2010 Football Game Preview: #20 Virginia Tech vs. Georgia Tech

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  • Date: Thursday, November 4, 2010
  • Time: 7:30pm
  • TV: ESPN

For weather information and a roster card link, see the Info Center to the

It hasn’t been a year for entertaining home games, but the Hokies will
finally get one on Thursday night when Georgia Tech rolls in with their triple
option attack. The Yellow Jackets have not been eliminated from the Coastal
Division race, but one more loss will ensure that they are done. You can expect
a spirited game from the visitors, and the Hokies will look to inch one step
closer to their fourth Coastal Division crown.

With Miami’s upset at the hands of Virginia on Saturday, everyone in the
Coastal has at least two losses — except for the Hokies, of course. That means
if Virginia Tech wins three of their last four games, they will clinch a trip to
Charlotte for the ACC Championship Game.

Standing in the Hokies’ way on Thursday night will be head coach Paul Johnson
and his unique option offense. The Hokies stonewalled this offense last year in
the first half, but couldn’t stop it over the last 30 minutes in a 28-23 loss in

Defensively, Virginia Tech will face a guy they are all too familiar with …
former UVA head coach Al Groh, who is serving as Georgia Tech’s defensive
coordinator. The Georgia Tech defense has switched to Groh’s preferred 3-4
scheme, but that hasn’t helped the Jackets. They haven’t been able to stop the
run all year.

The Jackets are 5-3. They had one very bad loss to Kansas (28-25) on the
road, and they’ve also been whipped by NC State (45-28) and Clemson (27-13).
Their lone quality win came on the road against UNC (30-24) in week two.
However, that was a narrow win over a team missing a dozen players, including
almost their entire defense. Other than that, Georgia Tech has defeated South
Carolina State, Wake Forest, Virginia and Middle Tennessee State. And they
barely got by an awful Wake team on a last second touchdown.

Bottom line: this Georgia Tech team isn’t as good as they’ve been the last
two years. They’ve lost too much talent to the NFL, and opposing ACC defenses
have had three years to study that option. However, they are still very capable
and the Hokies will have to play well to win.

The Georgia Tech Offense

Georgia Tech runs an option attack that features a B-back and two A-backs.
The B-back lines up directly behind the quarterback in a single back set. He has
the size of a fullback, but has the running ability of a tailback. The A-backs
align as wing backs off the line of scrimmage to the outside of the offensive
tackles. On many occasions the A-backs will go in motion, and Georgia Tech will
run a triple option play in that direction.

The Jackets will also run a read option with the B-back and the quarterback.
The quarterback has the option to either hand it off to the B-back on the dive,
or keep it himself on an off tackle run. The Hokies will have to be mentally
focused, because one missed assignment can turn into a huge play for Georgia

Paul Johnson inherited some personnel that was perfect for his offensive
scheme. Unfortunately for him, he lost two of them to early entry in the NFL
Draft. B-back Jonathan Dwyer is gone, as is first-round wide receiver Demaryious

Johnson does still have quarterback Joshua Nesbitt (6-1, 217, Sr.), and the
Georgia Tech offense runs through their senior signal caller. Nesbitt is a
quarterback who is built like a tailback. He is a big, physical runner who
averages 81.4 yards per game and just over four yards per carry. He has 160
rushing attempts this year, by far the most on his team. He is averaging exactly
20 carries per game, which means he takes a lot of hits.

Nesbitt isn’t known for his throwing ability. He is just 39-of-102 (38.2%)
for 674 yards, with seven touchdowns and two interceptions. That’s a pass
efficiency rating of 110.5, which would place Nesbitt 97th in the country, if he
had enough attempts. The Yellow Jackets do have the ability to hit big plays in
the passing game because of the focus of the defense against the option attack.

Nesbitt’s favorite target has been wide receiver Stephen Hill (6-5, 200,
So.). Hill has 10 catches on the season, and is averaging just over 13 yards per
catch. No other wide receiver has more than six catches. The Jackets will throw
it to the A-backs and B-backs as well, so there isn’t a lot of room for big
numbers as a receiver in this offense.

Overall, six Georgia Tech players have receptions of 40+ yards on the year.
With the loss of Thomas however, this group of receivers just isn’t particularly
talented. The Hokies have a major talent edge in the secondary vs. Georgia
Tech’s receivers.

