2008 Football Game Preview: Virginia Tech vs. Georgia Tech

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Saturday, September 13th, 2008, 3:30

TV: ABC (coverage map)/ESPN

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Game Preview: Virginia Tech (1-1, 0-0 ACC) vs. Georgia Tech (2-0, 1-0)


by Chris Coleman, TechSideline.com

This Saturday’s game with Georgia Tech is huge. If the Hokies get the win,
they’ll be in a good position to win the Coastal Division again. If they lose,
with the road schedule that they’ll see later in the year, they could very well
be out of the race. In short, this is as close to a must-win game as a September
game can be.

Georgia Tech is now coached by Paul Johnson, who had a tremendous amount of
success in the past at both Navy and Georgia Southern. The Jackets are off to a
2-0 start, with an easy win over Jacksonville State, and a 19-16 nail biter over
Boston College last Saturday.

The Georgia Tech Offense

Georgia Tech runs an option-based offense that Paul Johnson brought with him
from Navy. It is a very difficult offense to defend, when run with precision.
It’s also difficult to prepare for. All year Bud Foster prepares his players to
attack the football, but this week, and this week only, he must teach assignment
football. That’s a tough transition to make.

However, the Georgia Tech offense is having trouble. They only put up 235
yards of total offense in the win over Boston College. Their players are still
adjusting to the new offense, and they haven’t been able to consistently drive
the field. Instead, they have gotten quite a bit of their yardage through big
plays. Big plays are defined as being 20 yards or more.


Georgia Tech Big Plays (20+ Yards)

No.

Opponent

Player

Pass/Run

Yards

1

Jacksonville State

Jonathan Dwyer

Run

21

2

Jacksonville State

Lucas Cox

Pass

29

3

Jacksonville State

Jonathan Dwyer

Run

37

4

Jacksonville State

Roddy Jones

Run

39

5

Jacksonville State

Lucas Cox

Run

22

6

Jacksonville State

Josh Nesbitt

Run

34

7

Jacksonville State

Jonathan Dwyer

Run

29

8

Jacksonville State

Roddy Jones

Run

49

9

Jacksonville State

Jaybo Shaw

Run

43

10

Jacksonville State

Greg Smith

Pass

30

11

Boston College

Josh Nesbitt

Run

26

12

Boston College

Jonathan Dwyer

Run

21

13

Boston College

Jonathan Dwyer

Run

43

14

Boston College

Josh Nesbitt

Run

30

The Yellow Jackets have 719 yards of total offense on the year, and they’ve run
114 plays. 14 of the plays have gone for 453 yards, the sum of the plays listed
above. The other 100 plays have gone for just 266 yards. In the Boston College
game, 120 of the Jackets’ 235 yards came on just four plays.

The Hokies have to be disciplined, and stay on their feet. All it takes is
one quick Georgia Tech chop block, and Josh Nesbitt or Jonathan Dwyer will have
a running lane.

One of the reasons the Georgia Tech offense has failed to move the ball
consistently is their offensive line. Three of the five starters are playing a
new position this year, and a fourth is a r-freshman.


Georgia Tech Offensive Line

Player

Ht

Wt

Year

2007
Position

2008
Position

Andrew Gardner

6-6

305

r-Sr.

LT

LT

Cord Howard

6-5

310

r-Jr.

RT

LG

Dan Voss

6-4

294

r-Jr.

LG

C

Joseph Gilbert

6-4

288

r-Fr.

Redshirt

RG

David Brown

6-3

271

r-Sr.

OG/TE

RT

When 80% of your offensive line is either getting used to a new position or is
playing for the first time, then the unit as a whole is going to struggle. David
Brown hasn’t even been a full-time offensive lineman. However, left tackle
Andrew Gardner is an outstanding player, probably the best offensive lineman in
the ACC. Talented and durable, he has started every game of his career.

Georgia Tech has the perfect fit for their offense at both quarterback and
tailback. The quarterback is Josh Nesbitt (6-1, 214, So.). Nesbitt has a strong
arm. He’s a good thrower, but he’s not a particularly good passer at this point.
For the season, he is just 11-of-25 for 160 yards, with no touchdowns or
interceptions.

