Va. Tech hosts Ga. Tech with ACC division title in sight
The Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech clash, once the premier matchup in the ACC's Coastal Division with the two teams accounting for nine of the 11 division titles since the league split into two groups for the 2005 season, doesn't have quite the buzz about it this year.
Only the No. 14 Hokies (7-2, 5-1 ACC) remain in title contention going into Saturday's game (3:30 p.m ET, ESPNU) at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Va. They are tied with North Carolina at the top of the division standings but are in control in the race for a berth in the championship game because they hold the tiebreaker over the Tar Heels.
If they win their final two conference games (they finish the regular season against Virginia on Nov. 26), it won't matter how the Tar Heels fare in their two remaining contests (Duke and North Carolina State). Lose one of the two and the Hokies would need the Tar Heels also to lose once to gain the title game berth.
Meanwhile, the Yellow Jackets (5-4, 2-4) will be playing to obtain bowl eligibility, something that eluded them a year ago when they struggled to a 3-9 record.
Nevertheless, first-year Hokies coach Justin Fuente sees a big challenge in taking on the Jackets and their ground-oriented, clock-killing, triple-option attack.
“It forces you to make the most of your time on offense,” Fuente said. “You don't see the (spread option) every day, and they're very good at running it.”
Fuentes' defense holds opponents to 327 yards per game to rank 17th in the country in total defense with only 126 of that coming on the ground.
While coach Paul Johnson's offense is producing about 27 points and 257 yards per game rushing and is coming off a 334-yard rushing performance in a loss to North Carolina last week, the Jackets have struggled on defense.
The Tar Heels torched the Jackets for 636 yards in winning 48-20 last weekend, that after Duke went for 559 the week before in a game the Jackets managed to win 38-35. The 636 yards were the second-most total yards allowed in school history, behind only the 667 given up to a Joe Montana-led Notre Dame team in 1977.
“It's definitely embarrassing,” Jackets safety Corey Griffin said. “I'm embarrassed, the team's embarrassed, coach Johnson is embarrassed … the whole coaching staff.”
Tackling, or lack of it, was a major issue.
“There's a ton of missed tackles and a ton of missed whatever,” Johnson said. “If you can't cover them, you can't cover them. Not getting much of a pass rush and not being able to cover is a deadly combination.”
Against that defense, the Hokies will be putting up a fast-paced offense that is averaging nearly 78 plays and 35 points. The Hokies have averaged 193 yards rushing and 251 passing.
But they are coming off one of their least efficient games of the season. In their 24-21 road win over Duke last week, they recorded their third-lowest yardage total of the season (399) and second-lowest passing total (192).
Quarterback Jerod Evans passed for only 192 yards against the Blue Devils, but led the Hokies in rushing with 83 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. Evans is Tech's leading rusher for the season with 533 yards and four touchdowns. He also has 21 touchdown passes, three short of Tyrod Taylor's school record of 24 set in 2010.
Running back Travon McMillian bounced back with 72 rushing yards and a touchdown after being held to minus-3 rushing yards at Pittsburgh the week before. McMillian is second on the team in rushing with 527 yards and four touchdowns.
For the Jackets, quarterback Justin Thomas is second on the team in rushing with 561 yards to freshman B-back Dedrick Mills' 578. He has completed 63 of 115 passes for 1,208 yards and seven touchdowns and only one interception.
The key for the Jackets is efficiency.
“There's just no margin for error,” Johnson said. “We're not good enough offensively to have any margin for error. It's just the way it is.”
Virginia Tech won five of the last six meetings, including 23-21 last season in Atlanta.