2009 Football Game Preview: #4 Virginia Tech at #19 Georgia Tech

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  • Date: Saturday, October 17th, 2009
  • Time: 6 PM
  • TV: ESPN2

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This Saturday’s Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech game is huge for the Coastal
Division and the ACC. If the Hokies win, they’ll have the head-to-head
tiebreaker over the Yellow Jackets and ‘Canes. If the Hokies lose, they risk not
winning the Coastal this year, as both Georgia Tech and Miami have relatively
easy schedules to close the season. This will be the biggest conference game the
rest of the season, and an ESPN2 audience will be tuning in at 6pm.

Defensively, Virginia Tech is not treating this like a normal game. They are
preparing for a completely different kind of offense. Georgia Tech’s option
attack, combined with their cut blocking, will make this a difficult challenge
for the Hokie defense. Here is how they are preparing for it:

  • Freshman free safety Antone Exum is playing quarterback for the scout team
    this week to give the Tech defense a more realistic look at the Georgia Tech
    offense.
  • The ball is never actually snapped to Exum. The plays start with the ball
    already in his hands to simulate the speed of the Georgia Tech offense.
  • Virginia Tech is running five “team” periods on defense this
    week, instead of two. That will give them a lot more reps against the scout
    team offense.

Those are significant changes, which shows that the Virginia Tech coaching
staff has a lot of respect for Paul Johnson and his offense. It will also help
keep the players focused. They’ll need to be, because that Georgia Tech offense
is hard to handle.

The Georgia Tech Offense

Paul Johnson’s vaunted flexbone attack is giving opponents trouble for the
second year in a row. The Yellow Jackets are averaging 426.7 yards per game on
offense, which ranks 24th in the nation. 277 of those yards come on the ground.
Georgia Tech has a number of talented runners who will touch the football. The
passing game is also coming around, with the most talented wide receiver in the
ACC serving as the #1 target.

The Yellow Jackets are running a lot more double option than they did a year
ago, and quarterback Josh Nesbitt (6-1, 217, Jr.) has become the primary ball
carrier. It was Nesbitt who ran down the clock in the latter stages of the game
in the win over Florida State. For the season, he has 128 carries for 503 yards
and six rushing touchdowns.

The following table shows exactly how much Georgia Tech relies on Nesbitt.


Georgia Tech’s Leading Rushers

Player

Att.

Yards

YPC

TD

YPG

ACC Rank

Jonathan Dwyer

79

511

6.5

5

85.2

2

Josh Nesbitt

128

503

3.9

6

83.8

3

Anthony Allen

26

308

11.8

3

51.3

10

Nesbitt has more carries on the season than top B-back (Jonathan Dwyer) and top
A-back (Anthony Allen) combined. This has gone from being Jonathan
Dwyer’s offense to Josh Nesbitt’s offense.

That doesn’t mean the Hokies should overlook Jonathan Dwyer (6-0, 235, Jr.).
Dwyer plays B-back for the Yellow Jackets, which is basically the fullback
position. He can take dives up the middle on the triple and double option plays,
and Georgia Tech also finds ways to get him the ball on the outside. Dwyer is a
very powerful runner, and he has great speed for a player his size.

Last year, the Hokies held Dwyer to 21 yards on 10 carries. They dominated
Georgia Tech’s interior line and shut down everything between the tackles.
Opponents have focused on stopping Dwyer this year, which is one of the reasons
Nesbitt has so many carries on the double option.

Clemson and Miami focused their attention on Jonathan Dwyer when they faced
Georgia Tech earlier in the season, and both of them had a lot of success.
Clemson held him to 66 yards on 18 carries, while Dwyer had just five carries
for seven yards against the Canes. Miami beat Georgia Tech, and Clemson nearly
knocked them off (and probably should have … the fake punt that Georgia Tech
scored a touchdown on was illegal by ACC rules, as the conference admitted the
following week). That’s proof that the best way to beat the Yellow Jackets is to
stop Dwyer.

