On the road to Atlanta for tonight’s game. Should be a good one. Here’s today’s game advance about its significance and a column by Aaron McFarling about the need for both teams to hold onto the ball.
Feel free to put your predictions in the comments section.
No. 10/9/10 Virginia Tech at No. 20/19/21 Georgia Tech
- Where: Bobby Dodd Stadium; Atlanta, Ga.
- When: Thursday, 8:06 p.m.
- TV: ESPN
- Records: Virginia Tech 8-1, 4-1 ACC; Georgia Tech 7-2, 4-2 ACC
- Series: Virginia Tech leads 5-3
Virginia Tech passing game vs. Georgia Tech secondary
Logan Thomas ended his 118-pass streak of being interception-free with by throwing two picks against Duke, but he still capped a successful October during which he completed 63.5 percent of his passes for 1,173 yards and seven touchdowns. He’ll have to fare better than the last time he was on a big stage, when he was 15-for-27 for only 125 yards against Clemson. Veterans Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin obviously help, as do tight ends Chris Drager and Eric Martin, who were viable pass-catching threats at Duke. Georgia Tech has been solid against the pass, leading the ACC in passing yards allowed (185.3 ypg). Four of the Yellow Jackets’ top tacklers are in the secondary — Isaiah Johnson, Rod Sweeting, Louis Young and Rashaad Reid — so there are play-makers back there. Johnson and Sweeting lead the team with three interceptions apiece. A good passing game can get them, though. Clemson threw for 304 yards (although they were picked off twice). We’ll see which Hokies passing game shows up. Edge: Push.
Virginia Tech running backs vs. Georgia Tech linebackers
David Wilson didn’t fall far on the national rushing list because of the bye. His 1,185 yards are still second nationally to San Diego State’s Ronnie Hillman. He’ll get plenty of carries tonight and should pile up the yards like he normally does. He hasn’t been the best in goal line situations, but that’s where the 6-foot-6 Thomas takes over. Plus, Josh Oglesby looked solid against Duke (6 carries, 44 yards, 1 TD). The Yellow Jackets have a stud linebacker in the inside in Julian Burnett, a team captain who leads the team with 73 tackles and 5.5 TFLs. Georgia Tech has been average against the run, however, allowing 162.1 yards per game and 16 touchdowns, more than anyone in the ACC but Maryland. In fact, Maryland (246 yards) and Virginia (274) ran all over this group. Edge: Virginia Tech.
Virginia Tech offensive line vs. Georgia Tech defensive line
The Hokies continue to benefit from their continuity up front. They’ve used the same starting five — Blake DeChristopher, Jaymes Brooks, Andrew Miller, Greg Nosal and Andrew Lanier – in every game this season. That makes a huge difference for a position group where the players usually fare better the more the play alongside one another. The group has allowed only nine sacks in nine games. The d-linemen in Al Groh‘s defensive front aren’t usually play-makers, although there are obvious exceptions (Chris Long). This year’s line doesn’t have anybody quite like that. Starters Jason Peters, Logan Walls and Izaan Cross have four tackles for a loss and two sacks among them, trying to take on blocks to free up their linebackers and aggressive defensive backs. Edge: Virginia Tech.
Georgia Tech passing game vs. Virginia Tech secondary
Georgia Tech passes? Yes, it does, on 18 percent of its plays. So not often. But when it does, it goes big. Quarterback Tevin Washington has thrown for 1,199 yards and 10 touchdowns this year. He has touchdown passes of 82, 77, 73, 71, 66,67 and 59 yards. Receiver Stephen Hill is his favorite target, with 20 catches for 608 yards. That 30.4-yard average leads the nation. But the Yellow Jackets are not high-percentage passers. Washington’s completed just 48 percent of his passes, and in the last four games against ACC competition, he’s just 18-for-48 for 261 yards, with no touchdowns and five interceptions. Virginia Tech hopes All-American cornerback Jayron Hosley has shaken off the rust after his sub-par game against Duke. If he’s on his game, he should neutralize Hill. Edge: Virginia Tech.
