Hokies, Yellow Jackets set to begin ACC play

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The real football season begins on Saturday when the Hokies face their first ACC test. The two Techs have quite a history since ACC expansion, and though the good Tech has enjoyed most of the success, the other Tech has had its moments.

OXVT’s tale of the tape

As always, we open with OXVT’s “Tale of the Tape” infographic.

vt_gt_2014_tale_of_the_tape

Georgia Tech has struggled out of the gate

The Yellow Jackets haven’t exactly started strong, despite their 3-0 record. Here’s a quick recap of each game.

38-19 W over Wofford: Georgia Tech led by just five with under nine minutes left, but scored two touchdowns down the stretch.

38-21 W over Tulane: This game was tied at 21 until the last play of the first half. Tulane held Georgia Tech to just 15 passing yards.

42-38 W over Georgia Southern: GT scored a touchdown with 23 seconds left to win. They allowed 528 yards of total offense.

The Jackets have been shaky thus far, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.

Foster and Johnson: Punch and Counterpunch

Bud Foster and Paul Johnson have been going head-to-head since 2008, and it has been fun to watch. We’ve seen numerous game plans from Foster, and more in-game adjustments from both guys than we can count.

Over the last couple of years, Foster has definitely gotten the better of Johnson. Here’s how the VT defense has done against the GT offense since 2008:

gt_oproduction_vs_vt_under_pj

We’ve seen the Virginia Tech defense dominate the Georgia Tech offense over the past two seasons. Last year the Yellow Jackets had fewer rushing yards than passing yards, which has to be a rarity for a Paul Johnson team. Bud’s last two defenses were very experienced against the Georgia Tech attack. This year his guys don’t have as many reps against that offense under their belt.

Inexperience against the spread option

Last year’s team had so many seniors who were playing their third or fourth game against that offense. Guys like Jack Tyler, James Gayle, Kyle Fuller, J.R. Collins, Derrick Hopkins and Tyrel Wilson are gone.

Playing against the spread option requires tough defensive tackles and quick and disciplined defensive ends and linebackers. We know the Hokies are quick at end at linebacker, and tough at defensive tackle. However, a couple of things bother me.

1: VT is banged up at defensive tackle. Corey Marshall missed the ECU game with an ankle injury, and Luther Maddy was banged up during the game. Maddy was in a green jersey for Tuesday’s practice, which means he wasn’t participating at all. If I had to guess, he will likely miss Saturday’s game. Georgia Tech and their cut blocking is not a good matchup for a guy with a bum knee.

2: Inexperience at end and linebacker. I really like what Tech’s ends and linebackers have done this year. However, they have rarely played against this offense in the past. In the case of Ken Ekanem, Chase Williams and Deon Clarke, they haven’t played against it at all.

So while it may seem like Bud Foster dominated Paul Johnson over the last two years, he did so with a ton of players with a lot of experience against that offense. Plus, in 2012 he had the whole offseason to prepare for Georgia Tech. I’m not expecting the same type of success this year. The Hokies are going to have to score some points.

The GT offense is very experienced, with a notable exception

The Georgia Tech offense is the opposite of the Virginia Tech defense. They have plenty of experience. Here are some notables.

  • The top three B-backs are seniors
  • The top four A-backs are seniors
  • Three of the top five wide receivers are seniors
  • Three returning starters on the offensive line

All of those guys have played against Virginia Tech, and in particular those three offensive linemen are going to be up against some banged up and inexperienced VT defensive linemen.

Of course, the most inexperienced player is quarterback Justin Thomas (5-11, 189, r-So.). He played a bit last season, and then took over when Vad Lee transferred to James Madison in the offseason. Thomas isn’t the biggest guy in the world, but he’s done a good job of running the GT offense through the first three games. Here are his game-by-game numbers:

Wofford: 13 carries, 71 yards, 11 of 15 for 282 yards and 2 touchdowns
Tulane: 10 carries, 70 yards, 3 of 8 for 15 yards with 1 interception
Georgia Southern: 20 carries, 137 yards, 1 TD, 11 of 24 for 188 yards with 4 touchdowns

What does that mean? Not a lot. Wofford is a 1-AA team, Tulane is bad pretty much every year, and Georgia Southern only recently made the move to the 1-A ranks and still uses players who are mostly 1-AA in terms of talent level. Let’s see where each of those teams rank in total defense:

Wofford: #98 (1-AA).
Tulane: #82
GA Southern: #95 (technically unranked because they are reclassifying this year)

That’s not exactly murderers row, though Georgia Southern will turn out to be a decent overall team. They only lost to Georgia Tech by four, lost to NC State by one, and beat Savannah State 83-9.

The bottom line is, we have no idea how good Justin Thomas is or isn’t. We thought “Bad Vad” Lee was good last year. Then he ran into the Hokies, and in the offseason he transferred to James Madison. We won’t know anything about Thomas until he faces some quality competition, and that begins this week.

