Georgia Tech preview and rostercard

Georgia Tech comes into this football game with a 3-0 record, including a 2-0 mark in ACC play.  After crushing Elon 70-0 in the opening week, the Yellow Jackets beat Duke 38-14, and then came from behind to defeat North Carolina 28-20 in the rain last Saturday.

Obviously Georgia Tech is off to a good start in the ACC.  A home win over Virginia Tech would put them in a strong position in the Coastal Division race.  The next two weeks will tell the tale of their season.  They host the Hokies on Thursday night, and then travel to Miami on October 5.  If the Jackets can manage to win both of those games, they will most likely coast to the ACC Championship Game.

At this point, we all know about the Georgia Tech triple option and how it’s run.  Let’s focus on the personnel that Paul Johnson has to work with this season.

The Playmakers

Georgia Tech starts one B-back (a fullback) and two A-backs (wingbacks).  They also start two wide receivers on the outside.  Here are the guys the Hokies will have to worry about on Thursday night.

BB David Sims (6-0, 225, r-Sr.): Sims is a big, physical runner who has 211 yards and is averaging 5.6 yards per carry this season.  Quarterback Vad Lee has 58 carries, Sims has 38, and nobody else has more than 14.  Sims is in his third season as Georgia Tech’s starting B-Back.

BB Zach Laskey (6-1, 214, Jr.): Laskey has 13 carries for 93 yards and a touchdown through three games.

BB Broderick Snoddy (5-9, 190, r-So.): Snoddy has 11 carries for 74 yards.

Those B-backs will likely be the primary focus of defensive tackles Derrick Hopkins and Luther Maddy, as well as mike linebacker Jack Tyler.

The Yellow Jackets rely on a number of different A-backs, with their most successful being Robert Godhigh.

AB Robert Godhigh (5-7, 190, r-Sr.): Godhigh isn’t tall obviously, but he is an explosive open field runner.  He has 14 carries for 174 yards.  That’s a 12.4 yards per carry average.

AB B.J. Bostic (5-11, 173, r-Jr.): 9 carries, 54 yards.

AB Dennis Andrews (6-0, 190, r-Fr.): 9 carries, 67 yards

AB Tony Zenon (5-8, 175, r-Jr.): 7 carries, 26 yards

AB Synjin Days (6-2, 221, r-Jr.): 8 carries, 22 yards

AB Charles Perkins (6-0, 218, r-Jr.): 3 carries, 32 yards

Here’s how the rushing game shakes out between Vad Lee, his top B-backs and his top A-backs.

Lee: 52 carries, 180 yards, 3.5 ypc, 3 TD
B-backs:  62 carries, 378 yards, 6.1 ypc, 4 TD
A-backs: 46 carries, 379 yards, 8.2 ypc, 1 TD

Georgia Tech’s big plays are usually generated from their A-backs.  Their wide receivers are trained to take defensive backs off their feet, which can lead to big plays on the outside.

Here’s how the Yellow Jacket carries broke down against Virginia Tech last season.

QB: 19 carries, 63 yards, 3.3 ypc
BB: 21 carries, 70 yards, 3.3 ypc
AB: 16 carries, 59 yards, 3.7 ypc

The VT defense did a great job in all phases of the game, and in particular they shut down the B-back dive up the middle.  Georgia Tech got a 22 yard run from Tevin Washington, a 13 yard run from B.J. Bostic and a 12 yard run from Robert Godhigh, but for the most part the Hokies did a great job of stopping the big play.

The Hokies will also have to stop a Georgia Tech passing game that has been pretty good so far.  “Bad” Vad Lee (6-1, 215, r-So.) is 22-of-39 (56.4%) for 418 yards, with seven touchdowns and one interception on the season.  Here are his numbers in each individual game:

Elon: 7-of-11 for 189 yards, 2 TD and 0 INT
Duke: 8-of-16 for 125 yards, 4 TD and 1 INT
UNC: 7-of-12 for 104 yards, 1 TD and 0 INT

DeAndre Smelter (6-3, 220, Jr.) has been Georgia Tech’s top wideout thus far.  He has six catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns.  Smelter went to Georgia Tech on a baseball scholarship as a pitcher, but switched to football after going through some arm issues that limited him on the mound.

The Yellow Jackets like to run a lot of wheel routes with their A-backs.  Although they don’t throw the ball much at all, they do rely on the passing game as a source of big plays.  They are averaging 19 yards per completion this season, with seven of those 22 completions going for touchdowns.

