Game Preview: The Battle Of The Techs

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Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech faces Georgia Tech in Atlanta. (Ivan Morozov)
  • Virginia Tech vs. Georgia Tech: Noon, Noon, RSN
  • Virginia Tech vs. Georgia Tech Betting Line: GT -4
  • Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech roster cards: Click here
  • Game notes from Hokiesports: Click here
  • Atlanta weather: Click here
  • Gameday information: Click Here

Virginia Tech (3-4, 1-2) returns to action this week against Coastal Division foe Georgia Tech (3-4, 2-3).  Things have trended downhill for the Hokies in recent weeks, and both of these teams need to win ASAP if they hope to qualify for a bowl game at the end of the season.

The Hokies have put themselves in a difficult position on paper.  They need three more wins to qualify for a bowl game, and four of their last five games are on the road.  That’s a big deal…on paper.  But in Virginia Tech’s case, does it really matter?  Let’s look at Tech’s record against Power 5 competition in home games in their most recent seasons…

2021: 1-3
2020: 3-2
2019: 3-1
2018: 1-4
Total: 8-10

Meanwhile, here’s their road record against P5 teams in the same span…

2021: 0-1
2020: 2-3
2019: 2-3
2018: 3-1
Total: 7-8

There’s not much of a difference there.  Most Virginia Tech fans probably feel just as good about winning an ACC game on the road as they do at home these days.

The Jackets are coming off a 48-40 loss to UVA where the game wasn’t quite as close as the final score indicated.  Georgia Tech upset UNC earlier this year, just like the Hokies, but as it turns out, the Tar Heels have struggled to win.  The Jackets’ other conference victory came in a close 31-27 contest against Duke.

Here’s a closer look at this weekend’s matchup.

Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech hopes to celebrate again in Atlanta. (Ivan Morozov)

The Virginia Tech Offense vs. a Suspect Georgia Tech Defense

Georgia Tech head coach Geoff Collins is a defensive guy.  He’s the former defensive coordinator at Florida and Mississippi State, and it was assumed that he would improve the Yellow Jacket defense, while it would take a while to turn around the offense, thanks to Paul Johnson’s spread option personnel.

Yet things haven’t gone to plan.  Here are some numbers comparing Georgia Tech’s offense and defense…

Offensive FEI: No. 75
Defensive FEI: No. 83
Total Offense: No. 48
Total Defense: No. 96
Scoring Offense: No. 54
Scoring Defense: No. 91

The Yellow Jacket offense looks a lot better than the defense in the traditional metrics, and a bit better in the advanced stats as well. 

When Collins was hired, I would have guessed the opposite.  I would have guessed that it would have taken four recruiting classes to get the offense playing at a decent level, but I figured the defense would have been able to make quicker strides because they didn’t have to deal with as difficult a transition.  That’s not the way it worked out, though, just like hiring a former offensive coordinator as head coach hasn’t worked out in 2021 for the Virginia Tech offense.

Here are the total yards and yards per play that Georgia Tech has allowed against FBS competition this year…

Northern Illinois: 301 yards, 5.1 ypp
Clemson: 284 yards, 4.3 ypp
UNC: 369 yards, 5.0 ypp
Pitt: 580 yards, 7.4 ypp
Duke: 489 yards, 5.4 ypp
UVA: 636 yards, 8.7 ypp

Things started out well.  Those first three games are acceptable performances.  True, Clemson’s offense is bad, and Northern Illinois is a MAC team, but the UNC performance was good as well.  However, the Jackets have fallen off a cliff over the last three weeks.  Perhaps what is most concerning for Collins is that opposing offenses have been balanced against the Georgia Tech defense…

Pitt: 181 rushing yards, 4.4 yards per carry, 399 passing yards, 52 points
Duke: 197 rushing yards, 3.2 yards per carry, 292 passing yards, 27 points
UVA: 240 rushing yards, 8.0 yards per carry, 396 passing yards, 48 points

The UVA offense is only No. 90 in the country in rushing yards against P5 opponents (125.14 yards per game) and they are middle of the pack (No. 59) in yards per rush.  Yet the Hoos gashed the Jackets for 240 rushing yards and averaged eight yards per carry.

