Nov. 9, 2016
Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
As Georgia Tech prepares for part two of a four-step November grind, the Yellow Jackets want to maintain what they’ve been doing on offense (but hang onto the ball) and change a lot on defense (while stealing the ball).
These will be tall tasks Saturday at No. 18/22 Virginia Tech, where the Hokies (7-2, 5-1 ACC) are typically stingy on defense and moving the ball nearly better than ever.
The Jackets (5-4, 2-4) are humming on offense too.
After rushing for 374 yards last Saturday at North Carolina and 341 a week earlier against Duke, they’ve put up 1,123 yards of total offense in the past two games. Going back to its Oct. 8 contest at Pitt, Georgia Tech has averaged 498 yards of total offense over the past three ACC games.
Virginia Tech, though, has become especially hard on the Jackets.
Defensive coordinator Bud Foster, on the job in Blacksburg since 1996, may have put together the most consistently effective game plans to slow the Jackets of any coach in the ACC.
He’s still on staff for Virginia Tech, where Justin Fuente took over as head coach after Frank Beamer retired, and he has serious manpower.
Defensive tackle Woody Baron (6-2, 280 pounds) and outside linebacker Tremaine Edmunds (6-5, 236) each have 13 tackles for lost yardage, middle linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka (6-0, 233) has 71 total tackles and defensive backs Greg Stroman and Terrell Edmunds have three interceptions apiece.
The Hokies limited Georgia Tech to 161 rushing yards last season while overcoming a 14-0 deficit to win 23-21 at Bobby Dodd Stadium, where the Jackets were undone by three lost fumbles.
“[Baron] is all over the place when you turn the tape on,” said Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson. “He’s a heck of a player and . . . I think he’s playing his best football by far. They’re very talented on defense, they’ve got a couple of probable NFL prospects at linebacker and they’re usually pretty good in the secondary.
“They’re very aggressive and they’ve got good players. I think Bud does a very good job; he has been doing it for a long time. They are who they are, they’ve got an identity and that’s the way they play.”
Virginia Tech is ranked No. 27 nationally against the run, allowing 125.8 yards per game, No. 17 in total defense (327.4) and No. 18 in scoring defense (20.2).
The Hokies are going to gear to slow down Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas, who left last Saturday’s 48-20 loss to North Carolina with an upper-body injury. He’s expected to play at Virginia Tech and the Jackets also are hopeful that center Freddie Burden will return from an undisclosed injury.
Georgia Tech needs to hang onto the football, as the Jackets have lost two fumbles in each of the last two games and opponents converted all four turnovers into touchdowns.
Conversely, the Hokies have been stingy on offense, as they haven’t turned the ball over a single time in three-consecutive games, the first time since 1996 that’s happened.
Junior quarterback Jerod Evans (6-3, 238) is moving Virginia Tech with great efficiency and approaching a slew of school records in the process.
He leads his team in rushing with 533 yards and four touchdowns and has completed 61.7 percent of his passes for 2,203 yards, 21 yards and just two interceptions.
Virginia Tech’s defense looks very much like it long ha, but the offense will appear, “different from what they’ve done,” Johnson said. “They’re very similar to North Carolina in a lot of facets.
“I call it the `NCAA offense’ the majority of teams run. [Shot]gun stuff, zone reads, quarterback powers, bubble screens.”
If the Jackets are going to win in Blackburg, like they did in overtime in 2012, they’re going to have be better than they were at North Carolina. Georgia Tech surrendered 636 yards in Chapel Hill, the second-most in program history.
Virginia Tech won 34-3 at North Carolina on Oct. 8. Then again, they were upset 31-17 a week later at Syracuse.
The key, Johnson said, will be, “to get off the field on third down. It creates almost all the problems. Not all of them, but it would solve a lot if we could get off the field on third down.”