2011 Football Game Preview: Virginia Tech vs. Georgia Tech

, TechSideline.com, on November 8, 2011
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  • Date: Thursday, November 10, 2011
  • Time: 8pm
  • TV: ESPN


Virginia Tech’s options for Thursday night’s game against Georgia Tech are
simple. Win, and the Hokies will still have a chance to win the Coastal Division
and get their rematch with Clemson for the ACC Championship. Lose, and they are
likely out of contention, and they’ll have to content themselves with the Chick-fil-A
Bowl or perhaps something lower on the totem pole.

For those of you who want a playoff in college football, this is as close as
it gets. One team will survive and advance on Thursday. The loser is likely
finished, and can’t play for anymore championships this season.

The fact that so much rides on this game isn’t a surprise. Since the ACC
broke into divisions in 2005, the winner of the Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech game
has played in the ACC Championship Game every season.

The Yellow Jackets are 7-2 on the season, and fresh off a 31-17 beating of
Clemson at home. Previously the Yellow Jackets had lost back-to-back games
against Virginia (24-21) and Miami (24-7), and their powerful offense was shut
down in each game. They seemed to get things rolling again against Clemson, but
except for four quarters of football against Virginia Tech, that Tiger defense
has been below average all season.

Which Georgia Tech offense will we see on Thursday night? Since the Jackets
are at home, I’d be willing to bet that they’ll play well.

The Georgia Tech Offense

Georgia Tech runs a powerful spread option attack under Paul Johnson that is
difficult to defend unless you have superior athletes up front, or extra time to
prepare. Even with those advantages, stopping it isn’t guaranteed. As a point of
reference, here is a YouTube.com link
to Georgia Tech running their basic triple option play from their basic spread
option formation, with a B-back and two A-backs. If you’re more interested, Paul
Johnson will explain it to you in this video.


The Georgia Tech Offense

Category

Stat

NCAA Rank
Rushing 328 ypg 2
Passing 146.56 ypg 110
Total 474.56 ypg 16
Scoring 37.56 ppg 18
Pass Eff. 167.34 7
Third Down% 57.6% 1
TFL Allowed 4.56 per game 19
Sacks Allowed 0.67 per game 9

Those are certainly impressive numbers, and except for a couple of games in
the middle of the season, the Georgia Tech offense has played very well in
general.

This type of offense can’t succeed without a quarterback that Paul Johnson
can trust. Tevin Washington (6-0, 205, r-Jr.) is the signal caller for the
Yellow Jackets, and not only has he made big plays through the air this year,
but he also leads his team in rushing. Though Washington isn’t as big and
physical as former quarterback Josh Nesbitt, he is faster. For the year, he has
168 carries for 636 yards and 10 touchdowns. He had a huge game against Clemson
last week, rushing for 176 yards.

He averages 3.8 yards per carry, which may not seem like a lot. However, it’s
plenty for Georgia Tech, as the Yellow Jackets often find themselves in short
yardage situations, and they are also prone to go for it on fourth and short.

Washington put up such big passing numbers early in the season against bad
defenses that his team’s quarterback rating is seventh nationally. Since the
competition picked up in ACC play, his passing numbers have been below average:
32-of-72 (43.2%), 93 yards per game, three touchdowns and six interceptions. He
was thought to be a better passer than Josh Nesbitt, but except for some very
good games against terrible defensive competition to start the year, that hasn’t
been the case.

Stephen Hill (6-5, 206, Jr.) is a good wide receiver who has a size advantage
on Virginia Tech’s cornerbacks, but he’s not the same caliber of player as
former Jackets Calvin Johnson and Demaryious Thomas. Look for Bud Foster to
match his corners up against Hill and Tyler Melton (6-0, 206, Sr.) in man-to-man
coverage. Hill is averaging over 30 yards per catch on the year, but he hasn’t
been nearly as successful against good defensive teams.

