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Virginia Tech will have a big opportunity on Monday night. They get to host a Monday night game from Lane Stadium. It will be the only game of the day, and the whole country will be watching. They also have a chance to put Georgia Tech down in the Coastal Division standings. Beating the Yellow Jackets on Monday would give the Hokies basically a two-game lead in the Coastal. They would be ahead by one game in the W-L column, and they would also hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Why is that important? Because the winner of the Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech game has moved on to the ACC Championship Game every year of divisional play. With North Carolina on probation, Miami expected to be down, and UVA coming to Lane Stadium, a win over Georgia Tech would put the Hokies in an outstanding position in the Coastal Division for the rest of the season. If VT wins, then Georgia Tech would have to go undefeated in ACC play the rest of the way, and hope that the Hokies drop two conference games. One of those might happen, but both happening is unlikely.
Virginia Tech is 3-1 against the Yellow Jackets since Paul Johnson arrived with his spread option offense. There was a little bit of bad blood following the 2009 GT win in Atlanta. Since then, Johnson has added Al Groh to his coaching staff. With Johnson and Groh roaming the sideline, combined with what this game means in the Coastal Division, the Georgia Tech game has jumped to the top of the list as the most meaningful game of the year.
If you’ve seen one Paul Johnson offense, you’ve seen them all. The only real difference is the personnel. Defensively, Al Groh will bring a 3-4 defense to Blacksburg that Virginia Tech is used to seeing from his days at UVA.
The Georgia Tech Offense
By now, we are all familiar with the Georgia Tech offense. Paul Johnson likes to run the spread option, but he will also run counters and sweep style plays, and he’ll mix in the occasional deep ball. The basic formation features a fullback (B-back) lined up directly behind the quarter, and two wingbacks (A-backs) lined up just outside the tackle or tight end and behind the line of scrimmage.
From that formation, Georgia Tech can run triple options, read options, sweeps, etc. They can send a variety of men in motion, and Paul Johnson can get guys blocked on the edge in a lot of ways. Tech defensive players have to do three things in this game:
1: Stay upright. The Yellow Jackets try to get defenders off their feet, particularly on the edge of the defense to clutter up the middle. If they can get defensive ends and outside linebackers off their feet, then many times the A-back only has to beat one guy to score a touchdown.
2: Tackle. I can’t think of another game where one-on-one open field tackling will be this critical.
3: Don’t get impatient and frustrated. GT is going to get first downs. That’s the nature of their offense. Just calm down, and don’t allow the big play.
You’ll recognize quite a bit of Georgia Tech’s offensive personnel. At the quarterback position, Tevin Washington (6-0, 205, r-Sr.) returns as the starter. He’s an experienced fifth year senior, and he’ll be working behind an experienced offensive line. With such an experienced guy under center, the timing of Georgia Tech’s offense should be good.
Washington led Georgia Tech with 987 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns a year ago. He added 1,652 yards through the air (that’s a lot for Georgia Tech), with 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions. I think Bud Foster will tell his defense to put a pounding on Washington, whether or not he has the ball. He’s not nearly as big as Josh Nesbitt, his predecessor, and I have a feeling the Hokies will want to hit Washington as many times as possible in this game.
David Sims (6-0, 222, r-Jr.) is Georgia Tech’s starting B-back, and I expect him to get the majority of the snaps at that position against the Hokies. He had 135 carries for 698 yards a year ago. Sims will get the work on the interior, and stopping the inside portion of Georgia Tech’s option game will be the responsibility of the defensive tackles and mike Jack Tyler. Zach Laskey (6-1, 208, So.) could also see time as a B-back, though this is his first year at that position.
Virginia Tech will look to stop the option pitch outside to the A-backs. The A-backs are Georgia Tech’s biggest playmakers. Orwin Smith (6-0, 205, Sr.) averaged over 10 yards per carry last year (61 carries, 615 yards, 11 touchdowns). He is the most experienced A-back returning to the 2012 team. He has a lot of speed, with a career long run of 95 yards. It will be very important for the Tech defense to be able to tackle Smith in space, or better yet, be all over the pitch so the quarterback is forced to keep the ball.
The other A-backs are Robert Godhigh (5-7, 188, r-Jr.), B.J. Bostic (5-11, 170, r-So.), Deon Hill (6-0, 207, r-So.) and Tony Zenon (5-8, 173, r-So.). Backup quarterback Synjyn Davis (6-2, 215, r-So.) has also gotten some reps as an A-back, so we could possibly see some trickeration on Monday night.
