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Preview: The Battle of the ACC Techs - Hokies vs Yellow Jackets

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It's a Thursday night game on national TV in Bobby Dodd Stadium with two seasons on the line, and two prideful teams lining up to save their respective reputations. It's Frank Beamer's last Thursday night game. Can the Hokies do what the Hoos did on Halloween and beat Paul Johnson's foundering option offense?

A close 2014 game battle of the Techs
A close 2014 game battle of the Techs
Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

There was a time when the Georgia Tech game was for the all the ACC Costal marbles somewhere in the recent past.  It's recent, because the Hokies aren't an actual ACC school.  Please, no protestations from the Atlantic Coast Conference cheer squad, please.  Virginia Tech was about as wanted in the ACC as hotels want bed bugs.

Before the Virginia Tech move to the ACC the Hokies and the Yellow Jackets only met once during the Beamer Era, in 1990.  That was a 6 to 3 scoring fest and a Hokie loss.  Since then, Virginia Tech has dominated the contests with a total win loss record of 8 and 4, unfortunately the last Georgia Tech visit to Blacksburg resulted in a similar 3 point loss margin but with a game played under slightly more offensive circumstances.

The following is the win loss grid for the teams from Hokie Sports:

Season

Date

Site

Score (VT-Opp)

Rank

2014

Sat., Sep 20, 2014

Blacksburg, Va. *

L, 24-27

NR/NR

2013

Thu., Sep 26, 2013

Atlanta, Ga. *

W, 17-10

NR/NR

2012

Mon., Sep 3, 2012

Blacksburg, Va. * 1

W, 20-17 (OT)

16/NR

2011

Thu., Nov 10, 2011

Atlanta, Ga. *

W, 37-26

10/20

2010

Thu., Nov 4, 2010

Blacksburg, Va. * 2

W, 28-21

20/NR

2009

Sat., Oct 17, 2009

Atlanta, Ga. *

L, 23-28

4/19

2008

Sat., Sep 13, 2008

Blacksburg, Va. * 3

W, 20-17

NR/NR

2007

Thu., Nov 1, 2007

Atlanta, Ga. *

W, 27-3

11/NR

2006

Sat., Sep 30, 2006

Blacksburg, Va. * 4

L, 27-38

11/24

2005

Sat., Sep 24, 2005

Blacksburg, Va. * 4

W, 51-7

4/15

2004

Thu., Oct 28, 2004

Atlanta, Ga. *

W, 34-20

22/NR

1990

Sat., Nov 10, 1990

Atlanta, Ga.

L, 3-6

NR/7

Total

311-220

Virginia Tech rolls into Bobby Dodd Stadium to face a desperate Yellow Jackets team.  Currently, Paul Johnson's Option offense is generating few options for themselves.  Currently Georgia Tech is sitting at 3 and 6 with three games left in their schedule.  They own their own bowl streak, and in order to make it to a New Year's Exhibition game the Jackets are going to have to win out.  That means going through a traditionally stubborn Virginia Tech Hokie team.  Not only is Tech 20-9 on Thursday nights, the Hokies seem to like playing in Bobby Dodd, because the record there is a solid 4 and 2.

The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Johnson has just not seen much luck or quality of play this season. Some folks are putting him on a coaching hot seat.  Whether or not that threat is real is for the Georgia Tech Athletic Department.  I tend to think that GT might chalk this season up to bad fumes and leave their coaching staff basically intact; but I have no real proof.  It's only a gut feeling.  Either way, the Yellow Jackets are going to be fighting hard to say in it.

The Jackets have been in most of the games that they have played.  Their passing attack is nothing to brag about, though it can be moderately effective, just a little over 1,200 yards is not a grand total for this late in the season.  Their completion rating is hovering around 40% but they have scored nearly half of their touch downs by passing.  This is important for the Hokie defense to remember.

The heart of Paul Johnson's attack is the option, and Georgia Tech has no fewer than 10 rushers with averages greater than 5 yards.  Oddly, this season their quarterback Justin Thomas is averaging short of 4 yards on each carry for a total north of 400 yards.  This is a pounding that most QBs don't take and might be part of the lower effectiveness quotient of the Georgia Tech option attack.  Without a credible quarterback run threat, the triple option breaks down into a dive and a pitch.

Of course that might be enough in the face of a Hokie Defense that has had difficulties with both running quarterbacks and the option.

Not many of Georgia Tech's games have been blow outs.  The Jackets even figured out how to beat Florida State on October 24th and their defense held FSU to a meager 16 points.  GTs defense hasn't been stellar though, and their inability to get critical stops has contributed to their current record.  When your offense routinely scores over 20 points, but the defense consistently allows one score more, there is a serious weakness that hasn't been addressed.

