2006 Football Game Preview: Virginia Tech vs. Georgia Tech

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Saturday, September 30th, 2006, 3:30

(click for coverage map)

Forecast (from WeatherUnderground.com):

Click the “Blacksburg Weather” link to the right.
Game time forecast, as of 4:00 pm Wednesday: Partly cloudy with a 20 percent
chance of rain. Highs in the lower 60s.

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Game Preview: #10 VT (4-0, 2-0 ACC) vs. #24 GT (3-1, 1-0)

by Chris Coleman, TechSideline.com

It’s been a tough week for Virginia Tech football. David Clowney went down
with an emergency appendectomy during the middle of the week leading to the
Cincinnati game. Then the Hokies found themselves trailing Cincinnati at the end
of the third quarter. Saturday night, starters Josh Morgan and Chris Ellis were
arrested in downtown Blacksburg, leading to their suspension for this weekend’s
game, and yet another outcry about Tech’s problems off the field. All of that,
combined with the anticipation of the biggest game of the year, is making this
week drag by very slowly. Can we just play football already?

Virginia Tech has proven the last two seasons that the road to the ACC
Championship Game goes through Blacksburg. If you want to represent the ACC in
the BCS, you’re going to have to talk to the Hokies about it first. Georgia
Tech will do just that on Saturday. The Yellow Jackets are a big time sleeper
this year, and they see the ACC as being wide open this year. This is their best
chance to win the conference since the days of George O’Leary, and who knows
when they’ll have the chance again.

The Yellow Jackets opened the season at home against Notre Dame, losing a
14-10 heartbreaker as their offense failed to produce much against the soft
Irish defense. Georgia Tech has followed up the loss with three straight
victories over Samford, Troy and Virginia.

Georgia Tech is a solid football team. Not great, or even very good. That
said, they match up very well with Virginia Tech at some key positions, and
might possess just the right formula to knock off the Hokies in Lane Stadium.

The Georgia Tech Offense

Reggie Ball is an enigma. He has led Georgia Tech to victories on the road at
Auburn and Miami. He beat Auburn in Atlanta as a true freshman. He has won in
Death Valley, and played in three consecutive bowl games. He has made big play
after big play during his career.

He has also lost to Duke 41-17. Coming into the 2006 season, he had completed
less than 50% of his career passes and thrown more interceptions than
touchdowns. His career has been about as up and down as you can get.

This year, he has improved, so far at least. He is still completing just
51.1% of his passes (at 5-11, he’ll never be all that efficient), but he has
cut down on his turnovers, throwing seven touchdowns and just three
interceptions through four games. He is also very dangerous on the ground,
running for 197 yards on 5.1 yards per carry this season. Don’t look for
efficiency out of Ball on Saturday. Look for big plays. If the Hokies can limit
his big plays, they’ll stand a very good chance of winning.

Everyone knows Ball’s favorite target. Calvin Johnson, at 6-5, 235, is the
best wide receiver in college football and maybe the best player overall.
Johnson has 121 career catches for 2,036 yards and 18 touchdowns.

Johnson isn’t just a possession receiver who outjumps smaller cornerbacks
to the ball. He runs a sub 4.4 in the 40 and can make cuts quickly on the field.
He can outrun any defensive back in the ACC to the end zone. There is no
cornerback in college football today who can stop Johnson consistently one on
one. The only way he can be stopped is by scheming against him.

Look for the Hokies to run a lot of three deep zones on Saturday. They will
mix up their coverages to try and confuse Ball, and to try to keep Johnson
contained. In 2004, Tech did a great job on Johnson, holding him to four catches
for 51 yards and a touchdown. Last year he had five receptions for 123 yards and
a touchdown, but most of that came after the game was already decided.

The other starting wide receiver, James Johnson, has 10 catches for 135 yards
and a touchdown on the season. No other Georgia Tech receiver has more than four
catches on the season, although Ball has completed passes to 14 different

The Georgia Tech offensive line is very solid. They return four starters from
last season. They aren’t very big, going 290, 280, 285, 300 and 310 from left
to right. The Yellow Jackets are very athletic up front, and their best player
could be left tackle Andrew Gardner, who was a freshman All-American last

The only senior on the offensive line is right tackle Mansfield Wrotto, who
at 6-3, 310, seems more like an offensive guard. But don’t let his size fool
you. He has been a defensive tackle, so he has a lot of athleticism for someone
his size.

