GC: After years of Josh Nesbitt and Tevin Washington, it's now Vad Lee's turn to run the Yellow Jacket offense. What can you tell Hokie fans who may not have seen much of him about what kind of player he is?
FTRS: Vad Lee is probably the best pure passer GT has had in a decade, and was North Carolina HS player of the year in 2010 from juggernaut Hillside HS in Durham. Whereas Nesbitt was a bruising runner, and Tevin ran the option conservative but clean, ESPN analyst Kelly Stouffer probably described him best when he said that Vad Lee is not an option QB, but rather a passing QB who likes to run. Vad has shown the most comfort this year so far out of the shotgun, and I think you might see more of that than in years past. After 3 games, the Sophomore has had mixed success under center running the base offense, but has shown an ability to run for tough yards and convert on 3rd down. His ability has certainly opened up the playbook, and GT fans (several of which though he should have played more last season) think he has an extremely bright future on the Flats over the next few years. By the way, backing him up is a highly-recruited QB named Justin Thomas, and Paul Johnson has hinted at giving the speedy option QB some work over the course of the season. This is the best talent GT has had at the QB position since Heisman runner-up Joe Hamilton.
GC: Obviously, as a triple-option team, the Jackets are going to run a lot, and Paul Johnson likes to use a lot of different guys to do that. But with that in mind, do you see a true feature back (whether it be an A back or B back or whatever letters you guys want to use in front of the word back) the likes of a Jonathan Dwyer on the roster, or is it going to be by committee perhaps due to the absence of a talent like that?
FTRS: We certainly miss our NFL-caliber guys like Jonathan Dwyer and Anthony Allen, and it's going to be a committee-approach this year at B-Back (which is the feature back in our offense and lines up behind the QB). David Sims and Zach Laskey will split most of the carries, and while neither of them are complete backs, each brings something to the table. Though not elusive, Sims runs hard and blocks very well, especially in pass-pro. Laskey has a good burst, and is the better pass-catcher. We have a young man coming in next year named Travis Custis who I think has Dwyer-like ability, so not all hope is lost.
As for A-Backs (or slot backs in the non-spread vernacular), I really need to mention Robbie Godhigh. The former walk-on, who scored on a toss play at Blacksburg a year ago, is really turning into a complete player and go-to guy. Paul Johnson's offense relies on perimeter blocking by the A-Backs, and Godhigh is the best at that by far. Plus, he's produced first downs in very significant times as either a ball-carrier or receiver.
GC: At some point this year, Lee is likely going to have to make some big plays with his arm. Can he do it? If so, what makes you think so? If not, same deal.
FTRS: I certainly think he can. In our last 2 games against Duke and UNC, Vad engineered very impressive 2-minute drives to get TDs right before the half. Lee is currently hitting 56% of his passes for an impressive 10.7 YPA with 7 TD/ 1 INT, and that's without hitting one of those long play-action bombs that opens up quite often in this kind of offense. As I mentioned earlier about Vad, he is an instinctual passer. Whereas our QBs in the past might have only looked at their primary read before tucking the ball and running, Vad can scan the whole field and find his 3rd or 4th option. The talent at WR has improved dramatically as well, plus the A-Backs are more involved in the passing game. The only limiting factor to Vad's passing will be protecting him, which was good during the UNC game, but the pass-rushing talent will be much greater when VPI comes to town.
GC: These games are always a close affair, and the winner of the game has now gone to 7 of the 8 ACC Championship games. Do you think that will be the case again this year? If not, why?
FTRS: I think Miami will have a lot to say about that this year, and they get both of us at home (much to your chagrin on the scheduling) this year. In fact, if you asked me what the best way was to schedule home games against Florida, GT, and VPI and have road games at FSU and UNC...the way their current schedule looks is probably what I would come up with. I think UNC will finish with 8-9 wins, which would have a chance in the Coastal as well. Since I like your remaining schedule, outside of Miami, I think getting to the ACC Championship depends on us winning Thursday night.
(For the record, we received a second straight road game against Clemson as part of ACC re-alignment, and this after taking on a second straight road game at Blacksburg a few years ago when the ACC re-aligned then. Plus we requested a home game the week before we traveled out to Provo, UT to play BYU, and instead travel to Miami. F U John Swofford.....)
GC: Just like the previous two teams the Hokies have matched up against, they will again see a highly-ranked defense this week in Georgia Tech. What has been the difference from where the Jackets were on that side of the ball just a couple years ago and where they are now. Are they legit?
