2005 Game Preview: Virginia Tech vs. Georgia Tech

Saturday, September 24th, 2005, 3:30

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Preview: #4 VT (3-0, 2-0 ACC) vs. #15 GT (3-0, 1-0)

by Chris Coleman

Virginia Tech begins a critical two-game stretch this
Saturday when they host #15 Georgia Tech in Lane Stadium. Both teams sit atop
the ACC Coastal division, and the outcome of the game will go a long way in
determining who represents the Coastal in the ACC Championship Game.

The Yellow Jackets got off to a strong start by knocking
off Auburn on the road, 23-14. It was a notable win for Chan Gailey�s team, as
Auburn isn�t known for dropping night games at home. The Georgia Tech defense
played well and forced turnovers, and the offensive line performed at a much
higher level than expected.

They followed that performance up with a narrow victory at
home over UNC that was not decided until late in the game. The Tar Heels had two
chances to win at the end, but the result was two interceptions in Georgia Tech
territory that helped the Jackets to a 27-21 win. It was a key ACC victory for
the Yellow Jackets, but it also came with much more difficulty than expected.

Georgia Tech followed up their win over UNC by beating
UConn 28-13 this past weekend. The Yellow Jackets had to do it without starting
quarterback Reggie Ball, who was hospitalized with viral meningitis. They didn�t
get much production from the passing game (11-of-30, 142 yards) but tailbacks
P.J. Daniels and Tashard Choice were very effective running the football, and
the Tech defense held the UConn offense to only 196 yards.

Georgia Tech is a very good team that has some question
marks, most notably at quarterback. Reggie Ball�s status is very much up in
the air with his illness, and backup r-freshman Taylor Bennett will struggle if
he has to come into Blacksburg and play the Hokies. The Yellow Jackets can win
the game with Ball, if they get good play from standout tailback P.J. Daniels
and sensational wide receiver Calvin Johnson.

The Georgia Tech Offense

Georgia Tech quarterback Reggie Ball is listed as
questionable for the game. He missed the UConn game this past weekend with viral
meningitis. He was released from the hospital on Monday and his practice will be
limited throughout the week. Ball is a very athletic player with a very good but
sporadic arm. He can throw the deep ball very well, but he completed less than
50% of his passes in 2004. His completion percentage stands at only 49.4% after
two games this season. Ball will likely play, but he could potentially have a
very tough game coming off a serious illness with limited practice time.

His backup is Taylor Bennett, who got the start against
UConn in Ball�s absence. Bennett did not turn the ball over, but completed
only 11 of 30 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown. He is a left-handed
r-freshman who would be playing in his first road game. In other words, Georgia
Tech needs Reggie Ball to play.

A player who doesn�t receive the national attention that
he deserves is tailback P.J. Daniels. Daniels, a former walk-on, is perhaps the
best running back in the ACC. While he isn�t exceptional at anything, he is
very good at everything. He has good speed, good vision, good strength/power and
good acceleration. He has presented problems for every defense that he has faced
this year, rushing for over 100 yards in all three games.

Daniels enjoyed a breakout year in 2003, running for 1,447
yards while averaging over 111 yards per game. He is averaging 109.3 yards per
game this season and 4.8 yards per carry. Daniels can also catch the ball out of
the backfield. He has six receptions and one touchdown through the air this
season. He only played in roughly half of the Virginia Tech game in 2004,
leaving early with an injury, and his absence was felt when the Hokies were
completing their fourth quarter comeback.

Calvin Johnson is Georgia Tech�s big play threat at wide
receiver. Johnson burst onto the scene as a true freshman last season when he
caught 48 passes for 837 yards and seven touchdowns. Blessed with exceptional
size at 6-4, 230, Johnson is able to outmuscle smaller defensive backs when
running routes. He also has the speed to beat cornerbacks deep, and has perhaps
the best body control of any receiver in the nation. He has 13 receptions for
255 yards and two touchdowns thus far on the season.

Johnson isn�t the only threat the Yellow Jackets possess
at wide receiver. They also have another big threat in Damarius Bilbo. Bilbo,
who measures in at 6-3, 218, is a former quarterback for Georgia Tech, so the
Hokies will have to be mindful of trick plays. He does have a 33 yard completion
to Reggie Ball in his only pass attempt of the season. Bilbo had a big game
against UNC, catching eight passes for 131 yards and a touchdown.