Obviously the Yellow Jackets don’t pass the ball a lot. They do like to throw
on early downs. If they are caught in a long yardage situation on third down,
they are more likely to just run the ball and punt. As Nesbitt gets older and
gains experience, they’ll throw more in long yardage situations, but for now
they are staying very conservative.

One thing Nesbitt does well is run the ball. He has 26 carries for 110 yards
and three touchdowns on the season. If Nesbitt happens to go down with an
injury, Jaybo Shaw (6-0, 190, Fr.) will enter the game. He is a true freshman,
but also a good fit for Paul Johnson’s offense.

Georgia
Tech’s B-Back (better known as the fullback) is Jonathan Dwyer (6-0, 228, So.).
Dwyer is an excellent runner who ran for 68 yards on just 10 carries against the
Hokies last year. He has a great mix of speed, power and balance. He is a
terrific fit at B-Back in Paul Johnson’s offense. Through two games this year,
he is averaging 110 yards per game, and a case could be made that he is the best
back in the ACC.

Like the rest of the Georgia Tech offense, teams have been able to shut down
Dwyer, except for a few big plays. He has five runs of 20+ yards, and those runs
have combined for 151 yards. His other 24 carries have netted just 69 yards.

Georgia Tech also uses two A-Backs. A-Backs are basically wingbacks, who can
go in motion into the backfield, take reverse handoffs, or run the option. Lucas
Cox (6-0, 238, r-So.) and Roddy Jones (5-9, 194, r-Fr.) are the A-Backs for
Georgia Tech. They have combined to carry the ball eight times this year, and
they’ve also caught three passes. Jones seems to be the primary ball carrier of
all the A-Backs. He has six carries for 68 yards and a touchdown.

The Yellow Jackets have a talented wide receiver in Demaryius Thomas (6-3,
229, r-So.), as well as Tyler Melton (6-0, 199, Fr.). They have combined for
eight catches so far, and it’s obvious that the wideouts don’t play a huge roll
in the passing game right now. Paul Johnson is likely starting his best
perimeter blockers at wide receiver.

Overall, Georgia Tech’s offense is as young and inexperienced as the Hokies’
offense. Georgia Tech starts two r-freshmen (Roddy Jones, Joseph Gilbert) and
one true freshman (Tyler Melton). The Hokies also start two r-freshmen (Blake
DeChristopher, Danny Coale) and one true freshman (Dyrell Roberts). This doesn’t
look to be a particularly entertaining game, from an offensive standpoint. Both
teams will struggle to move the football.

The Georgia Tech Defense

This will be the most talented starting defensive line the Hokies will see
this season, particularly at defensive tackle. If Virginia Tech can manage to
block this group, then they can block anybody.

The Yellow Jackets have two top-notch defensive tackles in Vance Walker (6-2,
293, Sr.) and Darryl Richard (6-4, 290, r-Sr.). Walker was a First Team All-ACC
selection and a Third Team All-American last year, when he recorded 14 tackles
for loss and 8.5 sacks. He is very difficult to block, and Tech’s interior
linemen will have to be on top of their game.

Richard is no slouch either. He had 11.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks a
year ago. Through two games this year, Walker and Richard have combined for
seven tackles for loss and two sacks. They rank #1 and #2 at Georgia Tech in
tackles for loss, showing they get excellent penetration.

Defensive end Derrick Morgan (6-4, 270, So.) is also have a very productive
season as a first year starter. He is leading the team with 2.5 sacks.

The
other starting defensive end, Michael Johnson (6-7, 260, Sr.) is projected as a
Top 10 selection in next year’s NFL Draft. Johnson is a freakish athlete, though
he’s never really done anything special on the field. This is his first season
as a starter, and he only has 10 career sacks. So far this year, he has just
three tackles and one tackle for loss.

However, his insane athletic ability when matched up with Virginia Tech’s
offensive line has to leave you worried. 30% of this career sacks have come
against Virginia Tech. Last season he had two sacks, a forced fumble and a
blocked kick against Tech. Despite his lack of production against other teams,
he is the perfect candidate to dominate the Hokies.

Georgia Tech has an entirely new group of linebackers this year. Kyle Jackson
(6-0, 226, r-Fr.) mans the middle linebacker position, and he is tied for the
team lead in tackles with 14. Outside linebacker Sedric Griffin (5-11, 239, Jr.)
has 12 stops on the season thus far.

