a first-day draft pick.

3. Eddie Royal (#4) vs. Avery Roberson (#30)

Another player whose NFL stock is rising is Eddie Royal, helped greatly by
his ability as a punt returner. Royal has become a factor in the passing game
over the last couple of weeks as well, and he could play a key role in the
Georgia Tech game. Georgia Tech’s cornerbacks are solid technically, but both
Avery Roberson (6-1 200, r-Sr.) and Jahi Word-Daniels (#32, 6-0 185, Jr.), lack
recovery speed. If the Hokies can get Royal isolated on one of the corners in
man-to-man coverage, then Eddie should be able to make some plays deep. VT
picked on Word-Daniels a great deal last year, but Roberson is more suited to
safety, and he could be the focus of the Hokies’ passing game this week.

Prediction

I expect the Hokies to come out fired up after last week’s disappointing loss
to BC. Tech clearly outplayed the Eagles for 3 ½ quarters, and I would expect
that the Hokie players are looking to redeem themselves against Georgia Tech. In
addition, the VT players certainly have not forgotten last year’s game against
the Ramblin’ Wreck, particularly the defensive squad. Look for Bud Foster to
have his group really fired up.

Having the top two running backs out along with a banged-up offensive line
certainly does not bode well for a Georgia Tech offense that relies on running
the ball. Moving the ball on the ground would have been tough against the Hokies
if fully healthy, and now that goal will be even tougher to achieve. The Yellow
Jackets will need to throw the ball effectively to have a shot at putting points
on the board against the Hokies, but that may lead to some opportunities for
VT’s secondary to get some interceptions. Look for Brandon Flowers and Macho
Harris to have big games, and the Hokie defense to shut down the Georgia Tech
offense.

Offensively, Tech will probably struggle again this week against an even
better defense in Georgia Tech. The Hokies simply need to move the ball enough
so that the defense does not have to stay on the field as much, clearly a factor
in late in the BC game. The short passing game needs to be effective, and I
would expect that we will see quite a bit of Tyrod Taylor since his mobility
could be a weapon against the Yellow Jackets’ gambling defense. However, the
major goal of the Virginia Tech offense this week is to protect the ball.
Turnovers would be the biggest problem that the Hokies could face against
Georgia Tech.

Along with turnovers, the major key in this game will be field position.
Georgia Tech boasts the best punter in the ACC in Durant Brooks (#39) and the
leading field goal kicker in Travis Bell (#87). Georgia Tech may be one of the
few teams in the country that has a better kicking game than the Hokies.
Virginia Tech needs to at least break even in the kicking game with the Yellow
Jackets, and the punters in particular could have a big effect on the outcome of
this game.

The Hokies really need this game right now and the Yellow Jackets only have a
slim chance at the division title, so the incentive appears to favor VT. The
Hokies are looking for revenge for last year’s debacle, and I would expect that
we will see a tremendous effort from the defense which still feels the heat for
giving up 38 points last year. I believe we will have another hard-hitting,
physical football game between these two teams, but when the dust settles the
Hokies will be victorious.

Virginia Tech 16, Georgia Tech 13

Everyone be safe if you are traveling to the game! LET’S GO HOKIES!!


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