Linebacker has probably been the biggest issue.  Charlie Thomas (6-2, 207, Jr.) has four tackles for loss and three sacks, and he’s also Georgia Tech’s best grader on the entire defense (76.3).  He leads the team with two interceptions.  However, linebackers Quez Jackson (6-1, 215, Jr.)) and Ayinde Aley (6-3, 232, r-Jr.) have been sub par, with PFF grades of 49.5 and 38.2, respectively.

To put that into perspective, only six FBS linebackers have a grade lower than Aley (minimum 100 snaps).  He ranks No. 480 out of 486.  Jackson isn’t much better at No. 426.  The Hokies should be able to take advantage of that linebacker play on Saturday.

Georgia Tech has been good up front with Jared Ivey (6-6, 275, Fr.), Djimon Brooks (6-1, 286, r-Sr.) and Jordan Domineck (6-3, 235, r-So.) leading the charge.  They don’t have great depth, but the defensive front has probably been the strength of this defense so far this season.

Cornerback play has been a major concern with the Yellow Jackets, with five players playing 149 or more snaps, and only one of them grading out higher than a 62.8 on PFF.  None of them have been extraordinarily bad, but none of them have been good, either.

This Georgia Tech defense has also struggled to make game-changing plays.  Check out their rankings in the following categories:

TFL: No. 74
Sacks: No. 91
Interceptions: No. 108

The Jackets don’t get in the backfield much, and they don’t make interceptions.  They are No. 22 in fumbles recovered, but for Georgia Tech to recover fumbles, the Hokies must actually fumble it.  VT is tied for No. 33 nationally in fumbles this season, with most of those being fumbled snaps.

What is the real Georgia Tech defense?   Is it the one that played solid football through the first part of the season, or is it the one that has given up a lot of yards and points in its last three games?  I feel better about this matchup, as Justin Fuente said on Tech Talk Live last night that he spent more time with the offense leading up to the Syracuse game, and he’s going to continue to do so.

“I’ll probably stay over there,” Fuente said. “I felt like I needed to be a little more involved in their emotional well-being. I just had a couple meetings with them during the week and tried to challenge them and showed them how they had played early in the year and tried to get somebody to give me one good reason why they couldn’t play that way again, because we can use a million excuses, but the bottom line is there’s no reason we can’t and they did. They went out there and played much better and I hope that we can continue that. I hope we have instilled a little confidence in what we can go do.”

I could be wrong, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the offense played better when Fuente spent more time with it in the days leading up to the Syracuse game.  My hunch is the Tech O will be decent again this week.

Georgia Tech has vastly improved on offense since 2019. (Ivan Morozov)

The Georgia Tech Offense vs. the Virginia Tech Defense

The problem is that as soon as Fuente left the scout team offense (which means he was helping the starting defense), Tech’s defensive performance dropped off a cliff.  Virginia Tech has struggled to stop the run this year, but against the Orange they also didn’t have an answer in the passing game for big portions of the contest.  Which Hokie defense will we see in Atlanta this weekend?  The one that kept Virginia Tech in ballgames earlier in the year, or the one that got torched last weekend?

Georgia Tech played two different quarterbacks earlier in the season, but they’ve since settled on Jeff Sims (6-3, 210, Fr.) since his return from injury.  Sims is a COVID true freshman, meaning he was a true freshman in 2020 as well.  He was one of the most important recruiting wins of the Geoff Collins era, decommitting from home-state Florida State to sign with Georgia Tech.

Sims showed flashes last year while starting as a true freshman, and he’s improved this season.  He’s a threat through the air and on the ground, though his running is more advanced than his passing at this point in his career.

