Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech: The First ACC Coastal Division Showdown
The Yellow Jackets, with their new offensive scheme and new head coach Paul Johnson, make the trip up to Blacksburg to take on the team that has been the ACC's lone perennial power since entering in 2005, Virginia Tech.
Georgia Tech enters this game coming off a win in Chestnut Hill over the Eagles of Boston College, while Virginia Tech limps into the contest after struggling to close out FCS Furman.
Paul Johnson's team is already 1-0 in the ACC, and with a win here they would go to 2-0 in the league and have some breathing room during their quest to reach Tampa.
The Hokies need to rebound from the ECU shocker and prove they're still the team to beat in the Coastal which is why this early season showdown is the ACC GAME of the WEEK.
Both teams feature stout defenses that will pressure the quarterback, play opportunistic football and take advantage of mismatches with their front four.
Getting behind the line of scrimmage and disrupting the flow of the game on both run and pass is what drives these two surprisingly underrated defensive units.
On offense, though, the schemes are different, as both GaTech and VaTech look to punish you with a relentless rushing attack. VPI's power running game has been less than impressive this season, but the addition of dynamic quarterback Tyrod Taylor should give the Hokies a shot in the arm and a boost in offensive production. He missed the first game but is already the Hokies 'leading rusher with 112 yards.
The Yellow Jackets rushing attack has yet to be stopped in their first two games. Quarterback Josh Nesbitt and B-Back Jonathan Dwyer have been the two biggest surprises of the young ACC season. Averaging 255.5 rushing yards a game, the Jackets have proven to be a problem for BC already, and they look to test the Hokies defensive discipline.
Georgia Tech Defense vs. Virginia Tech Offense
Georgia Tech's defensive line was tabbed as one of the units to watch in the ACC during the preseason and they haven't disappointed.
Vance Walker, the leader of the unit, has put up strong numbers including three TFLs and a solo sack as well. Derrick Morgan and Darryl Richard have also been major players in this scheme, piling up TFLs and sacks on an All-ACC pace.
While the defensive line got all the hype with pro prospect Michael Johnson, the back seven have been the true story of this season as they've been the most noticeable improvement to Coach Johnson's talent pool.
At Navy, he had players who were limited athletically. Now with first-rate talent, his team goes from hoping to limit opponents to playing an attacking, gambling defensive style capable of frustrating opponents (see Ryan Perrilloux and Chris Crane).
Along with the seven sacks they've amassed, the GT defense has four interceptions, two by leading tackler, safety Morgan Burnett.
The Jackets will be up against a nameless, faceless and completely identity-less offensive entity when they face the Hokies, a team averaging less than 300 yards of total offense a game. That paltry stat is only worsened by the putrid realization that only 103 of those yards came through the air (The Yellow Jackets, a triple option team, average 104 passing).
To make this competitive, the Hokies need to find some sort of offensive leader. Sean Glennon is out, Tyrod Taylor is in, which helps the rushing output but only serves to further the woes of the passing game.
VPI's leading receiver is Kenny Lewis, a running back, with only five receptions on the year. The departure of three senior receivers Hyman, Morgan and Royal for the NFL left the Hokies depleted and inexperienced at receiver.
Young guns such as Dyrell Roberts and Andre Smith will have to step up to help out Taylor with this menacing Ramblin' Wreck pass rush.
Expect to see Morgan Burnett tight in the box with the Tech linebackers daring Virginia Tech to stretch the talented back seven vertically.
Virginia Tech's Defense vs. Georgia Tech's Offense
Despite their offensive woes, the Hokies defense has remained impressively stout, even with the loss of Xavier Adibi, Vince Hall and Brandon Flowers. VPI is only giving up 96 rushing yards a game and a very respectable 212 passing yards.
Macho Harris isn't 100 percent, but he's still playing quality and at times punishing defense. With the departure of the aforementioned linebackers Cam Martin and Purnell Sturdivant have stepped up nicely and played with the same "lunch pail" mentality of the traditional Bud Foster defense.
Stephen Virgil has been a bright spot in the defensive backfield, as he's returned both a fumble and blocked PAT for scores and, playing opposite Harris, he is growing into VT's next NFL cornerback.
