The Virginia Tech Hokies will go into Saturday’s game against Georgia Tech ranked as the fourth-best team in the nation and the best team in the ACC. The Hokies are far and away the best team in the ACC, but as we know, any team can beat the other on any given day.
Therefore, the Hokies will not be taking the Yellow Jackets lightly.
However, the Hokies have an advantage in almost every category and even last year’s game can help Virginia Tech.
The Hokies beat Georgia Tech 20-17 in Blacksburg last year, but that was with an ineffective offense: no Ryan Williams and Tyrod Taylor throwing for only 48 yards.
Three of Georgia Tech’s defensive lineman from that game have graduated to the NFL, and the Yellow Jackets have injuries all over their defense right now, most notably in the secondary. All of this has caused major problems for the Georgia Tech defense.
Coming into to this week’s game against Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech ranks 82nd nationally in total defense, allowing 385 yards per game, while the Yellow Jackets rank 77th in the nation and allowing 26.5 points per game.
Of the 385 yards per game the Yellow Jackets are allowing, 135 are coming on the ground, and when you have the nation’s fifth-leading rusher coming to town and an offense that’s averaging over 200 yards on the ground per game, good things can’t be on the horizon.
The Hokies are also averaging 34 points per game so far this season, and they haven’t exactly been playing cupcake opponents.
Georgia Tech gave up over 500 yards of total offense to Florida State this past weekend, but won the game, 49-44.
The main difference between Florida State and Virginia Tech is defense. The Hokies' defense hasn’t been as good as past seasons, as it ranks 54th nationally, but is coming off a dominating performance against Boston College.
The Eagles didn’t get above zero total yards in the first half against the Hokies and only managed to move the ball in the second half against Virginia Tech’s second and third defensive squads.
By the way, Boston College beat Florida State by seven points the week prior to playing Virginia Tech.
Frank Beamer said Tuesday in the Hokies’ weekly press conference that they work on defending the option every day in practice.
Freshman Antone Exum, who is being redshirted this season and ran a spread-like offense in high school, plays quarterback for the scout team and is acting as Josh Nesbitt in practice.
Beamer knows that this game is incredibly important for his team, and stopping Nesbitt will be key to the Hokies' success.
Here are the three keys to the game for the Hokies as they travel to Atlanta to take on the Yellow Jackets, with Georgia Tech featured columnist Zach Osterman weighing in (also be sure to check out his take on the game )as well:
1. No Big (Passing) Plays
I put passing in parentheses for a very simple reason: Teams can get carried away in trying to stop the spread option rushing attack of Georgia Tech and get hurt through the air on a big play.
Nesbitt has thrown the ball much better in his last two weeks of play, passing for 397 yards and two touchdowns combined against Mississippi State and Florida State.
Obviously, the primary concern for the Hokies' defense will be stopping the run, but the defense’s main problem so far this year has been giving up the big play.
They did it against Alabama, Nebraska, and Duke, and if they give up big plays through the air, that may open up bigger holes on the ground for Georgia Tech.
I would agree with part of the premise of this argument. The Jackets are an offense that loves big plays —one reason they have the conference's best offense. But the fallacy, I think, behind stopping the option is the idea that it's just a rushing offense. The only difference between the spread option Tech runs and the spread option that say, Texas runs, is that most of the action happens beyond the line of scrimmage for Texas, whereas in Tech's offense, it's behind it. That fact alone makes the option a rushing offense, yes, but at its base, the spread option is just an incredibly innovative way of getting the ball into the hands of playmakers, then setting them up to make plays. So I would say that Virginia Tech moreso just needs to limit big plays in general, whether they be through the air or on the ground.
2. Keep the Offense on the Field
The Virginia Tech offense has only struggled in two games so far this year. One time was against Alabama, the Hokies' only loss, and the offense couldn’t stay on the field for longer than three plays at a time for much of the game.
Alabama’s offense was on the field for 37 minutes, which resulted in an exhausted Virginia Tech defense giving up 18 points in the fourth quarter.
Against Nebraska, well, neither team could move the ball offensively until the Hokies went 84 yards on four plays at the end of the game to stun the Cornhuskers, 17-16.
Tech’s offense has transformed since these two games, but it can’t afford to revert back to its old form. If it does, then Georgia Tech’s offense may be able to wear down the Hokies' defense to the point that big plays will be inevitable.
I’m not expecting this to happen, but it’s something the Hokies will have to avoid on Saturday.
This one's the truth, although Tech's defense might start getting used to the extra work anyway —against Florida State, Tech had three touchdown drives of two or less plays. That's not a lot of time for the defense to rest. That said, the Jackets' weakness is their defense, and maximizing your chances to exploit your opponents' weakness makes tons of sense. Plus, the more time your defense has on the sidelines, the more time Bud Foster has to make adjustments.
3. A Steady Diet of “Ru-Ru”
For those that don’t know, "Ru-Ru" is Ryan Williams. I believe it’s a self-inflicted nickname, but don’t hold me to that.
Anyway, Williams is 12 yards away from being the nation’s leading rusher and is tied for fourth in the nation with the most touchdowns (nine). If he had played more against Boston College, Williams, a freshman, would likely be the nation’s leading rusher.
Since the Yellow Jackets' defense is giving up 135 yards per game and the Hokies are averaging over 200 yards per game on the ground, I’m expecting Virginia Tech to dominate on the ground.
This may be a very fast-paced game because of all the rushing we may see, but we may also see Williams emerge as a front-runner for the Heisman trophy if he has another performance of 150-plus yards on the ground with a couple scores.
However, that’s not his main focus, which is refreshing to hear. Williams is the ACC’s best player and he will prove that again on Saturday.
I'll agree with this one mostly on the premise that I still don't really trust Tyrod Taylor to win me games if I'm a Virginia Tech fan. The Hokies have always run the ball well, and Georgia Tech doesn't even have a top 50 run defense. Were I calling the plays, I'd mix in some option looks —it's strange, but quarterback read options have just killed Tech in the last two weeks, odd from a unit that sees the triple option every week in practice. Go figure.
Look for Virginia Tech’s offense to jump on this maligned Georgia Tech defense early. If Taylor and Williams can get the ball rolling for the Hokies, then they will once again have the ACC on lockdown for the third consecutive year.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 45, Georgia Tech 17.