FTRS: First of all, pardon me if this becomes a dump session on Al Groh. New DC (and former Tech player) Ted Roof has brought a new attitude to the defense, and has put in his attacking scheme that our players have seemed to bought into. The first difference is the change back to the base 4-3 with a 1-gap scheme. Coach Groh was extremely slavish to his 2-gap scheme, had our players thinking way too damn much, never had a true 0-gap NT (T.J. Barnes had the size, but not the quickness or necessary pad-level), and was piss-poor at making in-game adjustments. To Coach Roof's credit, once Duke and UNC had success on their first few drives, he made adjustments that shut down what was working. Such changes in the UNC game included 1) man-marking TE Eric Ebron (who is a fantastic player and hurt us early on) with CB Jemea Thomas, who is probably our best defensive player and cover guy, and 2) better contain scheme to limit outside runs.
Is GT's defense legit? Still hard to say, although pretty much every Tech fan would agree it looks better than last year. However, we've only played an FCS team, a Duke team with a third-string QB, and a slowed-down UNC team due to the rain-soaked conditions. Coach Roof hasn't pulled out the entire arsenal of blitzes or disguised coverages yet either. These next 2 games (VPI, @Miami) will be the true test, I think.
GC: If you were Frank Beamer and you were formulating a game plan, who or where would you attack on the Yellow Jackets defense? (no worries, Frank is not on the internetz)
FTRS: The strength of the Jackets defense is the LB corps and the Secondary, therefore I think spread teams play into our defensive strengths. Though Jeremiah Attaochu is excellent on the pass rush and in lateral pursuit, something bothered me watching him against UNC (though he completely wreaked havoc in the 2nd half). He is still uncomfortable with his hand on the ground as a WDE (he's a converted 3-4 OLB), and I would line up in a power formation with a lead blocker and run it right at him. Our DEs in general are probably the weak spots on the defense. Outside of Attaochu, we also have no pass rush without committing extra personnel, and I think play-action passes with complex routes put a lot of burden on our coverage guys.
GC: Who are some Yellow Jackets players to watch out for that might be a little under the radar?
FTRS: On offense, RG Shaq Mason is on-track for an All-ACC type year. He's agile and hostile, and has such a knack of getting to the next level and clearing additional lanes for our backs. Another guy is WR DeAndre Smelter, who recently transferred to football from the baseball team. Though blessed with a 95-mph fastball arm, injuries limited his success on the diamond, so he decided to use his remaining eligibility to play football, where he also was a highly-touted prospect coming out of HS. At 6'3" 220, he fits the Paul Johnson WR mold, but might be the best natural pass-catcher and route runner since Demaryius Thomas.
On defense, Australia native Adam Gotsis might be the best DT we've had since current NFL players Vance Walker and Daryl Richard, plus he is still learning to play the game (had a Rugby and Aussie-rules background) and has the frame to add an additional 20 lbs. He had a tremendously athletic play against UNC where he laterally pursued on a sweep to Khris Francis and ran him down on the sideline, limiting what could have been a bigger gain. Two more guys who might get thrust into action because of the physical game against UNC and the short turnaround might be S Dominique Noble and WLB Paul Davis (a true freshman), though both played well filling in this past Saturday.
GC: How do you think Georgia Tech fans feel about this game? Where does it rank among the rivalries that the Yellow Jackets have?
FTRS: Thursday night will be the 100-year anniversary celebration of Grant Field, which is the oldest stadium in FBS. There will be throwback jerseys, All-American alums, a ‘white-out' (which scares me given recent performances, but oh well), and another school passing itself off as "Tech"...our fans will be jacked up :)
I think in terms of rivalry games, the annual against VPI only trails UGA and Clemson, though not far behind because it's still a divisional game. In recent times, GT fans have always viewed the Hokies as the great obstacle to larger ambitions, especially having been so close the last 3 years. I really think our players are fired up for this one, especially on defense, given how last year's game turned out.
GC: Is there anyone on Virginia Tech's offense that Yellow Jackets fans are legitimately afraid of?
FTRS: Jackets fans have always viewed Virginia Tech as pretty good RB factory, having featured David Wilson, Ryan Williams, Brandon Ore, etc. I assume Trey Edmunds is quality as well. I can certainly tell you last year we feared the running ability of Logan Thomas, though I think we did a good job of bottling him up. Not knowing the OL play that well, they certainly have a chance against our DL, which might be the weakest unit on our defense.
GC: After the Elon game, Georgia Tech was accused of running up the score on them by a lot of people nationally and within our fan base. Assuming you're like me, and after close consideration and interaction with coaches, have come to the opinion that is a stupid argument and teams just need to get better, what do you have to say to those people?
