Matchups That Matter will run occasionally this offseason looking at personnel of our opponents and what the Hokies need to do to stop them. Today we look at how the Hokies match up against Georgia Tech's version of the flexbone offense.
The Hokies had a lot of things go right for them in last year's game against Georgia Tech. The trip to Blacksburg was the Yellow Jackets' third game running Paul Johnson's offense. It also saw GT quarterback Josh Nesbitt commit three turnovers, including two fumbles and the Hokies benefit from two personal foul penalties on its final scoring drive.
The turnovers and the penalties took some of the headlines away from what the Hokies were able to accomplish on defense. They did an excellent job of staying disciplined and playing assignment football to keep the Yellow Jackets out of the end zone until just under midway through the fourth quarter.
The Hokies got outstanding play from its defensive tackles, especially John Graves and Demetrius Taylor. They were often able to anticipate the Yellow Jackets' snap count and get inside penetration to prevent Nesbitt from making the inside handoff to Jonathan Dwyer.
Virginia Tech 20, Georgia Tech 17 - Game Film (VT Hokie Fans)
Dwyer finished the day with 28 yards on 10 carries with a long of 10 yards. The Hokies also did a good job of playing the pitch man and making Nesbitt be the one to beat them.
Bud Foster told Athlon Sports before the spring that taking the fullback out of the game and forcing Nesbitt to run the ball more may have led to the turnovers.
"Unless they're hitting on all cylinders they're going to turn the ball over. We were able to take the fullback out of it and make the quaterback make all the reads and all the pitches."
In the first half, Georgia Tech ran a lot of option plays to the boundary side of the field. This is the short side of the field where boundary corner Macho Harris and whip linebackers Cam Martin and Cody Grimm play. That side of the field features Tech's best run-stopping cornerback and linebackers.
When the Yellow Jackets ran more option plays to the field side of the field in the second half they had more success. These plays gave Nesbitt more space and had him going against Stephan Virgil and Purnell Sturdivant, who were making the third starts of their careers.
Nesbitt finished the day with 151 yards on 28 carries, his most of the season. He also scored the Jackets' lone TD on an 18 yard run in the fourth quarter.
Dwyer's output was his second-lowest of the season. He ran for 27 yards on 16 carries against Garner-Webb (!) later in the season.
What's Important in 2009
Looking at the Yellow Jackets' box scores from last season boggles the mind. You can get a feel for how up and down the team was at running Johnson's version of the flexbone. They're worst rushing output of the season came against lowly Garner-Webb. The Jackets were without Nesbitt and backup quarterback Jaybo Shaw. The offensive line struggled mightily and Georgia Tech was almost upset by the FBS upstarts.
Three of the Jackets' worst games on the ground came against Garner-Webb, Duke and Virginia. Incredible.
The Jackets had a strong day on the ground against North Carolina, racking up 326 yards. However, they committed more costly turnovers and lost, 28-7.
The key for the Hokies in 2009 will again be getting solid play from the inside players. Defensive tackles Taylor and Taco Thompson need to be able to keep Dwyer in check. He's the Jackets' home run hitter and Foster told Athlon an important thing in defending Tech's flexbone is make them get their yards in smaller chunks. Because the yards will come.
"They don't throw the ball, so you're going to get some yards running the football. You're going to get your self esteem hurt there. The key is to not allow a big play."
While Martin and Cody Grimm are both back at the whip linebacker spot, Stephan Virgil will move to the field corner. This side should be OK against option plays because Martin had a strong game last year and Virgil improved vastly as 2008 moved on.
The key will be on the field side. There's more room on that side, more space for the Jackets to maneuver and more chances for the Hokies to make mistakes. And all three non-secondary players on that side will be new for the Hokies in 2009. Barquell Rivers and Jake Johnson will be the two linebackers on that side. Both are sophomores.
The new field corner could also be a sophomore depending on who wins the job in August. It will be important for these guys to make their reads and react quickly to what Nesbitt does. Kam Chancellor's job against Georgia Tech will be even more important this year on that side of the field to keep the younger plays from making mistakes against the Jackets.
While the Hokies have now seen and been victorious against Johnson's offense, his players also have a year of running it under their belts. They will continue to improve and this year will have their fans behind them. Also, Johnson's offense won't be an exact replica of last year. Now that his players have experience with the offense, he'll be able to open the playbook more. Foster told Athlon he expects to see new tricks from Johnson.
"You're going to see him add a few more variations to the offesne - mid-line, trap and reads. You see him dabbling in other options."
He told the magazine the Hokies have been proactive and already have their Georgia Tech and the flexbone on their minds. He said he had hoped to devote an entire practice in the spring to working on the defending the option.
"We've already designed a game plan for these guys, something different than we did last year because it's such a unique offense."
As Johnson reacts to what defenses are throwing his way, so will Foster to what Johnson comes up with on Oct. 17. The game will have a big impact on the Coastal Division title. It did last year when Virginia Tech's win in Week 3 gave them it the tiebreaker that eventually sent them it to Tampa.
The chessmatch between the two coaches will be not only one of the better matchups to watch on Tech's schedule, but in the entire ACC in my opinion.