None of Georgia Tech’s wide receivers caught a pass last season. Yes, you read that correctly. However, unlike most offenses, which put their best actual receivers on the field, Paul Johnson will put his best blockers on the field. If they are good receivers, it’s just an added bonus. Jeremy Moore (6-3, 183, r-Jr.) and Jeff Greene (6-4, 210, So.) are expected to start, while Chris Jackson (6-1, 207, r-Sr.) and Darren Waller (6-5, 228, So.) are the backups. Tech’s defensive backs and other edge players must be wary of these wide receivers. Their ability to get off the cut blocks of these receivers in the open field could be the difference in winning and losing.
Georgia Tech does have an injury up front. Right tackle Morgan Bailey (6-4, 295, r-So.) has been in a walking boot in August. If he can’t go, left tackle Ray Beno (6-2, 292, r-Jr.) will slide over to right tackle, and Bryan Chamberlain (6-4, 295, r-Fr.) will start on the left side. Assuming Bailey doesn’t play, Georgia Tech’s line will look like this:
LT Bryan Chamberlain (6-4, 295, r-Fr.): 0 career starts
LG Will Jackson (6-3, 290, r-Jr.): 22 career starts
C Jay Finch (6-3, 285, r-Jr.): 14 career starts
RG Omoregie Uzzi (6-3, 307, r-Sr.): 25 career starts
RT Ray Beno (6-2, 292, r-Jr.): 12 career starts
Except for left tackle, that’s a very experienced offensive line. Fortunately, the Hokies can counter it with a defensive front that is very experienced against Georgia Tech’s triple option attack.
Please allow me a moment to play armchair defensive coordinator. My biggest concern in this game is Virginia Tech’s safeties (Kyshoen Jarrett specifically) tackling in the open field against the Georgia Tech A-backs. The possibility exists for Bud Foster to invert things and use his cornerbacks against the pitch man, with the safeties responsible for downfield coverage. Both Jarrett and Detrick Bonner played cornerback last year, so it’s a realistic possibility.
There’s also the chance we could see Kyle Fuller at whip, and I’d actually be a little surprised if we didn’t. In that case, we would likely see Detrick Bonner slide down to field corner, with Boye Aromire entering the game at free safety. The defense would look something like this, when aligned with the Georgia Tech offense. Note that I’m just drawing in Tech’s defensive backs … the linebackers and defensive linemen are left out. You can click on the image for a larger version. Oh, and feel free to pause and admire my MS Paint drawing skills.
On the boundary side, Antone Exum (BC) would be responsible for the pitch man. Kyshoen Jarrett (ROV) would be assigned to cover the wide receiver on that side of the field in the event of a pass. On the field side, Kyle Fuller (WH) would be assigned the pitch man, while Detrick Bonner (FC) would play the receiver deep.
Obviously it won’t be drawn up exactly like that, but it would make sense to get Fuller and Exum involved against the pitch man. Both guys have shown an ability to get off blocks and make tackles in space. To me it seems that a guy like Antone Exum would be wasted in coverage in a game like this. He needs to be up around the line of scrimmage and used to stop the run. He excels in that type of role.
I’m hopeful that James Gayle can play effectively in this game, but I have my doubts. An ankle injury is tough to play through against Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets do so much cut blocking that it can make an ankle injury even more unpleasant than it already is. If Gayle can’t be effective, then that’s okay, because Tyrel Wilson is a very good option at the stud defensive end position for this game. The stud needs to be able to run laterally against Georgia Tech, and he’s one of the guys responsible for the quarterback. Wilson started at stud against GT last year and played very well. He runs well and he can stay on his feet. He had seven tackles and 1.5 sacks against the Jackets a year ago.
The Georgia Tech Defense
Georgia Tech runs a 3-4 defense, and they are coordinated by former UVA head coach Al Groh. Virginia Tech is used to having success against the 3-4, and quite a bit of that success has come against Groh. He had an excellent game plan against Tyrod Taylor two years ago in Lane Stadium, but the Yellow Jacket defense had no answer for the more traditional Logan Thomas last season.
In 2011, the VT offense racked up 476 yards of total offense against Georgia Tech while averaging 7.3 yards per play. The Hokies hit big plays on the ground and through the air, and the Jackets were also bludgeoned to death between the tackles on quarterback sneaks by Logan Thomas. Had you ever seen a quarterback sneak go for a 12 yard touchdown? I hadn’t either, until last season.