Anthony Allen (6-0, 231, r-Jr.) plays one of the A-back positions for Georgia
Tech. An A-back is basically another term for wingback. He lines up on the
outside of the offensive tackles, and behind the line of scrimmage. He can lead
block on runs to the outside, he can take handoffs, and he can go in motion to
be the pitch man on the triple option.

Allen has had success with big plays this year. He has 308 rushing yards on
the season on just 28 carries. He has had most of his success after taking the
option pitch to the outside. Georgia Tech’s perimeter blockers are excellent at
cutting defenders and getting them off their feet. Allen has good speed, and
he’s able to break off long runs when defenders lose their footing.

The other A-back is Roddy Jones (5-9, 195, r-So.). Jones has 23 carries for
86 yards and two touchdowns on the season, but don’t let those stats fool you.
He is a very capable back. He ran for 690 yards on just 81 carries last season.
He had a huge game against Georgia to close the season, running for 214 yards on
just 13 carries. Jones has very good speed and he’s a good player in space.

That’s a lot of weapons in the running game, and that’s not even counting
A-backs Marcus Wright (5-8, 173, So.) and Embry Peeples (5-10, 173, So.), who
have combined for 20 carries for 114 yards and a touchdown. They will both play
to give Anthony Allen and Roddy Jones a break.

As good as Georgia Tech’s ball carriers are, the best player on the team is
wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (6-3, 229, r-Jr.). Thomas is perhaps the most
underrated player in the country, because he’s a wide receiver playing in a
flexbone offense. However, he’s got the size, speed, body control and hands to
be a future NFL standout. He’s similar to former Georgia Tech star receiver
Calvin Johnson. Take a look at his stats, and remember that his r-Jr. season is
only half finished, and he’s played in a flexbone offense as a r-So. and r-Jr.


Career of Demaryius Thomas

Year

Rec.

Yards

YPC

TD

r-Jr. (2009)

26

620

23.8

4

r-So. (2008)

39

627

16.1

3

r-Fr. (2007)

35

558

15.9

4

Totals/Ave.

100

1805

18.05

11

Thomas is averaging 103.3 receiving yards per game. He averages more yards than
running backs Jonathan Dwyer and Anthony Allen. Throw out Nesbitt’s passing
yards, and Thomas is more productive than Josh Nesbitt as well. This guy is a
major factor in Georgia Tech’s offense, despite the fact that you rarely hear
his name mentioned in the national media. He missed last year’s game against Virginia Tech with an injury.

In 2008, Virginia Tech was able to control the interior of the Georgia Tech
offensive line and shut down the fullback dive plays. Georgia Tech’s interior
offensive line returns intact this year, so it will be the same personnel going
head to head. The guards are Cord Howard (6-5, 308, r-Sr.) and Joseph Gilbert
(6-4, 280, r-So.). Tech pushed these guys around last year. Sean Bedford (6-1,
274, r-Jr.) is an undersized player, while Dan Voss (6-4, 296, r-Sr.) started at
center last year. Voss could see time at all of the interior line positions this
year.


Georgia Tech’s tackles are smallish as well, particularly Brad Sellers (6-2,
257, r-Sr.). He and Austin Barrick (6-3, 284, r-Jr.) are quick players, but they
can be beaten by physical defensive ends. They had a lot of trouble against
Miami and Clemson, and they will face the same type of speed and power against
the Hokies.

Overall, this is a very difficult offense to defend. The Hokies were able to
defeat Georgia Tech last year because they only allowed three plays of more than
20 yards. If you limit Georgia Tech’s big plays, you can limit their offense.

This GT offense is more difficult to defend this season, because their
passing game is better. However, the Virginia Tech defense is much more capable
right now than they were a year ago when they played the Yellow Jackets. The
Hokies were breaking in a band new defense, but this year they are better at
most spots. Last year they managed to shut down the fullback dive with Justin
Young getting reps at defensive tackle, and Young has since transferred for lack
of playing time.

It’s almost impossible to shut down this offense completely, but if there’s
one man I trust in the Virginia Tech football program, it’s Bud Foster. The
Hokies will be well-prepared.