Passing: 76-of-123 (61.8%), 1,089 yards, 9 TDs, 5 INTs
Rushing: 48 carried, 320 yards, 6.7 ypc, 3 TDs

Here are some Sims highlights from last week’s 48-40 loss at UVA…

Overall, between Sims and a trio of running backs, the Georgia Tech running game has been solid, which is a concern for a VT defense that hasn’t been able to stop the run in recent weeks.  Here’s a look at the Yellow Jacket running backs…

Jahmyr Gibbs (5-11, 200, Fr.): 90 carries, 411 yards, 4.6 ypc, 2 TDs.  21 catches, 320 yards, 1 TD.  Gibbs was a top 50 recruit from Georgia, and he represents another huge recruiting win for Collins.  He’s a major threat running and catching the ball.

Dontae Smith (5-11, 202, r-So.): 37 carries, 249 yards, 6.7 ypc, 4 TDs.  4 catches, 24 yards.

Jordan Mason (6-1, 218, r-Jr.): 53 carries, 238 yards, 4.5 ypc.  4 catches, 32 yards, 1 TD.

Smith and Mason are solid players, but Gibbs is the most complete back, and he’s even held up well in pass blocking for a true freshman.  As time goes on, I would expect more and more of the load to be transferred to Gibbs.

Kyric McGowan (5-11, 198, Sr.) and Malachi Carter (6-3, 195, Jr.) have been Georgia Tech’s most productive wide receivers this season.

McGowan: 26 catches, 369 yards, 14.2 ypc, 6 TDs
Carter: 25 catches, 390 yards, 15.6 ypc, 1 TD

McGowan will mostly line up in the slot, while Carter is an outside threat.  However, there doesn’t appear to be exceptional depth at the wide receiver position for the Yellow Jackets.

Georgia Tech’s offensive line hasn’t been great.  Offensive tackle Devin Cochran (6-7, 314, r-Sr.) is a solid veteran, but the other starters have been exceedingly mediocre  when it comes to PFF grades so far this season.  As an overall team, GT ranks No. 13 out of 14 ACC teams in run blocking grade, and only No. 12 in pass blocking grade.  This is a team that has struggled to block all the way around, though Collins and his staff have still found a way to put up some points.

Special Teams

Georgia Tech hasn’t been particularly effective in the return game this year.  Azende Rey has 42 punt return yards on seven attempts, but 35 of them came on just one return.  Kyric McGowan hasn’t had any more luck, averaging only 2.3 yards on four returns.  Jahmyr Gibbs is the kickoff returner, and he’s got a long of 42.  He’s dangerous, though he hasn’t been dominant as of yet.  Likewise, the Jackets have been solid in coverage. 

With the more dynamic return men, it seems like Virginia Tech would have an advantage here if anybody does.  However, Gavin Stewart has put 24 of his 37 kickoffs into the endzone for a touchback, and only seven of Georgia Tech’s 31 punts have been returned. 

From a field goal standpoint, Brent Cimaglia is 9-of-12 on the season.  However, his long is only 34 yards, and he’s missed all three kicks of 40+ yards.   It’s also important to note that Georgia Tech has had both a field goal and a punt blocked this season.

Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech Final Thoughts

The Yellow Jackets have been a little bit more topsy turvy than Virginia Tech.  VT hasn’t blown out a P5 opponent, and they’ve been blown out just once.  Meanwhile, Georgia Tech hammered UNC 45-22, and then lost to Pitt 52-21.  The 48-40 score line against UVA isn’t reflective of how the game went, as the Hoos led 48-27 with just 3:50 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Point being, while the closeness of Virginia Tech’s games this year has been relatively easy to predict, that hasn’t really been the case with Georgia Tech.  Still, I don’t really see either team as being capable of hammering the other unless one of them just doesn’t show up, or commits some bad turnovers.

There are plenty of questions we can ask about this game. 

1) Now that Justin Fuente has taken a more hands-on approach with the Virginia Tech offense, will the Hokies move in the right direction on that side of the ball for the second week in a row?

2) Will the Georgia Tech defense continue its downward spiral?

3) Can the Hokies crack the magical 30-point barrier for the second week in a row?

4) What is the confidence level of both teams?

5) How much have VT’s players read about Justin Fuente’s hot seat status, and how much does that affect their mental status?