Georgia Tech has experienced starters on the defensive line, though their depth is questionable. I believe their best player is defensive end Izaan Cross (6-4, 300, Sr.). He is entering his third year as a starter, and he’s played a lot since he was a true freshman in 2009. The other defensive ends – Emmanuel Dieke (6-6, 270, r-Jr.) and Euclid Cummings (6-4, 275, r-Jr.) were backups who played a lot a year ago. Though neither is a returning starter, they have plenty of experience. Anthony Williams (6-4, 264, r-So.) should also see some action at defensive end, though he played in just four games a year ago.
The Yellow Jackets will play two nose tackles, and they couldn’t be any different. T.J. Barnes (6-7, 345, r-Sr.) will start, while Shawn Green (6-0, 280, r-So.) is expected to get approximately 50% of the reps. Barnes obviously has size, and though he is an obvious fit at nose tackle in a 3-4 defense, he was never able to claim the starting job before this season.
Starting inside linebacker Daniel Drummond is suspended for this game, and Jabari Hunt-Days (6-3, 252, r-Fr.) will start in his place. Obviously it will be the first college game for Hunt-Days, so we could see the Hokies try and take advantage. Quayshawn Nealy (6-1, 232, r-So.) will join him on the inside.
Jeremiah Attaochu (6-3, 240, Jr.) is Georgia Tech’s best and most experienced linebacker. He will play outside linebacker against the Hokies, along with Brandon Watts (6-2, 238, r-Jr.). Attaochu and Nealy are experienced linebackers, while Hunt-Days and Watts are new to the starting lineup.
In the secondary, Georgia Tech has suspended starting cornerback Louis Young, and Jemea Thomas (5-10, 195, r-Jr.) will start in his place. Thomas is an experienced player, playing in 13 games with two starts a year ago. He began his career as a rover, and he is the best athlete of all the Georgia Tech defensive backs. Rod Sweeting (6-0, 187, Sr.) is the other cornerback, and he started every game last season.
Safety Isaiah Johnson (6-2, 208, Jr.) started every game last season, and he could be one of the most improved players in the secondary. He’ll be joined deep by Fred Holton (6-1, 208, r-So.). Holton is a first year starter who missed all of last season with an Achilles injury.
How will Virginia Tech attack the Georgia Tech defense? I believe they will attack the edges in the running game. Go back and look at last year’s highlights here, and you’ll see that VT made a living off outside zones and zone stretches. Though they don’t have David Wilson anymore, this offensive line has tackles that are more suited to the outside zones than the tackles from 2011. Michael Via getting significant reps at right guard could also mean that the coaches are looking for a more athletic option at that position, which could indicate that they are looking to run the ball outside.
In the preseason we also saw the Hokies run a lot of misdirection to the wide receivers, and some playaction bootlegs (off of zone stretch fakes) to the tight end went for big plays. I think VT will attack Georgia Tech in a similar way. I don’t think the Yellow Jacket front seven runs as well laterally as some other defenses, and I don’t think they get off blocks particularly well on the defensive line. I expect the Tech running game to attack the Jackets at an angle off tackle. VT will try to force that GT front seven to get off blocks and run to the football.
The Hokies will also use those outside zone plays to work playaction, and probably some option plays of their own to wide receivers. I think the goal will be to make the defense work horizontally, and then we could see a guy like Demitri Knowles mixed in to attack them vertically.
I believe Virginia Tech has a fairly significant talent edge offensively vs. the Georgia Tech defense. However, I am concerned with the fact that D.J. Coles missed so much time in August coming off his knee injury. I’m concerned that Dyrell Roberts has only played three career games with Logan Thomas. I’m concerned that Marcus Davis missed the last scrimmage with a hamstring injury. I’m concerned that every receiver after those three guys is unproven. How good will VT’s timing in the passing game be in the season opener? To me, that’s a big concern.
Here’s one thing I do want to see from the offense: score in the first quarter. Until late in the fourth quarter a year ago, the VT defense has never been able to play with a lead advantage against Georgia Tech. The Virginia Tech offense has failed to score in the first quarter against the Georgia Tech defense in each of the last four seasons.
Let’s take a quick look at Georgia Tech’s key special teams players.
David Scully (r-Jr.): Scully kicked off for the Yellow Jackets, and missed his only field goal attempt (48 yards). As a kickoff guy, he’s got a strong leg. How accurate is it? He’s an unknown at this point.
Tyler Morgan (Sr.): Morgan is Georgia Tech’s veteran long snapper. He has snapped in a lot of hostile environments over the years. Lane Stadium will be nothing new for him.
Sean Poole (r-Jr.): Poole enters his third season as Georgia Tech’s starting punter. The Yellow Jackets were middle of the pack (54th nationally) in net punting a year ago.