For a summary of the Georgia Tech Offensive statistics, please take a look at the season totals from Yahoo Sports:

Passing Statistics

NAME

CMP

ATT

YDS

CMP%

YDS/A

TD

INT

RAT

Justin Thomas

65

149

1166

43.6

7.83

12

6

127.9

Matthew Jordan

1

1

35

100.0

35.00

1

0

724.0

Tim Byerly

1

1

23

100.0

23.00

0

0

293.2

Totals

67

152

1224

44.1

8.05

13

6

132.1

*Jordan and Byerly are only left in the listing for interest.  Thomas is the regular starting QB.

Rushing Statistics

NAME

CAR

YDS

AVG

LONG

TD

Marcus Marshall

64

526

8.2

64 (TD)

4

Justin Thomas

117

418

3.6

60 (TD)

6

Patrick Skov

83

339

4.1

21 (TD)

6

Clinton Lynch

33

312

9.5

49 (TD)

3

Broderick Snoddy

16

175

10.9

48

0

Isiah Willis

26

134

5.2

14

1

Matthew Jordan

8

104

13.0

65 (TD)

1

Marcus Allen

16

85

5.3

17 (TD)

1

Qua Searcy

13

76

5.8

31

1

Brady Swilling

13

67

5.2

27

1

TaQuon Marshall

8

58

7.3

18

0

Mikell Lands-Davis

16

43

2.7

11

0

Tim Byerly

7

42

6.0

14

1

Austin McClellan

3

26

8.7

14

0

Chase Alford

1

9

9.0

9

0

Ryan Braswell

4

6

1.5

3

0

Lynn Griffin

4

1

0.3

6

0

Totals

438

2405

5.5

65

25

Receiving Statistics

NAME

REC

YDS

AVG

LONG

TD

Ricky Jeune

20

422

21.1

46 (TD)

3

Clinton Lynch

7

201

28.7

50 (TD)

3

Micheal Summers

12

178

14.8

34

2

Brad Stewart

5

81

16.2

36

0

Isiah Willis

4

77

19.3

40

0

TaQuon Marshall

3

76

25.3

35 (TD)

1

Mikell Lands-Davis

7

69

9.9

26

1

Qua Searcy

3

45

15.0

17 (TD)

1

Patrick Skov

3

44

14.7

24 (TD)

2

Marcus Marshall

2

25

12.5

16

0

Marcus Allen

1

6

6.0

6

0

Totals

67

1224

18.3

50

13

Virginia Tech Hokies

There isn't much that we haven't gone over already for the Hokies.  We have done well against the Yellow Jackets in the past, but last year's defeat at Lane was particularly difficult because it was a winnable game that we just didn't play well.  The offense scored points, but not enough, and the defense got burned by passes that caught it flat footed.

The Virginia Tech offense is currently a mild surprise.  The Hokies haven't been great, consistent or even looking like there is much of an offensive plan or scheme of any variety; but when Michael Brewer is allowed to stay on the field, good things happen.  Brewer's return has been both a play and an attitude boost.

Another pleasant surprise has been Travon McMillian.  When he is equipped with running plays that he can execute; one cut and go against the grain; slants on option reads, and sweeps McMillian has been tearing up the turf.  The hash tag comment #FEEDTRAVON is not an accident.   It's a basis for a sound offensive strategy.  With quick passes on inside slants, drags, and rub routes to Hodges, seams to Malleck and wheels to Rogers the Hokies have the makings of a credible dual threat offense.  Even the occasional zone loosening 30 yard flag or skinny post to either Ford, Phillips or Hodges can be salted in to move the ball and score points.

What Virginia Tech needs to avoid are the emotion and momentum sapping three and outs.  It also must continue to work on more mistake free football.

Which is where the defense is going to have to step up to the bar, and big time.  Georgia Tech doesn't pass much, but when it does it does so for points, and it does it effectively.  The line and linebackers are going to have to play dime, key and flow across the box football to control the option, but the defensive backs must keep track of the receivers on the seams to sidelines in the direction of the flow.  There must also be consistent backside pursuit pressure to prevent those nasty bootlegs and reverses that often catch us flat footed.  In short the Hokie Defense must play disciplined mistake free football, and that has been a serious problem this season.

Between the repeated gashes by running QBs and the problems stretching out option plays behind the line of scrimmage, this defense needs to buckle down and play a different brand of football than it has demonstrated this season.  The Duke game the Defense just couldn't muster the critical stops.  The Pitt game the defense almost didn't show up especially against the QB.  The Georgia Tech offense presents every single one of the things that our defense had problems stopping all rolled into one package.