The primary focus for Virginia Tech will be stopping Georgia Tech’s vaunted
triple option attack, and that starts with stopping the B-back option up the
middle in the A-gaps and B-gaps. The primary B-back (lines up like a fullback
directly behind the quarterback) is David Sims (6-0, 218, r-So.), who has 102
carries for 564 yards and four touchdowns on the season. Though not as
well-known as past B-backs such as Jonathan Dwyer, Sims is still very effective.
He’s only been stopped for two yards worth of lost yardage on the season.

Preston Lyons (6-0, 211, r-Sr.) is another B-back with 31 carries for 172
yards, and no lost yardage. The interior of the Georgia Tech offensive line has
been very good at stopping penetration, but it’s difficult to get penetration
against cut blocking anyway. Lyons will get some work on Thursday night, but
expect to see Sims in the game most of the time.

Virginia Tech generally does a pretty good job of stopping the B-back
whenever they get together with the Yellow Jackets. Instead, they generally
struggle on the outside getting off the cut blocks of the Georgia Tech wide
receivers. The big example of this was Kam Chancellor struggling in 2009, and
giving up many big plays to the outside.

Georgia Tech has two A-back positions, and they line up as wings just outside
the offensive tackle. Often they will go in motion behind the fullback, ready to
be the pitch man in the triple option to the opposite side of the field. The
Yellow Jackets have been using three primary A-backs this year: Orwin Smith
(6-0, 202, Jr.), Roddy Jones (5-9, 202, r-Sr.) and Embry Peeples (5-10, 185,
Sr.). The numbers these A-backs have put up have been incredible.


Georgia Tech A-Back Production

Player

Att.

Yards

YPC

TD
Orwin Smith 49 553 11.3 10
Roddy Jones 34 322 9.5 2
Embry Peeples 26 246 9.5 1
Totals 109 1121 10.3 13

Georgia Tech has become an extremely effective cut blocking team on the
perimeter, and opposing outside linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks have had a
very difficult time staying on their feet against that type of blocking, which
they don’t see very much throughout the course of the season. The A-backs
themselves also have to be very good blockers. Generally the playside A-back
becomes the lead blocker on the triple option, and many times he pulls out to
block the cornerback, while the wide receiver cracks down to block the free
safety. This is what Georgia Tech did to Virginia Tech in 2009 with so much
success.

It’s important for the Yellow Jackets to have an athletic offensive line who
can cut block, and block in space. There really aren’t any traditional offensive
tackles on this team, but there doesn’t have to be because the Jackets don’t
have a traditional passing game.


The Georgia Tech Offensive Line

Pos.

Name

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.
LT Ray Beno 6-2 290 r-So.
LG Will Jackson 6-3 285 r-So.
C Jay Finch 6-3 283 r-So.
RG Omoregie Uzzi 6-3 300 r-Jr.
RT Phil Smith 6-5 292 r-Jr.

That’s probably the smallest offensive line the Hokies will see all year, but
they are also very quick guys who don’t have a complicated blocking system to
slow them down. As you can see, r-sophomore offensive linemen can play quite
efficiently in this system, because the blocking isn’t particularly complicated.

Virginia Tech has fared pretty well against Paul Johnson’s offense, with the
exception of one bad half in 2009. The Jackets have scored more than 21 points
against the Hokies just once in three meetings. However, there is cause for
concern this year, when you consider how young the Hokies are up front, and how
small they will be in this game because of some one-game position changes.


VT Front Seven Weight/Experience

Pos.

Player

Weight

Year
DE James Gayle 257 r-So.
DT Derrick Hopkins 301 So.
DT J.R. Collins 240 r-So.
DE Tyrel Wilson 219 r-So.
Mike Jack Tyler 229 r-So.
Backer Tariq Edwards 231 r-So.
Whip Kyle Fuller 187 So.

That’s right, every single Virginia Tech starter in the front seven is either
a r-sophomore or a true sophomore. Antone Exum, a r-sophomore, also starts in
the front seven. Gayle, Hopkins and Collins each only got a handful of plays
last year against Georgia Tech. Tyler, Wilson and Edwards got none. Only Kyle
Fuller saw significant reps.