And so on, and so forth.  I don’t see how I can pick anything other than a close game again this week. Neither team looks like they have the firepower to blow the other one away, but it could still happen if there are turnovers or if one team mentally checks out.

Chris’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 30, Georgia Tech 27

Will Stewart’s Take: Georgia Tech is favored by four points, with an over/under of 56. I’m saying, take the Hokies straight up and bet the over.

I think this one could turn out to be similar to last week’s 41-36 “shootout” with the Syracuse Orange. Despite Georgia Tech’s run blocking issues, they have averaged 181 yards per game on the ground, and they’ve got some athletic runners. Run defense is the weak spot of the Hokie defense, and lately, Dax Hollifield and Alan Tisdale in particular have struggled in run defense, Tisdale more so than Hollifield. The Jackets could pile up some yardage on the ground.

Likewise, Georgia Tech isn’t a very good rush defense. In the traditional metrics, they’re No. 88 in the nation, giving up 166 yards per game, and as Chris pointed out, their rush defense has struggled as of late. Looking at their PFF grades defending the run as a team, they have gradually declined throughout the season, with the exception of a good game against Duke, who can actually run the ball, at 202 yards per game.

But that’s getting bogged down in analysis, which (1) I’m not very good at; and (2) I don’t think will drive this outcome.

I think it’ll be relatively high scoring because Georgia Tech will be able to run the ball on Virginia Tech, and because Fuente is more involved with the Hokie offense these days, and that seems to matter, based on the results against Syracuse.

As for why I think Virginia Tech will win it: no real reason, just a feeling. If you read my most recent Monday Thoughts, then you know that I’ve lost my faith in the coaching staff, but that doesn’t mean I think Virginia Tech is going to lose out. I feel like they’ve got two more wins in them, and I think this is one of them. (Duke is the other, of course.) That’s subject to change in the coming weeks, based on what happens as the season continues to unfold, but for this game, I’m picking…

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 38, Georgia Tech 34

David Cunningham’s Take: I’ll admit, I was completely wrong about the Virginia Tech offense last week. I picked the Orange to drub the Hokies 27-10, and, for once this season, Virginia Tech’s offense actually looked decent. I think a lot of that has to do with Justin Fuente working more with the offense in practice than the scout team offense.

The defense dropped off a cliff last week, though, like Chris said. I’m interested to see if it’s the same way in the second week without Justin Fuente running the scout team offense or if there’s a bit more improvement.

I think this will be a close, high-scoring game. Virginia Tech’s defense has been better over the course of the whole season, but if it plays the way it did against Syracuse, things could get dangerous. It’s the exact opposite with the two offenses.

One of the things that could be a huge difference is that Georgia Tech has a running quarterback in Jeff Sims. The Yellow Jackets run a lot of read option, which means the Hokies have to be disciplined defensively. I’m not as much worried about the defensive line, but more-so the linebackers. That group hasn’t played well. Alan Tisdale’s defensive grades on PFF over the last three weeks have all been sub-50. Dax Hollifield is similar, though his Syracuse grade was a bit better.

If Virginia Tech’s offense can play, though, this is a completely different game. I think the Hokies learn from their mistakes… and pull out a win? The betting line is currently GT -4. If I was a betting man, I’d probably pick VT to cover. This could go either way, but I think it’ll be very close, and I’m taking a game-winning field goal from John Parker Romo. I think the Hokies will play well enough defensively to give the offense a chance to win, and the group will do just that.

David’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 32, Georgia Tech 30

 


What's your prediction for the 2021 Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech game?

  • Hokies Win by 1-10 (38%, 459 Votes)
  • GT Wins by 1-10 (37%, 446 Votes)
  • Hokies Win by 11+ (16%, 195 Votes)
  • GT Wins by 11+ (10%, 117 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,217

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Last Game’s Virginia Tech-Syracuse Prediction Poll Results

Game Result: Syracuse 41, Virginia Tech 36

What's your prediction for the 2021 Virginia Tech-Syracuse game?