Tony Clark (6-1, 213, Sr.) is the most experienced linebacker for the
Jackets, although he played defensive back before this year. He brings speed to
the front seven, and he’ll be dangerous on blitzes.

The Georgia Tech secondary is a solid unit, and shouldn’t have any trouble
stopping Virginia Tech’s 112th-ranked passing game. Rover Morgan Burnett (6-1,
198, So.) is the best player. He leads the team with 14 tackles, and he also has
two interceptions on the year. He is an ACC star in the making. He is a former
Virginia Tech recruiting target.

Burnett is backed up by Mario Edwards (6-1, 210, r-So.). Edwards actually
played for Virginia Tech early last season before a family situation forced him
to transfer to be close to home. The NCAA granted him a waiver, and he did not
have to sit out for a year.

The top cornerback on the team is Jahi Word-Daniels (6-0, 194, Sr.).
Word-Daniels is a solid player who shouldn’t have any trouble handling Tech’s
inexperienced wideouts. The other corner is Mario Butler (6-1, 181, So.). He has
played mostly on special teams thus far in his short career. If the Hokies
decide to go after one of the Jacket corners, it should be Butler.

The starting free safety is Dominique Reese (5-11, 178, r-So.). Reese is a
former cornerback. He’s yet another Georgia Tech player who is playing at a new
position this year.

This Georgia Tech defense has a lot of talent on the defensive line. They
have shut down Jacksonville State and Boston College. However, Jacksonville
State is a 1-AA team, and Boston College is very limited offensively, thanks to
a new quarterback and freshmen tailbacks. We aren’t sure yet how good the Yellow
Jacket defense is overall.

Still, we do know they are better than Furman. The Paladins didn’t have any
trouble of stopping Tech’s passing attack last Saturday, and they had success
getting to the quarterback on twists and stunts. This Georgia Tech defense is
probably salivating at the thought of teeing off on the Hokie offense.

Special Teams

Scott Blair (6-0, 173, So.) is a new punter for Georgia Tech. However, he is
averaging 44.3 yards per punt, and the Yellow Jackets are 19th nationally in net
punting with a 39.2 yard average.



Open House this Saturday, 11:00-1:00!

Blair also handles kickoffs for the Yellow Jackets. Last year Georgia Tech
finished second nationally in kickoff return defense.

The one area where Blair does not excel is with his field goal kicking. He is
just 1-of-5 on the season. His one made field goal came from just 27 yards away.
He has missed every field goal he’s attempted from beyond 27 yards. However,
three of his attempts have been from very long distances (52, 48 and 47), so
it’s hard to say how good his accuracy is on the short and intermediate kicks.

Georgia Tech has used four players to return kicks, including tailback
Jonathan Dwyer and outside linebacker (yes, linebacker) Tony Clark. A-Back Roddy
Jones and wideout Tyler Melton could be used as well. Keep an eye on Jones. He
looks like a big play guy thus far in his young career.

Melton has been used to return punts so far. He has two returns for 23 yards.

It will be imperative for Virginia Tech to win the special teams battle. As
we saw against East Carolina, there is no room for error. Special teams nearly
won that game for the Hokies, despite the fact that they got outplayed on both
sides of the ball. In the end, it cost them the game.

Conclusion

This game will feature two very inexperienced offenses going head-to-head.
Defensively, you have to give Georgia Tech the advantage up front, while the
Hokies are more talented and experienced in the back seven. This early in the
season, we don’t have any evidence to suggest that special teams are anything
other than a wash.

On paper, this looks like it will be a terrific game. Neither offense is
likely to have a whole lot of success putting drives together. It will come down
to big plays and turnovers. As we’ve seen, Georgia Tech’s offense has relied
primarily on the big play so far. Virginia Tech now has Tyrod Taylor at
quarterback, the great equalizer. This game could come down to who makes more
big plays: Taylor, or the Georgia Tech offense.

The other big key is turnover margin. Breaking in a new offense that relies
on the option pitch at times, the Yellow Jackets have fumbled the ball eight
times through the first two games, losing five of them. The ball is very likely
to be on the ground a few times on Saturday, and it will be up to Virginia
Tech’s defense to be opportunistic.