Take a look at those weights for a second. Alabama has two different linebackers
who outweigh James Gayle, J.R. Collins and Tyrel Wilson, who are all starters on
the defensive line for the Hokies.

That front seven is young, and it is really light. I think the Hokies will
fight, and they’ll play well, but it would be a miracle if they were able to
stop an offense like Georgia Tech with such a M*A*S*H unit on the defensive side
of the ball. This game is going to depend on the offense and what they are able
to do against what has been only a slightly-above-average Georgia Tech defense.

The Georgia Tech Defense

Defensively, Georgia Tech is coordinated by former UVa head coach Al Groh. He
took his 3-4 philosophies with him to Atlanta, and though his units haven’t been
good so far, the defense has improved from 2010 to 2011.


The Georgia Tech Defense

Category

Stat

Rank
Rushing 162.11 ypg 68
Passing 185.33 ypg 15
Total 347.44 ypg 37
Scoring 23.33 ppg 42
Pass Eff. 110.75 16
Third Down% 42.28% 88
TFL 4.44 per game 105
Sacks 2 per game 53

The Yellow Jackets don’t make a ton of plays in the backfield, but they’ve
been good for the most part this year. In the two games Georgia Tech lost, it
was the offense getting shut down that was the difference in the game.

Jason Peters (6-4, 270, r-Sr.) and Izaan Cross (6-4, 292, Jr.) start at
defensive end, and they are backed up by Emmanuel Dieke (6-6, 264, r-So.) and
Euclid Cummings (6-4, 270, r-So.). It’s a solid group of ends overall, though
there is no particular standout. The have the right size to run the 3-4 defense
at the college level.

3-4 defenses rely on good noseguard play, and Logan Walls (6-2, 299, r-Sr.)
is a solid, experienced player. He is backed up by the massive T.J. Barnes (6-7,
347, r-Jr.), who is by far the biggest defensive lineman Virginia Tech has faced
this season. Andrew Miller will have his work cut out for him on the inside.

In a 3-4 defense, the linebackers rely on the big defensive linemen occupying
blockers so they can run free to the ball and make tackles. Undersized inside
linebacker Julian Burnett (5-10, 220, Jr.) has taken advantage of that this year
with 81 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and a sack. Burnett does not have ideal
size for a 3-4 defense, but he can run and he’s generally a productive player.

The other inside linebacker is the young Quayshawn Nealy (6-1, 220, r-Fr.),
who is also undersized. Nealy has 32 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss on the
season, and he could also split time with Daniel Drummond (6-3, 248, r-So.).
Drummond has the ideal size for an inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.

Steven Sylvester (6-2, 238, Sr.) is the most experienced linebacker of this
group, and he is in his third year in the starting lineup. He was a playmaker
for the Yellow Jackets last year, making 10.5 tackles for loss, but thus far has
just three tackles for loss and a sack. The other outside linebacker, Jeremiah
Attaochu (6-3, 223, So.), has five tackles for loss and leads the team with four
sacks.

Georgia Tech’s defensive backs are active in the running game and the passing
game. Isaiah Johnson (6-2, 205, So.) is second on the team with 48 tackles, and
also tied for the team lead with three interceptions. He’s joined in the deep
middle of the field by Rashaad Reid (5-10, 191, Sr.), an experienced senior who
has started games at both safety and cornerback in his career.

The top cornerback is Rod Sweeting (6-0, 184, Jr.), and he has three
interceptions on the year to go along with 2.5 tackles for loss and six passes
broken up. Sweeting is a former four-star recruit, and could be Georgia Tech’s
best defensive back overall. The other corner is Louis Young (6-1, 201, So.),
another highly-rated recruit from Good Counsel High School who was offered by
Virginia Tech. Young decommitted from Stanford twice before finally settling on
Georgia Tech.