As big as Georgia Tech�s receivers are, they don�t
hold the size advantage against Virginia Tech that they do against other teams.
Jimmy Williams, Tech�s All-American cornerback, checks in at 6-3, 216. Roland
Minor is smaller than Williams, but still big for a cornerback at 6-0, 205. At
rover, Aaron Rouse goes 6-4, 221. Justin Hamilton will likely get the start at
free safety this week, and he is 6-3, 222. If there is any secondary in America
designed to deal with Johnson and Bilbo, it is Virginia Tech�s.

The Yellow Jackets will likely try to isolate Calvin
Johnson against Roland Minor. Minor plays field corner for the Hokies, meaning
he always covers the wide side of the field. Georgia Tech will throw the ball up
to Johnson, hoping he can make a play in the open field against shorter Minor.
This game will be a tremendous challenge, but also a big opportunity for the
talented Minor. Bud Foster will likely shade a safety over to give him some
help, and if Minor plays well the Hokies will likely win.

Of course, we will get to see Calvin Johnson one-on-one
against Jimmy Williams at times, and it will be a fun battle to see. Arguably
the best players at their respective positions battling it out for supremacy. It
doesn�t get any better than that.

The Georgia Tech offensive line was expected to be a weak
spot this season, but they have played remarkably well despite injuries and
other attrition that dates back to spring practice. They have given up only
three sacks on the season, and P.J. Daniels’ production shows that they are
capable of opening holes in the running game.

However, there are three sophomores and a freshman
starting on the offensive line and only one senior. That senior, Brad Honeycutt,
is a good player and is the only offensive lineman that goes over 300. The line
has played well thus far for the Jackets, but they have not faced a defensive
line the caliber of Virginia Tech�s. Auburn returns only one starter on the
defensive line, UNC�s defense was terrible last season and UConn just doesn�t
have the talent that the Hokies have. We�ll know exactly how good Georgia Tech�s
offensive line is after they face Darryl Tapp, Jonathon Lewis, etc. Starting
right guard Nate McManus has been banged up with a concussion.

The Georgia Tech Defense

The Yellow Jacket defense is allowing 309.7 yards per game
this season, a solid but not great number. However, the quality of their play
can�t be measured by such numbers. They are allowing only 80 yards per game on
the ground, and their passing efficiency defense ranks 14th nationally. Georgia
Tech is also first in the nation in turnover margin at +3 per game. Turnover
margin means a tremendous amount in college football. The top 13 teams in
turnover margin have a combined record of 32-3. The Yellow Jacket defense has
intercepted ten passes this season, which is the best mark in the nation. They
only intercepted ten passes during the entire 2004 season.

Eric Henderson is Georgia Tech�s leader up front.
Henderson is equally good at stopping the run and rushing the passer. He has 55
tackles for loss and 20 sacks in his productive career. He was somewhat injury
plagued last season, missing three games. His best year came in 2002 when he led
the ACC in sacks with 11. Henderson has been banged up this season as well and
has only posted one tackle for loss and one sack because of an ankle injury. He
missed the UConn game last weekend with a right ankle injury and is questionable
for Saturday�s game. He will likely play, but will not be 100%. VT will
probably test him in the running game. If he can�t get much push off his
ankle, he will not be very effective.

Gerris Wilkinson is the starting middle linebacker for the
Yellow Jackets. Wilkinson played defensive end earlier in his career, so he is
used to battling offensive linemen. He was a 2nd Team All-ACC selection last
season when he made 119 tackles. Georgia Tech has other playmakers at
linebacker, including KaMichael Hall and Philip Wheeler. Hall has four tackles
for loss on the season, and Wheeler has two interceptions. Excellent in
coverage, Wheeler also leads Georgia Tech in pass break ups with three.

Despite losing excellent safety James Butler, the Georgia
Tech secondary doesn�t appear to have lost a step. They have big safeties in
FS Dawan Landry and SS Chris Reis, both of which weigh in at 215. Reis played
linebacker last season and Landry moved from strong safety, so they are used to
playing a physical style of football. Don�t expect the Hokie tailbacks to
break off any big runs with Landry and Reis roaming the secondary.