A guy who is talented is B-back Anthony Allen (6-0, 229, r-Sr.). Allen is a
transfer from Louisville who played the A-back position last year. With the loss
of Dwyer to the NFL, Allen moved inside to B-back this season. He is averaging
86.5 yards per game and exactly six yards per carry. He has great size, though
he’s not quite as physical as Dwyer. Allen can also be very effective on outside
runs. As a former A-back, he is used to taking the ball to the edge.

Lucas Cox (6-0, 245, r-Sr.) will also see some snaps as the B-back, and he
has proven in the past to be an effective runner.

At A-back, Georgia Tech features Roddy Jones (5-9, 202, r-Jr.), Embry Peeples
(5-10, 174, Jr.) and Orwin Smith (6-0, 202, So.). They all play roughly equally,
though they don’t get anywhere near the touches that Allen and Nesbitt receive.
Jones has 31 carries for 225 yards and three touchdowns, Smith has 23 carries
for 11.4 yards per carry and three touchdowns, while Peeples has 31 carries for
211 yards. Even combined together, they don’t equal the carries of either Allen
or Nesbitt individually.

However, when those A-backs do touch the ball, they are very effective.
Nesbitt does a terrific job of running the offense, and he doesn’t pitch the
football unless those A-backs are the open read.

From left to right, Georgia Tech’s offensive line looks like this: Nick
Claytor (6-6, 285, r-Jr.), Jay Finch (6-3, 283, r-Fr.), Sean Bedford (6-1, 281,
r-Sr.), Omoregie Uzzi (6-3, 300, r-So.) and Phil Smith (6-5, 287, r-So.). Austin
Barrick (6-3, 286, r-Sr.) will also play at right tackle.

The Georgia Tech line has been solid, but they haven’t been as good as they
were the last two years. They were physically beaten in the trenches by Clemson
in their last game in a 27-13 loss. Josh Nesbitt was held to just two rushing
yards, and if he’s not having success on the ground then the entire Yellow
Jacket offense isn’t likely to be successful.

It’s very important that Virginia Tech limit the Jackets to short gains on
first down. You want Georgia Tech in third and long situations, or fourth and
long. GT will not hesitate to go for it on fourth down in short yardage
situations. They are 15-of-26 on fourth downs this year. Only Western Michigan
has gone for it on fourth down more than the Yellow Jackets this years.

From last year’s game, we obviously know that Georgia Tech will do a lot of
cut blocking. The Hokie defenders have to stay upright. Injuries are a concern
as well. Last season we saw starting defensive tackle John Graves get knocked
out of the game on an illegal chop block.

This year starting middle linebacker Bruce Taylor is nursing a high ankle
sprain, and it’s easy to see him reinjuring it with Georgia Tech linemen and
wide receivers diving at his knees. If that happens, then r-freshman Jack Tyler
would be the man at mike linebacker. This would be a good game for Tyler, who is
excellent against the run. He wouldn’t have to worry about the pass nearly as
much against Georgia Tech.

This game should be a great chess match between Bud Foster and Paul Johnson.
Last season Johnson got the better of it in the second half. Look for Foster to
throw in some new wrinkles this season.

The Georgia Tech Defense

Georgia Tech’s defense wasn’t very good last year, and it hasn’t gotten any
better this year either. The Jackets are having a lot of trouble stopping the
running game in particular. Teams are averaging 162.25 yards per game on the
ground against GT, and their run defense ranks 75th in the country. Overall,
they stand at 53rd in total defense allowing 354.25 yards per game.

Those are bad numbers, despite the fact that they’ve only played one team (NC
State) who ranks in the top 50 nationally in total offense. They were even run
over by a Kansas team (28-25) who is 2-6 and ranks 96th in total offense.

Georgia Tech has had a lot of really good defensive football players in
recent years. Morgan Burnett, Derrick Morgan, Michael Johnson, KaMichael Hall,
Gary Guyton, Phillip Wheeler, Darryl Richard, Vance Walker … the Yellow
Jackets had a lot of outstanding football players in their front seven there for
awhile. However, the talent pool has dropped quite a bit. The Yellow Jackets
don’t have anymore stars on the defensive side of the football.