The Georgia Tech Defense

The Yellow Jackets have been struggling defensively this year. They lost
three starting defensive linemen off last year’s team to the NFL, and they are
weaker up front. They are also having problems with their coverage in the
secondary. Right now, not much of anything is going right for Georgia Tech on
defense.


Georgia Tech Defense, Game by Game

Opp.

Rush Yards

Pass Yards

Total Yards

Total Off. Rank

Jacksonville State

98

193

291

1-AA

Clemson

125

261

386

102

Miami

184

270

454

51

UNC

17

137

154

115

Mississippi State

209

278

487

44

Florida State

180

359

539

25

Average

135.5

249.7

385.2
n/a

Take away 1-AA Jacksonville State and UNC (yeah, UNC basically has a 1-AA
offense), and Georgia Tech is allowing 466.5 yards per game against the decent
competition they’ve faced. Even Clemson, who has a very bad offense, put up 386
yards against the Yellow Jackets. Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker, who has
struggled all year, lit up the Georgia Tech secondary in the second half.

One reason for the Georgia Tech collapse on defense has been injuries. The
Yellow Jackets have been banged up, and they’ve actually been forced to change
defensive schemes in the middle of the season.


Starting Defense Comparison

Start of Season

Now

Pos.

Player

Pos.

Player

DE

Derrick Morgan

DE

Derrick Morgan

DT

Jason Peters

DT

Logan Walls

DT

Ben Anderson

DT

Ben Anderson

DE

Robert Hall

DE

Anthony Agbuniwe

WOLF

Dominique Reese

LB

Steven Sylvester

ILB

Brad Jefferson

LB

Brad Jefferson

ILB

Sedric Griffin

LB

Sedric Griffin

CB

Mario Butler

CB

Mario Butler

CB

Jerrard Tarrant

CB

Jerrard Tarrant

ROV

Morgan Burnett

ROV

Morgan Burnett

FS

Cooper Taylor

FS

Dominique Reese

Georgia Tech started the season running a 4-2-5 type defense, with Dominique
Reese (5-11, 198, r-Jr.) playing the Wolf position as a hybrid
safety/linebacker. Thanks to injuries in the secondary, particularly to free
safety Cooper Taylor (and later to Reese), Paul Johnson decided to go back to
the traditional 4-3.

The Yellow Jackets have had three different free safeties this year. Besides
Taylor and Reese, converted cornerback Rashaad Reid (5-10, 185, So.) has played
the position while still backing up at the corner position.

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Georgia Tech has also had injuries up front. Jason Peters (6-4, 273, r-So.)
and Robert Hall (6-3, 259, r-Jr.) were starters on the defensive line to open
the season, but Hall was injured and Anthony Egbuniwe (6-4, 255, r-Jr.) has
since stepped into the starting lineup. Egbuniwe splits time with true freshman
Izaan Cross (6-4, 272, Fr.).

The biggest playmaker on Georgia Tech’s defense is defensive end Derrick
Morgan (6-4, 272, Jr.). For the season, he has nine tackles for loss and 6.5
sacks. He is one of the best defensive ends in the ACC, and he’s easily Georgia
Tech’s best defensive lineman. Let’s compare the stats of Morgan and his
defensive line teammates.


Georgia Tech Defensive Line

Player

Tackles

TFL

Sacks

Derrick Morgan

27

9

6.5

Anthony Egbuniwe

10

2.5

1.5

Jason Peters

8

0

0

Logan Walls

6

0

0

Osahon Tongo

3

1

1

Ben Anderson

5

1

0

T.J. Barnes

5

1

0

Izaan Cross

3

0

0

Totals

67

14.5

9


Morgan is carrying the load right now, and everybody else is just standing there
catching blocks. This Georgia Tech defensive line is not as good as the Boston
College defensive line that the Hokies easily handled this past week. Morgan is
the best player on either line, but BC has more overall talent.

