It has been a busy week, and an even busier Thursday so we launch into the Georgia Tech vs. Hokies preview a bit on the late side. Well, I was digging through some of the fact based stuff for the article with the usual survey of the history between the two schools. It’s thin; as in ACC only thin. Well there was one completely uninspiring loss by Virginia Tech in 1990, in what was the first meeting of the Techs, the game wasn’t broadcast, that I remember, and with that 3-6 Hokie Loss, the only thing that I can think of is go check the rankings after that week. Georgia Tech was at the top of its game back then, and they were ranked 7th before Frank Beamer rolled into Atlanta. Even though we lost it the three total field goals all in the 4th quarter were indicators of a slug fest for the ages. This was the beginning of the end of the Bobby Ross era. I don’t know if there was even a blink by the pollsters because 1990 was a Georgia Tech National Championship year that they shared with Colorado. (This was back when it was all polling and even with the uninspiring win over the Hokies that season, 11-0-1 was still technically undefeated.
Well, we wouldn’t pick up any reps against “The Other Tech” until we joined the ACC specifically the Coastal Division. That move vaulted an unfamiliar team with which we had almost no history at all, to a major competitor. In 2004, Georgia Tech was an annual high finisher in the ACC. Former Pro Coach Chan Gailey took the Yellow Jacket Head Coaching job between 2002 and 2007 so faced Frank Beamer and the Hokies and came away with one win. The 2006 loss was pretty painful for the Hokies.
Then the world changed for the very different. In 2008 Paul Johnson and his “Flexbone” option offense took over at Bobby Dodd. Johnson’s style of coaching matched the style of play matched his cracked version of the old Wishbone. It was aggressive, unfriendly, unforgiving, and fierce. Since the Hokies have been in the ACC, the winner of this football game as more often than not won the Division. (Not this year, and last season was odd.) The record between Virginia Tech and Paul Johnson’s Georgia Tech is 6 – 4 Hokies. Of course the Fuente era started off by adding one to the L side of the ledger. We’ll have to talk about the significance of that particular fandangle in a few paragraphs. Here is an excerpt of the Hokie Sports Chart for the teams:
Virginia Tech vs. Georgia Tech Short History
|2012||9/3/2012||Blacksburg||W, 20-17 (OT)||16/NR|
This season, Paul Johnson is struggling again. Not as badly as he was last season, but time and talent movements have pushed him to have to rebuild his organization smack dab in the middle of his contract years. Currently the Jackets are 4-4 with a cancelled game against UCF on the books. Their ACC Record is 3-3 with wins against Wake, Carolina, and Pitt. They also have losses against Clemson and Miami… no surprise there, but also against a suddenly less lame Virginia Wahoo squad. After us they have Duke and then Georgia. I doubt that they are going to get any traction against a high flying Bulldog team so any real hope of a winning season and bowl eligibility starts on the field at Bobby Dodd Stadium, tomorrow at noon.
I expect that Johnson is going to pull out all of the stops on everything. If it’s 4th and short, he’ll go for it. If we are covering the run, he’s going to ambush us with the seam pass. If the flow goes right, he’s going to have his linemen cut-blocking like crazy and counter to the left. The Yellow Jacket Defense has not been particularly stout this year so Johnson is going to work to keep his clock-burning offense on the field at all costs. That’s going to be the key to this game more than anything else. The Yellow Jackets offense is mostly their Junior Quarterback TaQuon Marshall. He’s listed as a dual threat, but with a QBR of 125, a completion percentage of 42 and a yardage total around 670, young Mr. Marshall is not a real passing threat. He can do it, and the ambush deep seam is a Johnson vs. Hokies Specialty that he has routinely killed us with; TaQuon Marshall is above all a quick reading, cutting, and fast Halfback.
He is putting up such ridiculous rushing numbers that even with an abbreviated season, the media is thinking about Heisman nominations for him. KirVonte Benson is right behind him by all of 25 or so yards. Marshall has put up 870 yards at 108 per game. He’s averaging a bit more than four and a half yards a carry, and Benson has put up 844 yards with fewer carries and more than 5 and a half yards a whack. That means Paul Johnson almost never has to punt on 4th down. That also means that, in this game especially, if it is 4th and less than 5 he is more than likely to go for it. If it’s 4th down and less than 3, he’s almost guaranteed. Most defenses do not account for this habit, and are often knocked back on their heels because Johnson will go for it in his own end, and make it more often than not. This weekend he desperately needs a win, so counting on 3 and outs will be a matter of stopping the Georgia Tech Offense behind the sticks.