The Virginia Tech offense has been on a roll recently, racking up 430+ yards
in each of their last four games. That hasn’t happened to the Hokies since the
1999 season with Michael Vick at quarterback. This week they’ll need to take
advantage of their opportunities and score touchdowns, rather than throwing
interceptions or missing field goals in the red zone. They’ll need every point
they can get against Georgia Tech.

Another way they can help the team is by controlling the clock. Despite
having a big front seven, Georgia Tech hasn’t been particularly good against the
run this season.


Rushing Yards Allowed.

Opp.

Yards
Western Carolina 104
MTSU 147
Kansas 151
UNC 128
NC State 195
Maryland 246
Virginia 272
Miami 122
Clemson 95

Average

162.2

That number would be a little higher, but Clemson tailback Andre Ellington
was injured and missed the game last week. Other ACC teams have had a lot of
success on the ground against Georgia Tech, even NC State, who is not known as a
running team.

This will be a big game for David Wilson, and not necessarily in the amount
of yards he gains. If he gains 150 yards, but 100 of them came on a couple of
long runs, then it might not be a successful game for the Tech offense. The
Hokies need to pick up first downs, chew clock and then score touchdowns at the
end of long drives. That will take the crowd out of the game, demoralize the
Georgia Tech defense, and keep Paul Johnson’s offense on the sideline.

Special Teams

Special teams could easily play a big difference in this game, and it might
be the team with fewer mistakes in the kicking game that comes out on top. I
know that doesn’t sound good for Virginia Tech fans, with the Hokies’ struggles
with punting the football. But it probably doesn’t sound very good to Georgia
Tech fans either.

The Yellow Jackets are 81st in net punting, 99th in kickoff returns, and 68th
in punt returns. Placekicker Justin Moore (5-10, 171, So.) is only 5-of-9 on the
season with a long of 40 yards, and he’s had two field goals blocked. Of Georgia
Tech’s 27 punts by Sean Poole (6-1, 161, r-So.) and Chandler Anderson (6-0, 180,
r-Sr.), only five have pinned the opponent inside the 20.

Georgia Tech also has a true freshman long snapper (6-3, 220, Fr.), and guys
like that can always be a little shaky in a big game like this.

Last year’s game in Blacksburg was tied up until David Wilson tipped the
scales with a kickoff return for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. We
could see a similar big play on special teams decide this game.

Final Thoughts

I have no doubt that Virginia Tech is putting in a good game plan to stop the
Georgia Tech spread option attack, but at the same time, I just don’t think the
Hokies have the personnel to do it this year. Scroll back up and look at that
table. Check out all the sophomores, and all the undersized guys, and all the
guys who are playing out of position.

I just don’t think this one sets up well for the Virginia Tech defense. This
is a core group that has played really well this season, but they have too many
injuries right now. If Antoine Hopkins was still around, then I’d be tooting a
different horn. Unfortunately, he’s not.

As far as the offense goes, I really like what I’ve seen from Logan Thomas,
David Wilson, Danny Coale, etc. This is much more eye-pleasing offense than the
Hokies have had since, well, ever. The actual designed plays that are called in
the huddle, or as checks at the line of scrimmage, are working. VT isn’t relying
on a mobile quarterback to run the scramble drill and make something out of
nothing. What a concept!

That said, the Tech offense has only played one complete game this year:
Miami, and the Canes’ defense hasn’t been able to stop anyone that runs a
somewhat balanced attack. The Hokies also looked awfully good for three quarters
against Wake Forest, but that was a team they clearly out-talented. For the
second half against Boston College, VT also rolled up some big numbers.

Despite all of that, we’ve got the Duke game, the ECU game, the Marshall
game, the Arkansas State game, the Clemson game, the first quarter against Wake
Forest and the first half against Boston College as shining examples that the
Tech offense still isn’t there yet. There have been many more times this year
where we’ve called them “inconsistent” rather than
“consistent”. I think as a group they are much better than in the
past, and I enjoy watching them play a lot more than I ever have. But I also
don’t quite fully trust them in a big game like this.