A veteran offensive line

Paul Johnson’s offense is unorthodox, and having a group of very experienced offensive linemen certainly gives him an even greater advantage.

LT Ray Beno (6-2, 295, r-Sr.): Beno is in his third year starting along the offensive line.

LG Will Jackson (6-3, 295, r-Sr.): Jackson is an All-ACC lineman who has been starting since his r-freshman season.

C Jay Finch (6-3, 285, r-Sr.): Finch is in his third season as a starter, and he was an Honorable Mention All-ACC player last year.

RG Shaquille Mason (6-1, 305, Jr.): Mason started 12 games as a sophomore last season, and once as a freshman in 2011.

RT Bryan Chamberlain (6-4, 290, r-So.): The least experienced of Georgia Tech’s offensive linemen, Chamberlain did play some in 2012 and he made one start as well.

These guys are used to playing next to each other.  They have a great understanding of the Georgia Tech offense, and they’ll be one of the biggest challenges of the season for the Virginia Tech defense.

The VT defense vs. the GT offense, historically

Virginia Tech has taken on the Paul Johnson offense five times.  Here are the numbers for each season:

2008: 278 rushing yards, 5.6 ypc, 109 passing yards, 387 total yards
2009: 309 rushing yards, 4.9 ypc, 51 passing yards, 360 total yards
2010: 346 rushing yards, 6.8 ypc, 80 passing yards, 426 total yards
2011: 243 rushing yards, 5.0 ypc, 97 passing yards, 340 total yards
2012: 192 rushing yards, 3.5 ypc, 96 passing yards, 288 total yards

As the years have gone by, we’ve seen Bud Foster become steadily more acclimated to the Georgia Tech offense.  In 2011, the Jackets averaged 316.5 rushing yards, 5.6 yards per carry and 458.8 total yards, and the Hokies held them to well below those numbers.  In 2012, they averaged 311.2 rushing yards, 5.4 yards per carry and 441.1 total yards, and yet again Bud’s crew limited them to a lot less.

Why is that?  Obviously Foster has adjusted to the offense, but I also think the Hokies have increased their talent level on the current defense.  Guys like James Gayle, J.R. Collins, Derrick Hopkins, Jack Tyler, Tariq Edwards, Kyle Fuller and Kyshoen Jarrett are excellent players, and they simply have more talent than the defenses the Hokies put on the field from 2008 through 2010.

On the other side of the ball, Virginia Tech starts four freshmen on offense, or five if you count Kalvin Cline.  In this game those freshmen are going to be facing an ACC defense that features six senior starters, along with a couple of juniors.  I have a feeling that the VT defense needs to have another effort like 2012.

Grohless defense takes a step forward

With no more Al Groh as defensive coordinator, the Georgia Tech defense is much improved in 2013.  Ted Roof (former head coach at Duke) took over in the offseason, and he switched the Jackets back to a 4-3.  Al Groh has ridden off into the sunset, and the Virginia Tech football program is without one guaranteed win a year with him gone from coaching.

Defense hasn’t been a strong suit at Georgia Tech since Paul Johnson and his triple option arrived.  As difficult as it is for other teams to prepare for that spread option, it’s equally as hard for the GT defense to prepare for regular offenses after they’ve faced so much triple option in the spring and in August.  However, this year’s defense is putting up good numbers so far.

Rushing: #22
Passing: #21
Total: #11
Scoring: #12
Pass efficiency D: #18
Third down defense: #33
Redzone defense: #15

Those are good numbers across the board.  They’ve yet to face a good, balanced offense yet this season, but let’s be honest … they aren’t going to face one on Thursday night either.

Georgia Tech’s success on defense begins with their experience up front.  The Yellow Jackets start three seniors on the defensive line.

DE Jeremiah Attaoachu (6-3, 242, Sr.): Attoachu is a Preseason First Team All-ACC player.  He had 10 sacks a year ago, and he can make life very difficult for offensive tackles.  Jonathan McLaughlin and Brent Benedict are not good matchups for Attaoachu.  Though Attaoachu is banged up and has missed practice time this week, he’s expected to play on Thursday.

DT Euclid Cummings (6-4, 275, r-Sr.): Cummings has been in the playing rotation for the past two seasons.  He’s been active up front for the Yellow Jackets so far this year.

DT Adam Gotsis (6-5, 277, So.): Gotsis is in his first year as a starting defensive tackle after playing 12 games as a true freshman last year.  He is a native of Australia.  He has been Georgia Tech’s top playmaker at defensive tackle, recording three TFL and a sack.