FTRS: I agree with you, it's pretty stupid. First of all, Coach Swepson from Elon requested the continuous clock in the 4th quarter, to which Coach Johnson agreed. You know, Tom Osborne had to deal with a lot of this kind of criticism during his heyday at Nebraska. When you put a huge lead on FCS teams, you are going to want to work on other facets of your game that might need work. When you run 80%-90% of your offense on the ground, you want to work on your passing game...which will inevitably irk some people. On the last TD to make it 70-0, which was an option play, Coach Johnson actually instructed backup QB Justin Thomas to slide short of the goalline...which he obviously didn't (can you honestly get upset at a kid for that though?). I mean, at what point differential do you just line up and take a knee every play?
GC: Jeremiah Attaochu has become somewhat of a cult villain for Virginia Tech fans for his "punch" on Logan Thomas in 2011 that essentially was the turning point in the game for the Hokies. Even though Attaochu's punch barely landed, and ended up benefitting the Hokies, a lot of Tech fans just can't get over that moment (even though Thomas forgave him and the two are apparently good friends now). So I'm going to ask you to be his advocate, and tell us what he was thinking there and why that was not an indication of what he's normally like.
FTRS: Jeremiah Attaochu (or ‘Sneezy', as we like to call him) is actually a very smart and thoughtful guy, and represents the type of student-athletes that come out of the DC Catholic Leagues well. I think at that moment in time, the only explanation is that he snapped out of frustration. Logan Thomas was owning us all night (been awhile since you heard that , huh?), especially running the football and gaining YAC, and it was getting in our heads. Add to that the occasionally slow whistles once forward progress was stopped (which I admit is a biased opinion), and I conclude that his senses temporarily left him and he didn't understand the game situation, as we had Thomas stopped on 3rd-and-very long and were about to take control of the ball with a 26-21 lead and momentum clearly on our side. Sometimes you channel your frustration in the wrong place and time, and for him that was it. I don't believe he's earned any personal fouls since then.
GC: If you're talking to a Virginia Tech fan coming to Atlanta, either for the first time or as a repeat visitor, what do you recommend for them to see or do?
FTRS: All tastes are different, of course, so this is mine. GT is located in midtown Atlanta, so I'll focus on nearby spots. Depending on how long you plan to stay, I always recommend for people to visit Piedmont Park, about a mile from Tech's campus which is a beautiful setting in the middle of a busy urban area. If you want to feel good about being Southern (which let's face it, nobody wants you to anymore) then visit Stone Mountain on Saturday night for fireworks and lasers...spoiler alert...you will hear Elvis' ‘American Trilogy'. The Coca-Cola museum downtown is always a lot of fun, all the Coke you can drink, and a good value. I always recommend the Georgia Aquarium to people with trepidation...it's expensive and way too full of kids who scream and put their noses into the glass and ruin your view...but really a well-done attraction.
As for eating, I would recommend the Varisty to a first-timer (its right by the stadium), but if you've been there, you would know how overrated and terrible it is. Try the Vortex instead if you want a good burger. If you like good Southern comfort food, I would visit Mary Mac's Team Room in Midtown. Understanding that SW VA probably has damn fine ‘cue of its own, Fox Brothers BBQ in the Little 5 Points neighborhood (about 4-5 miles from Tech campus) is a really good place that's nearby. Feeling like a high-roller? Kevin Rathbun Steak in Inman Park (4-5 miles from campus) or Bone's in Buckhead (6-7 miles from campus) are fantastic places to get your $40 a la carte steak and high-end whiskey. If you stay for the weekend, Atlanta has a ridiculously good brunch scene...too many to count so ask a local. Atlanta, in general, has a really high-quality and diverse food scene. The best neighborhoods, in my humble opinion, to find a good bar in are Inman Park, Virginia Highlands, and Decatur.
GC: Finally, we get down to business. Who wins this game, why and what will the score be?
FTRS: I worry a bit our team will see 15-10 against ECU and 3 OT against Marshall and relax, and I think the last thing we need is to have what happened against UNC which was to fall behind 20-7 and nearly be on the ropes. The UNC game was extremely physical and taxing on our defense and we will have to go pretty deep into our depth chart on Thursday night. Plus, we might have to rely on our true freshman kicker Harrison Butker because I think getting it beyond the 20 will be tough. I see it pretty close though, 23-16 for the home team.
Thanks again to Tom for joining us for the Q & A. For all the news and coverage from the Yellow Jacket perspective this weekend and throughout the season, make sure to check out From The Rumble Seat. For my answers to Tom's questions, click here. For all the Hokie stuff you could ever want, don't move a muscle. YOU'RE ON IT here at Gobbler Country.