  • Syracuse Wins by 1-10 (35%, 539 Votes)
  • Hokies Win by 1-10 (31%, 476 Votes)
  • Syracuse Wins by 11+ (24%, 378 Votes)
  • Hokies Win by 11+ (10%, 151 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,544

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2021 Virginia Tech Football Predictions Tracker - TSL Staff
Game
Chris (5-6)
Will (6-5)
David (7-4)
Result
UNC
MTSU
@WVU
Richmond
Notre Dame
Pittsburgh
Syracuse
@Georgia Tech
@Boston College
Duke
@Miami
@UVA
TBD
2021 Virginia Tech Football Predictions Tracker - Fans (7-4)
Game
Fan Poll
Result
Score
UNC
Hokies Win by 1-10
Hokies 17, UNC 10
MTSU
Hokies Win by 11+
Hokies 35, MTSU 14
@WVU
Hokies Win by 1-10
WVU 27, Hokies 21
Richmond
Hokies Win by 11+
Hokies 21, Richmond 10
Notre Dame
Hokies Win by 1-10
Notre Dame 32, Hokies 29
Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh Wins by 11+
Pittsburgh 28, Hokies 7
Syracuse
Syracuse Wins by 1-10
Syracuse 41, Hokies 36
@Georgia Tech
Hokies Win by 1-10
Hokies 26, GT 17
@Boston College
Hokies Win by 1-10
Boston College 17, Hokies 3
Duke
Hokies Win by 1-10
Hokies 48, Duke 17
@Miami
Hokies Win by 1-10
Miami 38, Hokies 26
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18 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. I’m picking the Hokies for a double digit victory but in all honesty I can see just about any outcome here. Predicting based on the expectation that we will outscore the bad tech. I don’t expect this game to be close and wouldn’t be surprised if either team ended up with a lop sided win.

    I just hope this doesn’t come down to the wire because we have some seriously bad mojo in close games. Not sure how that reverses without Jobu’s magic.

  2. I am convinced that our defence fell off the cliff when Jermaine Waller went out. He is without a doubt our best player, and if he had been on the field for the last drive we would have won.

  3. It’s amazing that there are Hokie fans who have drifted into the Schadenfreude bardo. It’s one thing to have opinions – but to hope for bad things to happen? Maybe they should have a separate board so they can flock together. 🙂

  4. So if Fuente coaches the first team offense this past week and it has its best outing – and doesn’t coach the scout team or first team defense and it collapses – doesn’t that make Fuente a good coach? Maybe not a good head coach..

  5. I think we win this one and it won’t be close. I think both sides of the ball play better for the Hokies. If ,instead, we lose. It truly will be the end for Fu and we may indeed lose out.

  6. The ATL Hokies will be in force. Not much of a home field advantage for the Jackets. Predicting a Hokie win

  7. Instead of saying the offense played better, can we say the run game was better. The pass game was not.

  8. I feel like the Jack Reacher character when anticipating the final outcome of this game, “Hope for the best, plan for the worst”!

  9. This is one of those games where you have two teams that are pretty much the same including talent, development, coaching, recruiting, etc. and both are mediocre at best. In my opinion, the game score will be something like 17-14 or 44-41 because neither has an identity and prepares each week in a desperation mode (usually backfires and leads to even more all around inconsistency) instead of continually building on the foundation in which the program has been built.

  10. Based on your predictions, and the Hokies’ current suffering from multiple personality disorder, I predict a defensive slugfest that ends 2-2 in regulation with complementary safeties.

    GT gets the 4-2 win in the 7th OT because Fuente lines up to kick a PAT so the critics don’t accuse him of chasing points too early against GT.

  11. How do you expect our offense to score from 30 to 38 points? Do you think Thomas is that good? Is Payote going to Pay Out? I don’t see it. 45 points total.

    1. I mean the offense just did that against a Syracuse defense that is probably better. Personally I have no idea what to expect (like most games this season). It’s hard to make a prediction without knowing where the team (coaches and players) are mentally right now. There’s a lot of negativity around on both a micro and macro level. Can we block that out and stay focused or are we distracted and disinterested?

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