DE Emmanuel Dieke (6-6, 270, r-Sr.): Dieke started 12 games for Georgia Tech in 2012.  He is purely a gap control defensive lineman.  He has never shown an ability to make plays in the backfield.  He has no TFL this year, and had just 2.5 a year ago.

Georgia Tech’s defensive line isn’t as gifted or as deep as Virginia Tech’s, but they do have experience, and Attaoachu is very dangerous coming off the edge.  The Hokies will have to account for him all night.

At linebacker, the Yellow Jackets have three returning starters who are all capable of making plays.

SAM Brandon Watts (6-2, 235, r-Sr.): Watts had 8.5 TFL a year ago, and so far in 2013 he is leading the team with 19 tackles.

ILB Jabari Hunt-Days (6-3, 247, r-So.): Hunt-Days was a freshman All-American last season when he led all Georgia Tech linebackers in tackles with 84.  He has great size, and he looks like a 4-year starter for the Yellow Jackets.

WILL Quayshawn Nealy (6-1, 232, r-Jr.): Nealy has started since he was a r-freshman, and he’s the most experienced linebacker on this Georgia Tech team.

Nealy came up lame against North Carolina, and he is listed as questionable for Thursday night’s game.  He has not practiced so far this week, despite the fact that Georgia Tech is not holding contact drills.  If he can’t go, true freshman Paul Davis (5-11, 215, Fr.) is listed as the backup, though it’s certainly possible that Ted Roof could move one of his more experienced backups into the starting lineup, such as Daniel Drummond (6-3, 245, r-Sr.) or Tyler Marcordes (6-4, 232, r-So.)

Both of Georgia Tech’s safeties were also injured against North Carolina.  Free safety Jamal Golden (6-0, 189, Jr.) is expected to play, whereas strong safety Chris Milton (5-11, 185, r-So.) is highly questionable.  Golden is an excellent athlete, and he finished in the top 10 nationally in both kickoff returns and punt returns last season.  However, if he’s banged up, there’s a chance that Paul Johnson will take him off special teams on Thursday night.

If Milton can’t go, Desmond Smith (6-0, 185, r-So.) will get the start.  His experience level is basically the same as Milton’s, so I wouldn’t expect there to be a huge drop off.

Georgia Tech’s defense features a couple of seniors at cornerback.  Louis Young (6-1, 196, Sr.) was a highly-touted recruit who was recruited by Virginia Tech.  He has made an impact in the Georgia Tech secondary since he was a true freshman.  Jemea Thomas (5-10, 195, r-Sr.) is an All-ACC candidate who had four interceptions a year ago.  He has a lot of experience at both safety and corner.

This Yellow Jacket defense is banged up.  Four of their 11 starters have missed practice this week, though two are expected to play on Thursday night, and overall I think their injuries will have a minimal impact.

This defense doesn’t feature a ton of playmakers.  The Jackets have just 12 TFL and four sacks through three games.  The Hokies had 12 TFL and four sacks as well … in one game, against Alabama.  Throw in 11 TFL and seven sacks against ECU, and the VT defense just has a lot more playmakers than the GT defense.

However, that experience level for Georgia Tech makes this a very disciplined defense.  They aren’t going to make very many mistakes against the Hokies.  When they do, the VT offense has to capitalize.

Special Teams

Jamal Golden could be a big factor in this game, if he plays, and if the Jackets let him return kicks.  Last season he averaged 14.59 yards per punt return, and 28.25 yards per kickoff return, both of which ranked in the top 10 nationally.  He is a very dangerous returner, and the Hokies will have to be on their guard if he’s returning kicks on Thursday night.

The Virginia Tech defense needs to hold the Yellow Jacket offense to field goal attempts, because the Jackets have a true freshman kicker.  Harrison Butker (6-3, 190, Fr.) is just 1-of-3 on the season, though his one make came from 49 yards.  One of his two misses was blocked.  There’s simply not enough information on Butker to tell whether or not he’s a good kicker, so he should be considered a question mark until he proves otherwise.

Sean Poole (6-1, 160, r-Sr.) is Georgia Tech’s senior punter.  He’s a solid and experienced guy, and although he’s only had to punt seven times in three games, he’s averaging 48.3 yards per punt.

Final Thoughts

Here’s a sobering thought.  For much of the game, Virginia Tech will have five freshmen on the field on offense to oppose a defense that features six senior starters.  Five freshmen vs. six seniors … well, we know how that will probably go.  It might be one thing if they were all 4-star and 5-star freshmen, but that’s not the case.