The big guys up front will be blocking for starting tailback Tashard Choice.
Choice has 259 yards and two touchdowns on the season, averaging 4.5 yards per
carry. The Oklahoma transfer is a very solid running back. Make no mistake, the
Hokies will key on the run in this game, despite Calvin Johnson. As usual,
Virginia Tech’s plan will be to shut down the running game and make the
offense one dimensional.

The key part of the game to watch when Georgia Tech has the ball is not Ball
to Johnson, but Tashard Choice. The Yellow Jackets are explosive on offense, but
they have a lot of trouble stringing together first downs and moving the sticks,
especially against good defenses. They are ninth in the ACC in third down
conversions at 35.9%. That’s not a good stat to take to Lane Stadium.

Georgia Tech won’t run a lot on the Hokies, but if they can establish just
a bit of a running game that can pick up a first down on third and short, that
would help them out tremendously.

There are a few other reasons not to like the Georgia Tech offense against
the Hokies. First of all, they totaled just 259 yards of offense against Notre
Dame’s soft defense. They should have been able to muster more than that.
Second, they scored just 24 points against Samford. The other 14 points came
from defensive touchdowns. And third, Bud Foster is a master of disguising his
coverages, which bodes well for VT in a matchup against Reggie Ball.

But there are a few things that make me worry about Georgia Tech’s offense.
Number one, I don’t like the thought of Calvin Johnson running in the Tech
secondary. Free safety D.J. Parker hasn’t had a very good season, and at this
point he is probably the weak link of the Tech defense. If he gets caught in the
wrong position, as he did several times against Cincinnati, Johnson will be in
the end zone.

Finally, Reggie Ball seems to have one great game per year against a really
good team. It hasn’t happened to the Hokies yet, but it could this season.

The Georgia Tech Defense

This will be the fastest, most aggressive defense that the Hokies have faced
so far. When it comes down to it, the Georgia Tech defense could end up being
the best Virginia Tech faces all season.

More specifically, Georgia Tech’s interior defense is outstanding.
Defensive tackles Joe Anoai (6-3, 280) and Darryl Richard (6-4, 285) are perhaps
the best combination of tackles in the ACC. They are tough and very athletic,
fitting Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta’s scheme perfectly.

Right behind Anoai and Richard is middle linebacker Philip Wheeler, who might
be the most underrated linebacker in the ACC. He played outside linebacker last
year for Georgia Tech, and one out of every five of his tackles came behind the
line of scrimmage. He is a big play guy.

There were concerns as to whether Wheeler could keep making big plays from
the middle linebacker position this year, but things look good so far. He leads
Georgia Tech in tackles (27), tackles for loss (six) and sacks (two). He has
also recovered a fumble.

Why is it so important that Georgia Tech’s best players are on the interior
of their defense? Because Virginia Tech’s weak spot on offense is the interior
of the offensive line. Center Danny McGrath has graded out well this year, but
left guard Ryan Shuman and right guard Sergio Render have had trouble adjusting
to being first year starters. Render, a true freshman, has particularly

Render’s last two games have been bad. He graded out at just 72 percent
against Duke, and even worse, 67 percent against Cincinnati. Those are very poor
marks, and they will not get it done against a defense that probably has three
future NFL players on the interior. Look for the Hokies to run more zone
blocking schemes against the Yellow Jackets this week. That will be much less
challenging, from a mental standpoint.

Georgia Tech’s defensive ends and outside linebackers aren’t exactly
chopped liver. Defensive ends Darrell Robertson and Adamm Oliver are capable of
setting up camp in the offensive backfield. Oliver is third on the team with 19
tackles, and the ends have combined for four tackles for loss.

Outside linebacker KaMichael Hall is recognized as one of the top outside
linebackers in the ACC, and deservedly so. He made 14 tackles for loss last
season. He only has one TFL this year however, and in fact, TFL numbers for the
entire Georgia Tech team are down. The Jackets have 21 TFLs through four games,
while their opponents have 23.

However, they have developed into a more disciplined defense, despite not
making quite as many plays in the backfield as in the past. They rank 18th
nationally in total defense (249 yards per game), 16th in rushing defense (75.25
yards), 43rd in pass defense (173.75 yards), eighth in pass efficiency defense
and 17th in scoring defense (11.75 points).