Someone needs to remember the #LPD attitude and the entire defense needs to show up for work on Thursday.

Here are Tech's relevant stats from Yahoo Sports:

Passing Statistics

NAME

CMP

ATT

YDS

CMP%

YDS/A

TD

INT

RAT

Michael Brewer

53

86

671

61.6

7.80

7

2

149.4

Brenden Motley

92

164

1155

56.1

7.04

11

7

128.9

Dwayne Lawson

3

9

51

33.3

5.67

0

0

80.9

Totals

150

263

1904

57.0

7.24

18

9

133.6

Rushing Statistics

NAME

CAR

YDS

AVG

LONG

TD

Travon McMillian

121

665

5.5

63

3

Brenden Motley

87

226

2.6

22

3

Trey Edmunds

44

174

4.0

35

2

Sam Rogers

34

161

4.7

29

1

J.C. Coleman

37

120

3.2

10

1

Dwayne Lawson

14

55

3.9

10

1

Shai McKenzie

13

50

3.8

11

0

Chris Durkin

4

25

6.3

9

0

Isaiah Ford

2

17

8.5

10

0

Greg Stroman

7

12

1.7

6

0

Totals

386

1455

3.8

63

11

Receiving Statistics

NAME

REC

YDS

AVG

LONG

TD

Isaiah Ford

44

615

14.0

61

7

Cam Phillips

34

410

12.1

60

2

Bucky Hodges

24

383

16.0

46

5

Ryan Malleck

16

198

12.4

40

2

Sam Rogers

11

131

11.9

51 (TD)

1

Travon McMillian

12

64

5.3

19

1

Kalvin Cline

3

38

12.7

31

0

Michael Brewer

1

14

14.0

14

0

Brenden Motley

1

13

13.0

13

0

Kevin Asante

1

13

13.0

13

0

J.C. Coleman

1

10

10.0

10

0

Trey Edmunds

1

8

8.0

8

0

Demitri Knowles

1

7

7.0

7

0

Totals

150

1904

12.7

61

18

The Ifs and Could Be's

Georgia Tech wins IF it gets some defensive stops by putting Brewer in constant third and long situations.   They have to shut down the finesse running game, and control the quick passing game under the zone.

On offense, the Yellow Jackets must execute their option offense for at least 5 yards a run, and control the ball and clock.  They have to keep the ball out of Michael Brewer's hands since he's finally getting his timing down with his best receivers.  Johnson is going to have to run regardless of what the Hokies think that he's going to do, and make critical throws to loosen the pressure in the box, especially in short yardage situations.  That also means the 4 down game.

Virginai Tech wins IF It develops and maintains good offensive drives that always score, and those scores need to be touchdowns, not field goals.  This is a common element in any game plan, but against the option it is doubly critical.  The best way to keep a speed option from gashing you for huge yardage and scores is to keep it off the field.  The Hokies need to maintain consistent drives that result in points.  This means mixing it up, doing what works, not what you want to work, and moving the ball down the field in as large a chunk of yardage as can be gained on each play.  The Hokies need to generate first downs on a 2 down schedule.  The best way to avoid third and long is to get first downs by 2nd down.

The #LPD must show up on Thursday.   It must run key and flow across the box Dime formation defenses, and it must cover man to man on those critical option pass routes it failed to cover last year.  The defense cannot make mistakes. It cannot over pursue and get out of control.  The key to stopping the option is covering each of the options and shutting it down, from dive, to read, to pitch.  The plays need to be methodically bent into the backfield and pushed out of bounds.   Also, Johnson is going to be desperate and it is highly unlikely that he is going to settle for 3 downs and a punt.  If he figures that his offense is good for the needed yardage on each play, most of the game is going to be in 4 down territory.   The Virginia Tech defense cannot afford to be gashed for repeated drives with 5 and 6 yard runs grinding away.   Rattle the keys on 1st and 2nd down because they are going to be critical on defense.

It is also important to remember that the Wahoos reared up and beat the Yellow Jackets on Halloween.   Either the Jackets have the problem or we do on Thanksgiving.  This game means making or not making a bowl for both teams.  We could still lose one and win 2, but Georgia Tech can't lose any.  They are going to pull out all of the stops.  Are we going to be willing to do the same?

Sources:

http://espn.go.com/college-football/team/stats/_/id/59/georgia-tech-yellow-jackets

http://espn.go.com/college-football/team/stats/_/id/259/virginia-tech-hokies

http://www.hokiesports.com/football/opponents/Georgia%20Tech