LT Jonathan McLaughlin: 3-stars with offers from VT, UVA and ECU
WR Joshua Stanford: 3-stars with offers from VT, UCLA, Middle Tennessee State, TCU
RB Trey Edmunds: 4-stars with offers from VT, UNC, Maryland, and other regional schools
FB Sam Rogers: walk-on with no offers
TE Kalvin Cline: 2-stars with a VT offer, 1-AA offers, and a walk-on offer from Miami

I like the potential of each one of those guys, but let’s face it: if McLaughlin, Rogers and Cline were playing for a program whose offense hadn’t been run completely into the ground, they would all be redshirting, most likely.  Unfortunately they were all thrown right into the fire, and now they are going to have to score points against a senior-laden, well-coached ACC defense on Thursday night.

The VT offense – freshmen and all – must take advantage of their limited opportunities against Georgia Tech.  The Yellow Jackets will run a lot of clock because of their running game, and as a result the Hokies’ chances on offense will be limited.  Against North Carolina, Georgia Tech held the ball for a little over 40 minutes.

North Carolina had the ball for 10 possessions against Georgia Tech, and that includes running out the clock at the end of the first half, so it was only nine real possessions.  Let’s assume for a moment that Virginia Tech gets nine possessions.  In each of their first four games, the Hokies have gone three-and-out on their first drive.  If they do that against Georgia Tech, they’ll only have eight remaining possessions.  Logan Thomas is averaging 1.5 interceptions per game.  If he throws one against GT, that will take the Hokies down to seven real possessions.  If he throws two, it will limit them to six real possessions.

Can the Tech offense score enough to win in those six possessions?  They only scored five combined touchdowns against ECU and Marshall, so it’s going to be tough sledding, and in this game they need touchdowns, not a bunch of field goals.  If they go down the field and score on their first drive, or Logan Thomas doesn’t throw any interceptions, then their chances of scoring enough points goes up obviously, but neither of those things has happened this year, so I’m not counting on them happening on Thursday night.

I think the defense will play well, but I’m not holding out hope for the offense.  They are just too young.

Chris’ Prediction: Georgia Tech 20, Virginia Tech 7

Will Stewart’s Take: Up until a few days ago, I was marking this one in the definite-loss column. Now I’m not so sure.

Number one, the Hokies have been doing some prep in past weeks, however limited that may be, for Georgia Tech, so that’s good. I also DVR’d GT’s win over UNC last Saturday, and upon watching it, was unimpressed by the Jackets. (I was also unimpressed by UNC, but I’ll save that for later.)

Josh Nesbitt, Jonathan Dwyer, and Demaryius Thomas don’t live here anymore. Their current versions — Vad Lee, Robert Godhigh, and DeAndre Smelter — are good, but not in that class. Vad Lee is a better passer, more accurate with a stronger arm than Nesbitt, but Virginia Tech’s defensive backs will present challenges in coverage that UNC’s didn’t.

Just go to the 55-second point of this video and watch the “coverage” by UNC on the touchdown pass — Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson won’t do … this:

Vad Lee also didn’t strike me as being as strong running the ball as Nesbitt, even though they’re very similar in size.

The Jackets don’t have a B-back like Dwyer (Godhigh is an A-back), and Smelter, though talented, is raw and still learning the position.

So I think the Hokie defense can handle the Jacket offense. But “handle” means Georgia Tech will still score at least 17 points on the Hokies, which is what they’ve historically done. In five games against the Hokies, Paul Johnson’s offense has put up 17, 28, 21, 26 and 17 points.

So the Hokie offense needs to score at least 17 on Georgia Tech, probably more, or special teams/defense is going to have to contribute. And that’s where things get dicey.

The Hokie offense has scored 10, 13, and 14 points in regulation against Division 1-A teams this season. They haven’t shown us anything yet this season to indicated that they’re ready to put up 20+ points, on the road, against the #11 defense in the country.

It’s really not more complicated than that. Put aside the talk of five days rest, Paul Johnson’s spread option attack, and all that. Based on what we’ve seen so far this season from Virginia Tech’s offense, and historically from PJ’s offense (even when the Hokies defend it well), the Hokies aren’t going to win this one. Not unless the Virginia Tech offense takes a big step forward, or special teams or defense do something extraordinary to throw the game out of whack in Virginia Tech’s favor.

Will’s Prediction: Georgia Tech 20, Virginia Tech 13

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