Georgia Tech running backs vs. Virginia Tech linebackers
Washington doubles as the team’s top runner, with 636 yards and 10 touchdowns this year in Paul Johnson‘s spread option offense. But the Yellow Jackets have other runners, including David Sims (564 yards, 5.5 avg.) and Orwin Smith (566 yards, 11.3 avg., 10 TDs). As a team, they average 5.9 yards per carry. There’s a reason they’re second nationally, averaging 328.0 yards per game, with a nation’s best 34 rushing touchdowns. They commit to it and do it well. The Hokies counter with Jack Tyler in the middle, replacing Barquell Rivers because he’s better at the run and adds some more speed. He’s played only four defensive snaps this year, though. Virginia Tech also has moved nickelback Kyle Fuller to a whip linebacker-like role. He’s made 9.5 tackles for a loss this year, third-most among defensive backs nationally. But he’s only 187 pounds. We’ll see if he can withstand the pounding of playing so close to the line. Edge: Georgia Tech.
Georgia Tech offensive line vs. Virginia Tech defensive line
The Yellow Jackets don’t have a senior along their starting offensive line (two juniors, three sophomores), but they’re well-versed in the blocking schemes Johnson requires, which includes plenty of cut blocking. Right guard Omoregie Uzzi is a two-time ACC offensive lineman of the week who is an Outland Trophy candidate. Even in ACC play, the team is averaging 4.9 yards per rush, so they’re definitely clearing holes. The Hokies, who are second in the league at stopping the run (86.3 ypg), did some shuffling to handle things up front. End J.R. Collins slides inside to tackle to replace a pair of true freshmen who haven’t seen this kind of offense before, while Tyrel Wilson will start at end. Collins is only 240 pounds on the interior and Wilson 291 on the end, which brings into question their ability to get the desired push up front, which defensive coordinator Bud Foster has said is paramount. Edge: Georgia Tech.
Virginia Tech return units vs. Georgia Tech coverage teams
Hosley (11.1 avg.) is a threat to return a punt for a big one. Wilson, despite an 18.7 average, is still a threat to return a kick for a score (as Georgia Tech found out last year). Georgia Tech is 11th nationally at punt return defense and 49th in kickoff coverage. Punter Sean Poole has a 37.9-yard average and the Yellow Jackets rank 10th in the league in net punting. Edge: Virginia Tech.
Georgia Tech return units vs. Virginia Tech coverage teams
The Yellow Jackets have two freshmen on its return units, but they’ve showed potential. Zach Laskey is fourth in the ACC with an 8.5-yard punt return average. Tony Zenon returned a kick 79 yards for a touchdown against Maryland. The Hokies’ problems on punts are well-documented. For every decent kick Michael Branthover seems to get off that’s good, he follows it up with a shank, something that nearly cost the team at Duke. Edge: Georgia Tech.
Cody Journell should be back for the Hokies after missing the Duke game because of a quad strain. He’s 10-for-13 this year and went 6-for-6 in October. Justin Moore is 5-for-9 for the Yellow Jackets, having two kicks blocked. His long is 40 and he’s missed kicks from 34 and 38 yards. Edge: Virginia Tech.
Both coaches have had prolonged success. Frank Beamer, following Joe Paterno‘s sudden removal, is the active leader in career FBS wins with 248. He has four ACC titles to his credit. Johnson has won everywhere he’s been, getting two Division I-AA titles at Georgia Southern before turning around Navy and winning an ACC championship at Georgia Tech (whatever the NCAA wants to say about it). It’s really two masters of their particular schemes going against each other. Johnson owns the spread option. Foster’s defense is among the best in the country on a yearly basis. Edge: Push.
Georgia Tech plays well at home. Very well. It’s 5-0 this year. Yes, it had two road losses in a row to Virginia and Miami, but it rebounded with a 31-17 upset of then-No. 5 Clemson at Bobby Dodd Stadium 11 days ago. Expect tonight’s crowd to provide a similar atmosphere. It’s something the Hokies haven’t really faced this year, so it will be interesting to see how Thomas, who is still a first-year starter, reacts to the most hostile environment he’s gone against yet. That’s where I think the Yellow Jackets will get the edge. If they can rattle Thomas and force him into mistakes, it can turn the tide of the game, simply because you can’t give the ball away against a team that controls the clock as well as Georgia Tech. Prediction: Georgia Tech 23, Virginia Tech 20.