When the Hokies take the field Thursday night, they will be facing a very different beast than any other they have seen this season.
Georgia Tech’s infamous triple-option running game is unlike any of its kind and could create major issues for a Virginia Tech defense that has had to focus on defending the pass for the majority of the season.
Though it may be unnoticeable by simply watching in the stadium or on TV, the Hokies have played some very pass-happy teams this season.
Excluding the James Madison game, the Hokies defense has had to defend against the pass on 58 percent of all plays. In fact, East Carolina and Central Michigan are in the top 10 of all FBS teams in passing attempts this season, and Duke is not far behind at No. 17.
Because defensive coordinator Bud Foster has been put up against these trigger-happy teams, the defense has primarily operated out of a nickel package over the past six weeks.
Now that the Hokies are about to play the Yellow Jackets, their defensive strategy will have to do a complete 180 and prepare exclusively for the running game.
In contrast to the style the Hokies are used to facing, the Yellow Jackets have run the ball 81 percent of the time this season.
On third-and-six, coach Paul Johnson’s team will run the ball anyway and still get the first down.
The Yellow Jackets basically tell you they are going to run the ball down your throat and they still are successful at doing so.
This has been Georgia Tech’s modus operandi since Johnson installed his triple-option system in 2008, after using it at Navy for six seasons.
Even if Tech’s defense wasn’t questionable this season, the Hokies would have plenty to be concerned about.
Last season, Georgia Tech rushed for 344 yards in a 28-23 upset of the Hokies.
To make matters worse, the Hokies couldn’t even respond to the thrashing because the Yellow Jackets held onto the ball for all but 7:31 of the second half.
In order to combat this history, Foster actually flew to Iowa to talk with the coaching staff that held the Georgia Tech offense to just 155 yards in the Orange Bowl in January.
Foster won’t let anything slip as to what he learned there and what his strategy will be, but there is no doubt his sleeves will be full of tricks Thursday night.
Regardless of scheme, the Hokies will need their players to execute and the two most important players will be two that have drawn a lot of criticism this year: Jeron Gouveia-Winslow and Bruce Taylor.
Because they are both key players at linebacker, they are the most important people to stop the run.
In last season’s game, the biggest impact players were Cody Grimm and Barquell Rivers, the two players Winslow and Taylor replaced. Grimm had eight tackles and Rivers led everyone with 16 in the game.
If they can do their jobs effectively and not miss tackles, the Hokies' chances of winning will skyrocket.
Perhaps the biggest advantage for Tech is coming off a bye week. The team had 10 days to work on stopping the triple option.
Even though these teams play every year, Georgia Tech always has new wrinkles that are a daunting task to stop with just a week’s worth of preparation.
However, with more time to prepare, teams have become much more effective.
This could explain why the Yellow Jackets have lost five straight bowl games by an average margin of 17.6 points—when teams have the three weeks to prepare for bowl games, they can effectively plan and prepare for what Georgia Tech does.
When the Yellow Jackets step onto Worsham Field Thursday night, they will face opposition from the roaring crowd and the Hokies with a strategy looking for revenge.
And they will be going against one of the hottest quarterbacks in the nation in the Hokies’ Tyrod Taylor.
The Yellow Jackets might very well be the best team Tech has played since Boise State, but they could very well be facing the perfect storm of events that can leave a team begging for the game to be over after the third quarter.
Not a prediction—just a warning.
This article was featured in today's Collegiate Times—the Virginia Tech student-run newspaper. You can follow Nick Cafferky on Twitter @Caffscorner.
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