Overall though, the Georgia Tech offense has plenty of experience, and they are going up against a VT defense without much experience against the spread option. That’s a concern.

What nobody ever talks about concerning the GT defense

Everybody talks about how the Georgia Tech offense is very difficult to prepare to play. What nobody ever talks about is that the Georgia Tech defense is capped every year because they don’t face a regular offense in practice.

At every other school, when the #1 offense faces the #1 defense in scrimmages, both sides have an opportunity to get better. At Georgia Tech, it’s a bit of a waste of time for the defense, because they are practicing against an offensive system that they won’t face all season. They only time they face a regular offense is during scout team work, but the scout team consists of walk-ons and redshirts. That will never get you 100% prepared.

Georgia Tech’s defense has never been particularly great under Paul Johnson, and I think that’s one of the reasons. Under the circumstances, I think they’ve done better than Yellow Jacket fans can reasonably expect.

2008: #25
2009: #54
2010: #64
2011: #44
2012: #43
2013: #27

The defense was good in Johnson’s first year, and it was good last year. However, things dropped off from 2009 through 2012, and things appear to be plunging again in 2014. The Yellow Jackets are #70 in total defense right now, despite not playing great competition the first three weeks.

I think it’s tough to build a consistent defense when that unit never gets a chance to practice and scrimmage against a conventional offense. Johnson’s offense gives him an advantage on that side of the ball from a preparation standpoint, but I believe it also caps his defense.

Jackets are questionable up front

Georgia Tech doesn’t impress me with their starting defensive line.

DE Keshun Freeman (6-1, 236, Fr.): A true freshman who has made one career start.

DE Rod Rook-Chungong (6-3, 243, r-So.): Three career starts. Had never played in a college game before this season.

DT Shawn Green (6-0, 276, r-S.): Green was in the two-deep two years ago, but he has never been a starter until this year, and injuries limited him a year ago.

DT Adam Gotsis (6-5, 282, Jr.): Gotsis is Georgia Tech’s best defensive lineman. He had 14.5 tackles for loss a year ago.

The Jackets have just one proven player up front, and their ends are extremely inexperienced. The backup defensive ends are just as inexperienced as the starters:

DE Tyler Stargel (6-3, 246, r-So.): Stargel played special teams last year, but recorded only one tackle.

DE Tyler Merriweather (6-5, 231, Fr.): Merriweather is the second true freshman in the two-deep at defensive end.

Overall, Georgia Tech is very questionable up front. They have allowed 216.7 yards per game on the ground and 5.9 yards per carry. Granted, Wofford is a flexbone team and Georgia Southern runs a lot of triple option, so those rushing numbers are inflated. Still, Virginia Tech’s offensive line should be able to play a lot better than they did against East Carolina. This week there are no excuses.

Key Players: Offense

As noted earlier, Georgia Tech has some experienced players on the offensive side of the ball. Here are some guys to remember:

#5, QB Justin Thomas (5-11, 189, r-So.): How good is Thomas? We’ll begin to find out this coming Saturday.

#37, B-Back Zach Laskey (6-1, 218, Sr.): Laskey has played a ton of B-Back since 2012, and he has 1,418 yards in his career. He has 236 yards through three games this year. Virginia Tech’s starting defensive tackles are hobbled, so watch to see how much success Laskey has right up the middle.

#15, WR DeAndre Smelter (6-3, 222, Sr): Smelter was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 14th round of the 2010 MLB Draft. He was an effective pitcher for Georgia Tech, but after he gave football a try for the first time in 2013, he has elected to focus on the gridiron. He has nine catches for 238 yards and three touchdowns on the season. Nobody else on the team has more than three receptions.

#70, RG Shaquille Mason (6-1, 300, Sr.): Mason has started 28 consecutive games for the Yellow Jackets. He will be going against some banged up Hokie interior defensive linemen.

#21, A-Back Charles Perkins (6-0, 205, r-Sr.): Perkins leads all A-backs with 111 yards on just nine carries. Georgia Tech will play 4-5 different A-Backs, and they are all capable of making a big play if they get an opening to the outside.

Key Players: Defense

#54, ILB Quayshawn Nealy (6-1, 235, r-Sr.): Nealy is in his fourth season as a starting linebacker for the Yellow Jackets. He is the most experienced player on this defense.

#97, DT Shawn Green (6-0, 276, r-Sr.): Though he’s undersized, Green has 3.5 TFL and 1.5 sacks this year. Still, he’s a much better matchup than Tech’s interior line has faced the last two weeks.

#12, SAM Demond Smith (6-0, 191, r-Jr.): Smith plays Georgia Tech’s version of whip/nickel. He has starting experience from last season, and his play in the open field will be critical for the Yellow Jacket defense.

#1, SS Isaiah Johnson (6-2, 205, r-Sr.): Johnson missed last season with an injury, but he was a very good safety for the Yellow Jackets in the previous three seasons.