At linebacker, Brad Jefferson (6-2, 237, Jr.), Sedric Griffin (5-11, 225,
Sr.) and Steven Sylvester (6-2, 233, So.) are listed as the starters. Jefferson
leads the team with 36 tackles, and Griffin is right behind with 34. Sylvester
has shared time with true freshman Julian Burnett (5-10, 221, Jr.) Burnett has
20 tackles on the year, and Sylvester has 13. Anthony Barnes (6-3, 230, r-Jr.)
will also see playing time as Griffin’s backup.

Overall, this isn’t a productive group of linebackers. They have combined for
just five tackles for loss and 0.5 sacks. Cody Grimm has more tackles for loss
by himself (5.5) than Georgia Tech’s entire corps of linebackers.

Georgia Tech’s secondary has struggled even more than the front seven. The
Yellow Jackets had experience and talent at the safety positions this year,
which influenced them to switch to the 4-2-5 scheme. Besides Cooper Taylor and
Dominique Reese, Georgia Tech also returns Morgan Burnett (6-1, 210, Jr.), one
of the best safeties in the ACC. He plays the rover position.

However, Cooper has been out with a heart condition, and Reese has been
banged up as well. Despite Burnett’s ball hawking ability, the secondary has
struggled. The cornerbacks are a weakness. Jerrard Tarrant (6-0, 202, r-So.) is
second on the team with 21 tackles. The other corner, Mario Butler (6-1, 182,
Jr.), has two interceptions on the year, but he can certainly be beaten.

This week Paul Johnson has vowed to simplify his defense by decreasing the
personnel packages. The Yellow Jackets are trying to get back to basics.
However, their problems can’t likely be solved by such a simple change over the
course of one week. They simply don’t have as much talent on defense as they do
on offense, though that is still no excuse for their poor play of late.

Special Teams

On paper, Virginia Tech holds the advantage on special teams. The Hokies are
better than Georgia Tech by a wide margin in most categories.


Special Teams Comparison

Category

VT Rank

GT Rank

Net Punting

19

58

KO Return

32

68

Punt Return

67

1

KO Return Def.

38

102

Punt Return Def.

65

95

Average

44.2

64.8

Despite Georgia Tech’s #1 ranking in punt returns, the Hokies are on average 20
spots higher in the national rankings in those five special teams categories.

Georgia Tech’s punt returner is cornerback Jerrard Terrant. He has seven
returns for 187 yards and two touchdowns on the season, an average of 26.7 yards
per return. One of his returns came against Clemson, when the Tigers attempted a
pooch punt out of a field goal formation. The Hokies will have to be very
mindful of Terrant, who has the ability to change the course of the game on one
play.

The Yellow Jackets have not kicked the football well this year. Scott Blair
(6-0, 198, Jr.) has handled field goals and kickoffs. Of Blair’s 36 kickoffs,
only one has gone for a touchback, and Georgia Tech ranks 102nd in the nation in
kickoff coverage. Tech’s kickoff return team has been very good this year, and
you might see Blair just kick the ball out of bounds, which so many other teams
have done when facing Dyrell Roberts.

Blair is only 6-of-10 on his field goal attempts, and three of his misses are
from inside 40 yards. This week Chris Tanner (6-0, 181, r-Fr.) is listed atop
the depth chart as Georgia Tech’s field goal kicker. He has yet to attempt a
field goal in a game this season.

Chandler Anderson (6-0, 191, r-So.) is averaging 41.8 yards per punt on the
season. He’s doing a good job, but Georgia Tech does have a true freshman
working at long snapper in Tyler Morgan (6-3, 189, Fr.). This will be his first
time facing a relentless Frank Beamer punt block team. The Hokies have already
blocked one punt this year, and should have blocked a second against Boston
College. If Morgan gets rattled, it could lead to bad snaps. And remember, he’s
still inexperienced, even for a true freshman, because Georgia Tech has punted
just 17 times this season.