The Virginia Tech run defense is going to be put to their most crucial test of this short season when they face the Yellow Jackets triple option attack. They'll get all they can handle when Nesbitt and Dwyer take the field.
The Jackets have scored eight touchdowns on the season; every one of them has been on the ground and Coach Johnson and team seem content to follow that trend all season.
They're averaging right at 30 points a game and almost six yards per carry (5.9). With every game the Wreck's crisp execution gets better and the team becomes more confident in their ability to win by staying within Johnson's system.
Demaryius Thomas, the leading receiver, patiently lays in wait as the Jackets' "deep threat," averaging 32.5 receiving yards a game. The Wreck will test Cam Martin and Purnell Sturdivant's discipline as Nesbitt and Dwyer methodically move the football down the field.
Look for Kam Chancellor and Macho Harris, VPI's most experienced back end players, to get involved in the run game early, helping out the less experienced backers.
VT should load up the box, playing some variations of cover-2 to allow Harris and Virgil to stop the run as well as straight man to get their safeties active in the box early. The Hokies do have a slim athletic advantage and can afford to risk crowding the line of scrimmage.
So far this season, Beamer ball has been somewhat less than stellar. Yes, the Hokies returned a blocked PAT for a score, but they also committed a gaffe uncharacteristic of the Maroon and Orange; costing the Hokies a game.
The ECU game special teams mishap that allowed a blocked punt for a touchdown lost Tech the game but should show the players how critical sound special teams can be, especially for a struggling offensive unit.
While the Hokies have had a very public shortcoming, the Yellow Jackets kicking game with Scott Blair has been very Jekyll and Hyde-like. Blair is averaging 44.2 yards per punt and has forced three fair catches in the Jackets first two games.
A quite strong showing early on by the sophomore. However, Blair, a Calhoun, Ga., native, has been the polar opposite when it comes to his place kicking. He's 1-for-5 in field goal attempts and 7-for-8 with PATs.
Match Ups To Watch
Virginia Tech's QBs vs. Morgan Burnett
Taylor isn't much of a passer, but then again neither is Glennon, and Burnett has shown a nose for the football through 2008's first two games. The safety had better be on the radar for the Hokies, because if the quarterback doesn't look Burnett off, the College Park sophomore could snag a couple more interceptions.
Cam Martin and Purnell Sturdivant vs. Josh Nesbitt and Jonathan Dwyer
The Hokies top linebackers had better be ready to flow sideline-to-sideline all day in order to stop the Jackets' dangerous rushing duo. If they miss their assignments and make improper hits, either player is capable of taking the ball for large chunks of yardage.
Virginia Tech's Receiving Corps vs. Georgia Tech Secondary
Georgia Tech's senior cornerback appears prepared to stop anyone the Hokies trot out there, it'll be up to OC Bryan Stynespring and the players themselves to work on establishing a legitimate receiving threat. The Hokies will be seeing nine in the box if they don't force the Wreck's secondary to respect their receivers.
Georgia Tech's defense will be much better than the Furman unit that held the Hokies to three first-half points. The defensive line will pressure Taylor and I expect the sophomore to make a couple amazing plays with his legs, not his arm.
He'll lead the Hokies in rushing again and should add a long score or two to his highlight reel. In the end the lack of a serious receiving threat will doom the Hokie-birds as the Jackets will load up the box and force VT into the adventure that is throwing the football.
The Hokies' defense will be stout against the option, Bud Foster is notorious for playing a simple defense that allows his athletes to make sound football plays. This will be one of Georgia Tech's toughest tests all season, and Nesbitt and Dwyer will be facing a caliber of athlete that they have yet to face.
With that said, I think as the game grinds on, the Jackets offense slowly wears down the Hokie defense and they'll find the end zone a couple times.
Special teams will swing the Hokies way and give them a sound edge in the kicking game as well as the opportunity to score off a block. Paul Johnson may want to think about going for it or pooching the football because Lane Stadium isn't the place you want a young kicker getting his feel for the position.
In the end, I think the Yellow Jackets get their second ACC win to move to 3-0 and squarely in first in the ACC.
Georgia Tech 23, Virginia Tech 17
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