Georgia Tech has good cornerbacks, with Kenny Scott being
the most talented. Scott has good size at 6-2, 185. He was a very highly touted
player coming out of high school, ranked 35th nationally by Rivals.com. He has
two career interceptions for the Yellow Jackets, both of which he has returned
for a touchdown. Dennis Davis will be the other starter. He began 2004 as a
starter but missed the rest of the season with an injury.

But if a weakness exists on the Yellow Jacket defense, it
is the secondary. Georgia Tech is a blitz-happy team. They will live and die by
the blitz. They will mix man-to-man and zone blitzes into their packages, which
can greatly confuse a quarterback. That is part of the reason that the Yellow
Jackets have intercepted ten passes this season and lead the NCAA in turnover
margin per game. However, blitzing also makes their defense vulnerable. Virginia
Tech was able to burn the Yellow Jackets on some long pass plays last season
when they blitzed and will look to do the same this season.


The Yellow Jackets have a lot of talent at the skill
positions on offense. They have the potential to be a very explosive team.
However, they have only averaged 26 points per game this season. With their
talent level on offense, that number should probably be higher.

Putting together long drives is tough for Georgia Tech.
This is mostly because of Reggie Ball and his accuracy issues. The Yellow
Jackets must rely on big plays to score points, which they have gotten in their
first three games. If the Hokies can take away the big plays, Reggie Ball (or
Bennett) will not be able to take the offense down the field consistently
against the Tech defense.

Look for Georgia Tech to test Virginia Tech�s
inexperienced safeties early in the game. Georgia Tech is the first team the
Hokies have played this year with both a quarterback and receivers that can beat
VT deep. Jay Davis isn�t a deep passer, and Duke and Ohio aren�t capable of
beating the Hokie safeties. This will be the first significant deep threat the
Hokies have faced all season, and how they respond will play a big part in
determining the outcome of the game.

One other thing to look for: Georgia Tech�s long snapper
Gavin Tarquinio injured his leg against UConn, and his backup Bret White snapped
a ball over his punter’s head. Tarquinio will probably play against the Hokies,
but with one injured snapper and one shaky snapper, look for Beamer to go after
a punt block on several occasions.

I think the Hokies win this one. I don�t believe Reggie Ball will be able to make it through the game just five days after being released from the hospital. He will
play, but at some point he will leave the game in favor of Bennett, who will
have a tough outing in his first road test.

Prediction: Hokies 30, Georgia Tech 17

Will Stewart’s Take:
Well-scoped by Chris, as usual, and not a lot to add. I will avoid the obvious
“Tech will win” jokes and be more specific: Virginia Tech will win.
(Remember, I said in the preseason that barring major VT injuries and shifts in
the tectonic plates, I’m picking the Hokies to win every game, including the
national championship matchup against USC.)

Offensively, I like the Hokies to score 24. This isn’t out
of disrespect for the Yellow Jacket defense. Henderson’s ankle could be a
difference-maker, and I like Marcus Vick to avoid the blitz and make a few
plays. I don�t think the Hokies will march up and down the field on the
Jackets, but I do think VT will strike here and there, particularly if GT
suffers a special teams mishap or turns the ball over deep in their territory.

Defensively, the Reggie Ball question is the determinant
of how successful the Jacket offense will be, of course. But even if Reggie
plays, I think he’ll tire easily, and fatigue leads to poor decisions, and
mistakes follow. Ball has not been the best decision-maker in the past, and if
he’s not a hundred percent, his decision making will slip. If Bennett plays �
well, he can get things done, because he’s got some talented players to rely on,
particularly in Daniels, Johnson and Bilbo. But sustained drives will be

The matchups to watch here are VT’s D-line against GT’s
O-line, and Bilbo and Johnson versus the VT safeties. If I were the VT coaches,
I would play Jimmy Williams man-to-man and have the safeties help Minor. If
Aaron Rouse and Justin Hamilton/DJ Parker have a good game with decision-making
and positioning, it’s going to be very difficult for GT to score. If Rouse and
the free safeties play poorly, it will result in Bilbo and Johnson having the
ability to make plays, and make plays they will.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 24, Georgia Tech 13