It’s difficult to predict games that are likely to come down to big plays and
turnovers. Which side will blink? I don’t know. But I do know that it’s time for
the Hokies to start playing. Their exhibition schedule is over, and they know
what they’ve got on both sides of the ball. They are the defending ACC
Champions, and it’s time to start acting like it.

Frank Beamer has reportedly taken a very serious approach to this week’s
game. He generally just observes practice from his tower in the middle of the
practice field. This week he’s been down on the field himself, taking a very
hands on approach, particularly in the offensive drills. Defensive end Orion
Martin put it best earlier this week:

“I thought he [Beamer] seemed a little mad. Gosh. He seemed a little
pissed yesterday. At the team meeting, in practice. Our practice was a little
harder yesterday. He seemed demanding, like, ‘We’re not going to take this
crap anymore.’ You could just tell. He just kept saying, ‘We’re going to get
it right. We’re going to get it right.’ “

Running back Kenny Lewis went on to add this about Beamer:

“During our offensive periods, he was in the middle of our offensive
periods. Making sure we were getting from drill to drill, making sure we were
picking up blocks and running full speed to the whistle. This week of practice
is going to be pretty intense with the offense and defense. I wouldn’t be
surprised if you guys saw some arguments, maybe some blows thrown at practice.
Because that’s how intense it’s going to have to be for us to get ready for
this Georgia Tech team coming in.”

Frank Beamer is generally at his best when things are starting to get rough.
Right now, things are getting rough. The offense looks bad again, and a lot of
heavy criticism is rolling in. If the past is any indication, it’s right about
now that the Hokies rise up and quiet their doubters, if only for a brief time
period.

Open
House This Saturday at Kent Square Condominiums
11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

However, I don’t see the Tech offense getting much accomplished. I’m really
not sure how the Hokies are going to score, except for maybe a big play or two
by Taylor, or on a short field set up by defense or special teams. I’m really,
really close to picking Georgia Tech to win.

Rumor has it that Virginia Tech will be wearing Orange uniforms, or at least
Orange jerseys, on Saturday. I’ll go with VT to reverse the 1994 Orange uniform
karma, and knock off the Yellow Jackets in Lane Stadium in a great game.

Chris’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 16, Georgia Tech 13

Will Stewart’s Take: This is a very, very tough game to call. Both teams are
inexperienced and struggling offensively (VT is 100th in total yards and GT is
71st), and both teams have just two games under their belt, so drawing
conclusions at this point is difficult.

Both teams are also capable of the big play, both positively and negatively.
As Chris noted with GT’s big play stats, the Jackets can get stuffed all day
long, then spring a 40- or 50-yard run on you. VT’s young players on defense
will occasionally lose their leverage, take bad angles or lose their
concentration, and will be prone to coughing up big gainers.

But the Jackets have also fumbled the ball eight times so far this year,
losing five. That’s a lot of fumbles and turnovers, and if they happen on the
wrong side of the field, it’s trouble for GT.

As for the Hokies, their offensive trials are well-documented, but the wild
card is Tyrod Taylor. Blitz him mercilessly, and you might kill four straight VT
drives, only to be burned on the fifth by a 50-yard scramble.

If Georgia Tech had more than two games running Paul Johnson’s offense on
their resume, I’d pick them in a heartbeat. Their defense will give VT big
problems, based on what we’ve seen so far this year, and if they were consistent
and competent on offense, you could assume that they’ll put two or three TDs on
the board against VT’s young defense.

But GT is not experienced in Johnson’s offense. The potential for
game-changing turnovers is big.

Over on the VT side, Frank Beamer has gotten snippy with some fans this week
(also well documented) and has become defensive of the program. Players report
in Kyle
Tucker’s blog
that Beamer has been more hands-on with the offense this week,
and that the team senses the pressure and urgency to perform better. Will they?
Who knows? Pre-game talk is just that, pre-game talk.

This one’s a tossup. My gut is telling me to pick the Jackets (remember I
said that), but my brain knows that despite Virginia Tech’s troubles, Georgia
Tech’s got big growing pains of their own. I’ll go with the brain on this one.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 17, Georgia Tech 14

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