What they have is Al Groh, a new 3-4 defense and a team that is going through
the growing pains of learning a new system without ideal talent. Under all those
circumstances, the defense is about as good as it should be.

Their best playmakers are at linebacker. Steven Sylvester (6-2, 238, Jr.)
leads the team with 10.5 tackles for loss from his outside linebacker position,
and he also has three sacks. Inside linebacker Brad Jefferson (6-2, 244, Sr.)
leads the team in tackles with 49, and he also leads the team with four sacks.

The other linebackers haven’t been nearly as productive. Julian Burnett
(5-10, 222, So.) is a solid football player, but he’s not big enough to play the
inside linebacker position in a 3-4 defense on a regular basis. He can get
swallowed up by big offensive guards, and that happened more than once last week
against Clemson. The other outside linebacker is Anthony Egbuniwe (6-5, 248, r-Sr.).
He transferred to GT from Tulsa, but has spent his entire career at defensive
end until this year. He’s never been much of a playmaker, with just 4.5 career
tackles for loss.

With the exception of defensive end Izaan Cross (6-4, 292, So.), Georgia Tech
isn’t getting much from their defensive linemen. These guys have good size for
the 3-4, but they aren’t playing particularly well. Cross has 5.5 tackles for
loss and 2.5 sacks, but nose guards T.J. Barnes (6-7, 333, r-So.) and Logan
Walls (6-2, 295, r-Jr.) have combined for just 0.5 tackles for loss. There’s not
much penetration coming from the inside.

The other starting defensive end is Jason Peters (6-4, 271, r-Jr.), and he
has just 1.5 tackles for loss. With the lack of playmakers on the defensive
line, an undersized inside linebacker, and an outside linebacker that doesn’t
make plays, it’s not a surprise that the Yellow Jackets have yielded so many
yards on the ground.

Georgia Tech has been better defending against the pass. The Yellow Jackets
are 32nd nationally in pass defense, and 43rd in pass efficiency defense. They
have just six interceptions on the season, but they’ve also only allowed eight
passing touchdowns.

Safety Jerrard Tarrant (6-1, 205, Jr.) leads the team with three
interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown. Cornerback Dominique
Reese (5-11, 193, r-Sr.) likes to make plays around the line of scrimmage, with
seven tackles for loss and a sack on the season. He’s also broken up eight
passes, and he’s Georgia Tech’s top cover corner.

Mario Butler (6-1, 184, Sr.) is the other cornerback. He’s a solid, but
unspectacular player. The other starting safety is Mario Edwards (6-1, 214, r-Sr.).
If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Edwards transferred from Virginia
Tech. He is from Atlanta, and received an exception to transfer to another ACC
school because of a family situation. He has started 13 career games for Georgia
Tech, including all eight this year. However, he has no career interceptions,
has broken up just two passes in his career, and has registered only 0.5 tackles
for loss.

Georgia Tech starts five seniors and four juniors on the defensive side of
the football, so youth can’t be used as an excuse for their struggles this year.
A decline in talent while adjusting to a completely new defensive system are the
main reasons for their defensive failures in 2010.

Special Teams

File these stats away: 87th in punt return yardage defense, 87th in kickoff
returns, 86th in punt returns and 113th in net punting. Georgia Tech has been
poor on special teams this year, and that hidden yardage makes a big impact on
the outcome of games. They are ninth in kickoff return defense, but other than
that it has been a struggle for the Yellow Jackets.

Scott Blair has been good with his field goals, going 11-of-13. He’s 5-of-7
from beyond 40 yards, with a long of 47. He’s one of the ACC’s best kickers.
Obviously he’s outperforming the rest of his teammates, as we see from the stats
listed above.

The return game hasn’t been kind to Georgia Tech. Jerrard Tarrant has 14 punt
returns for 84 yards, and that includes one 25 yad return. His other 13 returns
have gone for just 59 yards.

Four different players have shared kickoff return duties. The best is
probably A-back B.J. Bostic (5-11, 170, Fr.). The true freshman is averaging
22.5 yards per return this year, with a long of 35 yards.

The Hokies are 30th in net punting, ninth in punt returns, 24th in punt
return defense and 51st in kickoff returns. They are just 94th in kickoff return
defense, but overall they have better athletes and more depth than Georgia Tech,
so they are better in most parts of the kicking game.