As far as the special teams situation goes, I’m not any different than anyone
else. Tech’s punting scares the hell out of me. I can see the VT offense going
3-and-out from their own 20, a 15 yard shank on the punt, and an easy Georgia
Tech touchdown four minutes into the game. That wouldn’t be a great start,
wouldn’t it?

Want another reason to pick against Virginia Tech? Well, let’s look at the
teams they have beaten.


Virginia Tech’s Victories

Team

Record
East Carolina 4-5
Arkansas State 7-2
Marshall 4-5
Miami 5-4
Wake Forest 5-4
Boston College 2-7
Duke 3-6
Total 30-33

Arkansas State hasn’t lost since they visited Blacksburg. They are a good Sun
Belt team, but come on, it’s the Sun Belt. Jim Grobe gets the most out of his
talent at Wake Forest, but Virginia Tech clearly out-talents them. Miami has the
pieces to be a good team, but their secondary gets torched by any decent offense
they face.

Bottom line … would you call any of Virginia Tech’s wins this year
“quality” wins? Even many of their wins against that mediocre group of
teams were not pretty, and not complete. Not once this year has Virginia Tech
played four quarters of football as a team, with the offense, defense and
special teams playing well. They did it for three quarters against Wake Forest,
but not four. This week, they might have to do it for 60 minutes, and if that’s
the case, what evidence do we have that they’ll be able to? None, because they
haven’t done it all year.

Chris’ Prediction: Georgia Tech 31, Virginia Tech 20

Will Stewart’s Take: Here are my keys to winning this week:

1.) Get off to a good start on offense.

In three games against Paul Johnson’s Yellow Jackets, the Hokies have scored
multiple times in the first half just once: in 2008, when VT scored 14
first-half points and won 20-17 in Blacksburg. In 2009, VT got off to a slow
start on offense, only scored three points in the first half, and unsuccessfully
played catchup for the second half. Last season, the Hokies scored a single
touchdown in the first half, trailed 14-7 at the break, and needed an injury to
Josh Nesbitt and a kickoff return from David Wilson to pull out the win. Even
then, Georgia Tech was throwing into Virginia Tech’s end zone as the clock wound
down. (It was intercepted to seal the win.)

This time around, with so many injuries on defense, the pressure is squarely
on the Virginia Tech offense to put the Hokies out front and lead them to the
win.

2.) Win the coin toss.

I’m not kidding here. A key component of the 2009 loss was a pair of GT
touchdowns that bracketed half time. Georgia Tech scored with 32 seconds left in
the second quarter, then got the ball first after half time and scored in three
minutes. That put them up 14-3, and the Hokies could never catch up.

Possessions are precious against the Yellow Jackets, particularly in the
second half, when their offense tends to really get traction, go on long drives,
and shorten the game. Having the ball at the end of the first half and to start
the second half is more critical against GT than any other team.

Of course, the advantage of having the ball first in the second half is
negated if you go three and out, but you know what I mean; it’s preferable to at
least have a chance.

That’s it. Those are my keys. The other keys are the usual: don’t turn the
ball over, execute in the red zone, win the special teams and field position
battles, yada-yada-yada … the same generic stuff that is true every week.
Those keys are what games really hinge upon, but if the Hokies are successful in
the two keys listed here, their chances for winning go way up.

For me, predicting this game comes down to two issues: (1) I don’t trust the
offense to get off to the hot start that I think it’s going to take; and (2)
Virginia Tech is just too young on defense to be consistent against Georgia
Tech’s offense.

If the Hokies hadn’t suffered so many injuries and attrition on defense, I
might be inclined to pick them in a close one. But this is a very tall order,
and a tough task for such a young defense and young quarterback. Maybe they’ll
surprise me.

Will’s Prediction: Georgia Tech 24, Virginia Tech 20

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