Orwin Smith (6-0, 206, Fr.) is Georgia Tech’s primary kickoff returner. He is
doing a good job this year, averaging 23.7 yards per return. Justin Myer needs
to boot the football through the end zone like he did against Boston College, so
the Yellow Jacket offense is forced to drive the length of the field.

Conclusion

I believe this game will be won by the team that plays the best defense. When
you look at how the two defenses have played lately, particularly Georgia
Tech’s, then it’s hard not to say that the Hokies defense will perform the best
on Saturday.

Georgia Tech is a good team, and they could potentially upset the Hokies on
Saturday. However, I’m liking what I’m hearing about what’s going on in Virginia
Tech’s practices this week. The coaching staff is taking the game preparation up
to another level, and the players are very focused. That’s what I’m hearing, and
the last time I heard stuff like this was the Thursday before the Miami game. A
motivated Virginia Tech team is a difficult team to beat.

Not to mention that I think the Hokies have more overall talent than Georgia
Tech. The Yellow Jackets have excellent pieces to their system on the offensive
side of the ball. They have a tough, athletic quarterback who can take a beating
and keep on ticking. They have several talented backs, as well as a superstar
B-back. They also have a big play threat at wide receiver.

However, I don’t think the Georgia Tech offensive line matches up
particularly well with the Virginia Tech defensive line. And unless the Georgia
Tech defense has some kind of awakening this week, I think the Hokies won’t have
much trouble moving the football.

I expect VT to come out and try to establish the run early. That’s typical of
any game, but even more so for this game. If Georgia Tech’s dangerous offense is
on the sideline, they can’t score.

In the end, Virginia Tech has better overall talent and a better overall
coaching staff (though Paul Johnson is a genius at the option). They should win
this game.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, Georgia Tech 20

Will Stewart’s Take: Virginia Tech should win this football game. Should.
The Hokie defense should be able to slow the Yellow Jacket offense down more
than the Jackets can stop the Hokies, leading to a VT win. But a few big plays
here or there, and a turnover or two thrown in, and things can go askew.

Offensively, it sounds as if the Georgia Tech defense has been morphing
almost week to week in terms of personnel and scheme, so I would imagine there’s
not a lot of consistent game film on the Jackets, and there are more changes
coming this week. VT must recognize what’s going on and adjust quickly, which
typically hasn’t been Bryan Stinespring’s strong suit. The Hokies are going to
have to impose their will on Georgia Tech’s defense, regardless of what wrinkles
or differences GT may show this week.

Defensively, the landscape has been covered quite well. There’s not anything
new to say about the matchup of Bud Foster vs. Paul Johnson. I like the way VT
has been preparing this week, and I think they’re doing as good a job prepping
as you possibly can. Sure, GT’s attack has grown more crisp and more diverse
since last season, but it sounds as if Virginia Tech’s preparation has gone up a
notch, as well. Come six o’clock Saturday night, it’s just execution time.

On special teams, the Hokies are a superior outfit statistically, but more so
than any other aspect of the game, special teams can vary wildly from play to
play. Georgia Tech beat Clemson because Paul Johnson outcoached Dabo Swinney for
two plays on special teams, both of which led to touchdowns, and that
made the difference in the game. Wouldn’t you hate to drop this game to GT, and
possibly lose the Coastal Division this year, because of two plays?

I have a ton of respect for Paul Johnson, and one of the things that worries
me the most is how sharp he is in-game. PJ can strike like a snake when you
least expect it. Picture a rattlesnake without the warning rattle.

That’s the fear that Georgia Tech activates in their opponents, the fear that
you can play well for 59 minutes, then turn in one bad minute and lose. Married
men understand that dynamic: you can say all the right things to your wife
Sunday morning through Saturday evening, but if the wrong thing slips out of
your mouth late Saturday night, you’re in the doghouse for a week.

Virginia Tech is a better football team right now, and the articles I’ve been
reading online have convinced me that the Hokies are preparing for the Jackets
as hard and as well as they can. When the football is kicked off Saturday night,
I’ve got to have faith that the preparation and the talent will take over for
Virginia Tech.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, Georgia Tech 27

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