Final Thoughts

Virginia Tech is better on special teams, and they are better on defense
despite being younger. The Hokies also rank higher in total offense by a wide
margin (32nd to 49th). VT averages over 200 yards per game on the ground as well
as through the air.

The Hokies have better players than the Yellow Jackets, on offense, defense
and special teams. They have a more balanced offensive attack, they have much
more skill on the outside, and a trio of talented running backs. Considering how
the Georgia Tech defense has played this year, that’s not a good sign for the

With better players, terrific momentum with six straight wins, as well as a
rocking Thursday night crowd in Lane Stadium, Virginia Tech seems to hold all
the cards heading into this game.

A few things do concern me, though. What’s the weather going to be like? If
it rains, will it be a drizzle or a steady downpour? That could pose major
problems for Tech’s passing game. Also, what if one of those cut blocks takes
out Bruce Taylor? How will Jack Tyler respond?

I expect that option attack to keep Georgia Tech in the game. The Hokies are
playing a lot of freshmen and sophomores on the defensive side of the ball. By
my count, seven freshmen have seen major action in non-mopup duty this season.
Add five sophomores to that list, and that’s a lot of inexperience. I’m willing
to bet that there will be some mistakes made on the defensive side of the
football, and the Yellow Jackets will break off some big plays.

However, I also think the VT defense will play well overall, and Georgia Tech
isn’t going to drive up and down the field at will. The VT offense shouldn’t
have any trouble moving the football in this game, knock on wood.

This one is going to be fun. Paul Johnson and Al Groh on the same sideline,
in Lane Stadium. And on a Thursday night! It doesn’t get much better than that.
Hokies win.

Chris’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, Georgia Tech 24

Will Stewart’s Take: To me, it’s simple: if the Hokies play as well on
offense as they’re capable of playing, they can get out front, stay there, and
win this thing.

For a year, the debate has gone on about whose “fault” it was that
the Hokies lost in Atlanta last year: the offense or the defense. My take is
that the defense held Georgia Tech at bay plenty long enough for the Hokie
offense to take advantage of good field position and stake VT to a lead. While
the defense was holding Georgia Tech to -7 yards on their first four
possessions, the offense got into Georgia Tech territory four times and scored
just three points.

The offense failed to take advantage of the opportunities presented to it
early in the game, and that opened the door for Georgia Tech to get their
offense in gear and win.

To avoid a loss this year, the Hokie offense needs to come out firing from
the opening kickoff. Don’t get cute, don’t overthink things during the 11-day
break, just do what they’ve been doing in the last month. Spread the field,
utilize the passing game, and pound Georgia Tech with Darren Evans. Yes, I know
Ryan Williams is slated to get increased playing time coming off his injury, but
Evans is the guy I would get to tote the mail in this one. (Now, watch Ryan
Williams pile up 150 yards …)

Above all, give Tyrod Taylor room to work, and give him a chance to be the
difference in this game. We’ve only got him for five or six more games, and at
this point, I don’t care if he’s executing a perfectly timed, perfectly thrown
slant pattern in the face of a blitz on third and short, or if he’s picking up
twenty yards scrambling for his life because the o-line’s getting hammered. Just
give the guy the opportunity to do something and win the game.

And isn’t it about time to take back Thursday nights in Lane Stadium? After
an unprecedented run of success on Thursdays, going 7-0 at home from 1999-2006
in Lane, the Hokies have lost two of their last three on the Worsham Field turf
in ESPN’s Thursday showcase.

Let’s be honest: this has been a dull, dull home schedule this year. JMU (way
more exciting than it should have been), ECU, Central Michigan, Wake Forest, and
Duke. All of the excitement has happened on the road.

That ends Thursday night, and Hokie fans need to show up in force and take an
active role in kick-starting what we all hope will be a drive to the ACC
Championship. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty excited about the idea of
Virginia Tech playing in the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte, but first, they
have to get there. And step one in getting there is to knock off Georgia Tech in
Lane Stadium.

Shake it off, Hokie fans. Show up. Make noise. Let’s start this run to
Charlotte by making Georgia Tech and Paul Johnson irrelevant for the remainder
of the regular season.

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