If they have a weakness, it’s in the secondary. Cornerback Kenny Scott is
the only returning starter from last season, and with a blitz happy front seven,
it is possible to hit them for big plays down the field.

Speaking of blitzing, look for Georgia Tech to blitz on virtually every down.
They will blitz to stop the run and to get to the quarterback. It will be a very
difficult challenge for the Virginia Tech offensive line, and quite frankly, I
don’t feel very good about their chances. This won’t be a 2004 NC State type
of game (10 sacks by NC State), but it could be something close to it.

The Hokies will probably use strategy similar to what they used against
Cincinnati in the second half last week. They will zone protect with the
offensive line, roll Glennon away from the pass rush to keep the GT defense
guessing which way the play is going, and have the wide receivers run in the
gaps vacated by the blitzing linebackers. In those cases, Glennon needs to watch
for defensive linemen dropping back into coverage, as Jon Tenuta is a very
creative zone blitzer (blitzing linebackers and dropping linemen into coverage).

Special Teams

The Hokies have a big chance to win the special teams battle against Georgia
Tech. The Yellow Jackets are solid but not spectacular on special teams.

The field goal kicker is Travis Bell, who is 3-of-5 on the season. Both of
his misses have come from longer than 40 yards. He is just 9-of-20 from longer
than 40 yards for his career. Last season, the Hokies blocked two of his field
goals, one of which was returned for a touchdown by D.J. Parker. If Virginia
Tech’s field goal blocking unit can enjoy a repeat performance this season,
the Hokies should win the game.

Georgia Tech does have a very good punter in Durant Brooks. Brooks is
averaging 42.8 yards per punt on the season, with a long of 61. Georgia Tech is
20th in the nation in net punting.

If the Hokies can get their kickoff return team going, they have a chance to
make a difference in the game. Georgia Tech’s opponents’ averaging starting
position is the 29 yard line following kickoff returns, which is a solid mark
for the return teams. The Hokies need to take advantage of this.


I don’t like this matchup at all, and I haven’t tried to keep it a
secret. I don’t care if the final score was 51-7 last year, or if the Hokies
have totally owned the Yellow Jackets for the last 66 minutes of play between
the two teams. Georgia Tech is very strong (interior defense) where the Hokies
are very weak (interior offensive line).

That’s pretty simple. I won’t get into much more detail that that. I just
think the Georgia Tech front seven is going to maul the Hokie offensive line all
day, and it’s going to be a very long afternoon for the Virginia Tech offense.
Bud Foster’s defense will play well, but it won’t be enough.

Prediction: Georgia Tech 16, Virginia Tech 13

Will Stewart’s Take: Virginia Tech is progressing as a team. The offense
is coming along, with a great receiving corps and an outstanding starting
running back. The offensive line and the quarterback are a work in progress. The
defense hasn’t been the shutdown unit that it was in 2004 and 2005, though it
has done a good job keeping opponents out of the end zone. And special teams
have been outstanding. Four blocked kicks, one punt return for a touchdown,
Brandon Pace perfect on field goals (4-for-4), and Nic Schmitt averaging 42.8
yards per punt.

This is a pretty even matchup, but Georgia Tech has one of the best
playmakers in the country on their offense (Calvin Johnson) and a defense that
will give the Hokies fits. If you take off the orange and maroon glasses, the
Jackets have everything it takes to pull the upset in Lane Stadium.

Coming into the season, I saw the Hokies as a 6-2 or 5-3 ACC team, with one
of those losses coming on the road against Miami. That leaves one or two losses
coming from the trio of GT, Boston College, and Clemson. I never pick BC to beat
the Hokies, so by my logic, the Hokies are going to absorb at least one loss,
maybe two, to GT and Clemson.

I think this game will be a dogfight, but I don’t think this Hokie football
team is ready for the Jackets, either developmentally or emotionally. I think VT
drops this one, and how they respond to it against BC and Southern Mississippi
will determine my pick for the Clemson game.

Will’s Prediction: Georgia Tech 17, Virginia Tech 10

2006 TSL Football Game Predictions
(Through Cincinnati; Closest Prediction Highlighted)


N’Eastern 65-0 63-7 49-3 38-0
UNC 23-10 27-10 24-9 35-10
Duke 34-0 30-3 37-0 36-0
Cincinnati 34-6 31-3 38-3 29-13

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