Overall, Georgia Tech has a very experienced secondary. The Hokies could choose to target Chris Milton, who moved from safety to cornerback this year.

Final Thoughts

It’s easy to say “don’t worry, Bud Foster has shut this offense down the last two years, so we have nothing to worry about.” However, that would be neglecting the finer details, which we noted above, but I’ll sum up again …

1: Tech lost a ton of defensive players with a lot of experience defending the GT attack.

2: Starting defensive tackles Corey Marshall and Luther Maddy are banged up.

Because of those two factors, I have no idea whether or not the Hokie defense will play well against Georgia Tech. If those tackles were healthy, I would be confident in VT stopping the inside game to the B-Back. Unfortunately, they are not.

On the other hand, I don’t think Georgia Tech presents as many problems up front for the offensive line as Ohio State and East Carolina did. I think we’ll find a little more running room this week, and Michael Brewer will have a cleaner pocket. The Yellow Jackets only have 15 TFL and four sacks through three games. As a comparison, VT had 11 TFL and seven sacks in one game against Ohio State, and they have 26 TFL and 15 sacks overall. This isn’t a playmaking Georgia Tech front, which certainly helps the Hokies.

I have a feeling that this will be a good football game, and higher scoring than some VT fans might expect. In the end, I like the Hokies’ chances of scoring enough points against a questionable Georgia Tech defense.

Chris’ Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Georgia Tech 24

Will Stewart’s Take: I think this one is going to be more wide open than recent VT-GT contests.

From 2009-2013, GT’s point production against VT mostly declined from year to year (taking a small jump in 2011): 28, 21, 26, 17, and 10. As Chris discussed, that was PJ’s offense going up against players who gradually got more and more experienced playing against it. Things culminated in 2013, when Bud had experienced players and a freak defender, Kyle Fuller, whom Bud deployed close to the line to completely change the dynamic of the game. (Clemson tried the same trick later in 2013 but couldn’t pull it off, because their guy wasn’t as good as Kyle Fuller.)

If GT had an experienced QB, I think the Hokies would be in big trouble defensively. As it is, I think the Hokies are just in trouble, not big trouble. It’s not just the experience factor: it’s the injury factor, with Corey Marshall and Luther Maddy hurting. (The injury report is released on Thursday afternoon, so look for it.) I look for Zach Laskey, who has been a thorn in VT’s side before, to have a good game. Last year, when VT bottled up GT’s offense (129 rushing yards), Laskey still managed to average 6.1 ypc (7 carries, 43 yards).

Offensively, if the Hokies keep the Jackets off Michael Brewer, VT should be fine. The problem is, they’ll only get about ten possessions. If they whiff on the first three, and GT puts some points on the board, this is going to get sketchy. So it’s important that the Hokies come out strong on offense.

And it’s important that VT win the coin toss. I’m not kidding; one of the biggest reasons Georgia Tech beat the Hokies in 2009 is that the Jackets scored right before half time, got the ball first in the second half, and scored again. If they get that offense rolling and start playing keep away, it’s really hard to catch up with them.

Like Chris, I think the Hokies are going to have to put some points up on the board to win this one. The 2011 game was 37-26, Hokies, and the 2009 game was 28-23, Jackets. I think this one’s going to be similar.

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

What's your prediction for the VT-GT game? (VT is favored by 8)

  • Hokies win by 20+ (6%, 53 Votes)
  • Hokies win by 10-19 (27%, 234 Votes)
  • Hokies win by 1-9 (49%, 424 Votes)
  • GT wins by 1-9 (14%, 124 Votes)
  • GT wins by 10+ (4%, 34 Votes)

Total Voters: 869

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6 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Got to stay on your feet against these guys – can’t make plays when you’re on the ground. The boys will shut this O down!

  2. My biggest worry is the defense covering the pitch man. The last two games, while we’ve done well defending the run, when they run a true option we’ve left the pitch man wide open. Mainly I remember OSU running the same play twice in the second half where we were all over the QB but there was nobody for the pitch and it was 10+ yards before we touched them. I was surprised that Ohio St. didn’t run more of that true triple option look because it worked for them.

  3. Perhaps the inexperience and preparation for the GT
    Offense aren’t as big factors as it first appears. I remember the coaches saying during the telecast of the Ohio State game that they were preparing for Ohio State like they were preparing for GT and that turned out very well. I am most concerned about the injuries to our DTs.

  4. I think (at least I hope) that there is one more significant dimension to this game, the Hokie offense. If both offense and defense can erase the demon of the first quarter last week, we could see a whole different flavor to this annual battle of the Techs.

  5. I thought the point spread for ECU was too wide, and I think this one is too narrow. ECU was underestimated and GT is overestimated. You admit GT has been shaky, but that’s not reflected in the prediction. VT wins going away.

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