Georgia Tech has not announced their kickoff and punt returners at this time. I would expect to see Orwin Smith involved in kickoff returns, though he only averaged 19.6 yards per return last year. The Jackets were 108th nationally in kickoff returns and 61st in punt returns, so Paul Johnson could be going for an overhaul.
With Virginia Tech starting a true freshman (A.J. Hughes) at punter, and newcomers J.C. Coleman (Fr.) and Demitri Knowles (r-Fr.) returning kicks, I think we have to consider the special teams battle a wash right now. However, it could be the difference in the game.
Virginia Tech has the overall talent edge, they are playing at home in a night game, they’ve had extra time to prepare for the spread option, and they have one of the best coaching staffs in the country. I’m not about to pick the Hokies to lose this one.
That being said, there is plenty to worry about. Georgia Tech is very capable of winning. If Virginia Tech’s new safeties miss tackles on the A-backs, or are fooled into giving up a long touchdown on one of Georgia Tech’s rare passing plays, then the Jackets will be right there in the game. But on the whole, if you look at VT’s defense, almost everybody in the starting lineup has played a lot of snaps against the spread option. They’ll be ready.
Offensively, it’s not Georgia Tech’s defense that worries me. It’s the timing between Logan Thomas and his wide receivers, and VT’s new running backs holding onto the football in a big game. I think we’ll see Georgia Tech bring the pressure up front and make VT’s new offensive line prove they can pass block, and make Thomas and the wide receivers prove they are on the same page. I believe the Hokies have upgraded their talent on the offensive line since last season, and I’m confident that they’ll answer the bell.
Special teams? It’s impossible to make a prediction there. We don’t know who is returning kicks for Georgia Tech, and true freshman A.J. Hughes has never punted in a game. A dropped snap or a shank could change the direction of the game.
I don’t expect either team to run away with the game, but if Virginia Tech manages to take a two-possession lead into the fourth quarter, I’ll start to feel very good about things. The Hokies got up two scores last year, and that forced Georgia Tech into obvious passing situations, which is not their strength. Bud Foster unleashed the hounds at that point, and the Hokies recorded six sacks in that game. Georgia Tech only allowed seven other sacks in their other 12 games combined.
More times than not, the team with the most talent wins. When you go up and down the rosters, I just see more overall talent for the home team. I expect this one to be a good game, but Virginia Tech’s higher talent level will pull away in the fourth quarter.
Chris Coleman’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Georgia Tech 17
Will Stewart’s Take: I’ve got a bad case of preseason-itis, meaning I feel very confident and optimistic about the Hokies’ upcoming season. I feel particularly good about this game. The problem is, it’s a feeling, not something rooted in fact or analysis. If I go with the feeling, I could be very disappointed if things don’t go well.
Having said that … if you read Chris’ entire preview, then what was written between the lines was one word: matchups. It’s VT’s responsibility to get their best tacklers, Fuller and Exum, on the perimeter, where they match up well with the A-backs. If James Gayle isn’t a hundred percent and Tyrel Wilson has to play a lot, that’s all right, because he’s a good matchup against Georgia Tech (but a horrible matchup against Miami, for example). Middle linebacker Jack Tyler is good in run pursuit and a strong tackler — in other words, a good matchup for GT. Offensively, Chris recommends that VT run the outside zone stretch, because that’s a bad matchup for Georgia Tech’s interior defense, which doesn’t do a good job getting off blocks and doesn’t run well sideline-to-sideline.
And so on and so forth. The problem is that GT head coach Paul Johnson is one of the best at using his particular scheme to find and exploit matchups. He already knows the characteristics of players like Exum and Fuller, whom he has seen on film, and his offense is versatile enough for him to tinker and try to exploit matchups.
These VT-GT games don’t just produce Coastal Division champions. They produce some of the better cat-and-mouse games that you’ll see in college football, as Bud Foster and Paul Johnson move pieces around on the board in an effort to find the elusive checkmate winner. Yes, I mixed my metaphors …
This is supposed to be the optimal setup for Virginia Tech vs. Georgia Tech: a night game, at home, with plenty of time to prepare for Paul Johnson’s offense. There is no better setup. The big reason for concern is that the Hokies, though they haven’t played a game, are not midseason-healthy. Tariq Edwards will be missed, Bruce Taylor is not 100%, D.J. Coles is going to be rusty, and James Gayle hasn’t scrimmaged in weeks.
We’ve been told this defense is deep, though, and can overcome injuries in the front seven. We’ll find out. In the four-year history of PJ vs. the Hokies, only once has either team scored more than 30 points. VT did it last year in Atlanta, winning 37-26. I don’t see it being that high scoring for either team.
Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, Georgia Tech 23