There is nothing really significant other than the previous paragraph to talk about. So, how does Virginia Tech’s defense deal with Paul Johnson’s offense, especially since last season, it couldn’t stop Johnson’s runny nose with a tissue. Well, Coach Foster is famous, given a few weeks for figuring out something, but he’s also infamous for not making enough or complete adjustments with just a week to prepare.
The Foster Defense does not key. It’s a mixed Zone and Man multi-layered vertical defensive scheme that uses fluctuations in formations to bait offenses into choosing ineffective north/south plays. If there is any real weakness in the scheme it’s the line stretching speed options that present quick cutting running backs an opportunity to find gaps in the defensive side of the line of scrimmage as the play strings out toward the sideline. That does two things if you run the wrong style of defense. First, it flat out exhausts the defensive line and linebackers sprinting and covering side to side. Second, it bends the line of scrimmage up to five yards into the opponent’s territory if the defense doesn’t get positive pressure across the line of scrimmage as the play strings out. That means 4-5 yards each play regardless of whether or not the play cuts up field for more.
The old saw was that you had to run a hot offense that scored touchdowns, and hold the option offense to field goals. That old saw remains correct to this day. However, getting the stop at the critical time is the difference between winning and losing when opposing a wishbone offense of any variety. So the formation and composition of Foster’s defense will have to be adjusted. To get the stops that are needed the Hokie D must do the following:
Key offensive players and hit those players regardless of possession. That means hat on hat snap to sideline discipline. Only when the defender is absolutely sure that his primary key is free of the ball can he move to the secondary role of sealing the gaps and stringing out the play. Foster is going to have to change his base defensive formation from a 4-2-5 to a 4-5-2. That means 9 players in the box and the two remaining players will need to be his best defensive backs, preferably one Safety and one Cornerback. So the Linebacker formation will be something like Tremaine Edmunds, Andrew Motuapuaka, Sean Huelskamp, and then a solid strong safety like Terrell Edmunds or Reggie Floyd. If it were me, I’d have Floyd and Edmunds trade techniques back and forth just to keep the coverage interesting.
The Defensive line must get 4 yards of penetration, and must stop the dive and the slant. That means trusting Tim Settle to play a two gap technique over the nose of the center to stop up the Dive Play and push the initial impulse of the play back three yards. Ricky Walker is capable of pushing the line and trapping the slant, but getting the same sort of action on the other side is going to be difficult. Vinny Mihota is capable of getting deep and sealing the short sweep. The question will be, though, can Houshun Gaines or Travon Hill get that stable 2-3 yard penetration and maintain the discipline to keep their keys in check? The outer edge of the B gap is where most of the up field action happens in the option, and the flow must remain disciplined all the way to the sideline. Of course the Defense will do this with great regularity. Unfortunately it only takes one lapse, one stumble, a few too many yards backpedaling instead of pushing up and the play breaks.
Keep the Georgia Tech Offense the heck off the field. The best defense is a good offense, and in this case, it’s the most important defensive tool that a team has. Virginia Tech must never waste a possession with a punt. Oscar Bradburn needs to be bored to tears. Fuente cannot continue to call scripted inflexible, predictable and overly cautious offensive plays in the first and second quarters of football games. He’s got to move the ball DOWN FIELD, north and south, toward the opponent’s goal line. The Georgia Tech defense is not as good as it should be. Virginia Tech must take advantage of that. We have to stop making it easy for the opposing defenses by tanking 1st and 2nd downs into the line, and then throwing bubble screens and quick outs short of the sticks to try to get first downs. The formula hasn’t been working for one and three quarters seasons so what makes the coaching staff think that it’s going to work now.
Remember that I said that Paul Johnson was going to throw the kitchen sink at us? Well, Coach Fuente and Coach Foster, you need to both get bold, and throw the bathtub and the water heater right back at him. Virginia Tech needs this game as badly as Georgia Tech needs it. Be bold, be aggressive, or be on the bus to the airport with an ‘L’ hanging.
Time to kick something.