After their first appearance this season in the top 25, the 22nd ranked
Virginia Tech Hokies (5-2, 2-1) travel to Atlanta to take on the Georgia Tech
Yellow Jackets (4-2, 3-2) this Thursday night at Bobby Dodd Stadium in a key ACC
game. A win would position VT well, as there are only three other conference
teams with zero or one loss (UM, FSU, UVa) at this point in the season, and VT
will be a strong favorite in its next two conference games. A loss would place
VT squarely in the middle of the ACC bowl pecking order and make the postseason
a dicey proposition.
The Rambling Wreck has replaced Pittsburgh as this year’s conference team
that is toughest to figure. They are perfectly capable of coming out, especially
at home, and playing a lights out defensive game coupled with an efficient
offensive game. On the other hand, they also can be turnover prone, which makes
them very beatable. In their losses, GT turned the ball five times (versus UNC
in a 34-13 loss) and four times (versus Miami in a 27-3 loss).
The Head Coach for GT is former Dallas Cowboys coach Chan Gailey. Gailey was
hyped as an offensive guru during his time in the League, but, ironically, his
teams at Georgia Tech have played things fairly conservatively. Defense was the
staple of last year’s team, and likewise is the strength of this year’s
edition. Gailey has done an okay job, but he hasn’t set the world on fire. He
is in his third year in Atlanta and his 18-14 mark is about what you would
expect, given the talent on hand when he inherited the job.
The Yellow Jacket offense is “pro style” and Gailey uses multiple sets.
The offense is predicated on the running game as the Rambling Wreck averages
nearly 181 yards per game on the ground (good for 33rd nationally going into the
games last Saturday) and 171 yards per game through the air. Although Gailey
handles the offense, different assistant coaches coordinated the running game
(Patrick Nix) and passing game (Buddy Geis) last year. Nix has the offensive
coordinator title this year, perhaps underscoring the emphasis on the ground.
The statistics for the two offenses involved in this game are remarkably
similar. VT runs for four more yards and passes for seven more yards per game.
The enormous disparity, however, in overall productivity (GT scores 19.3 points
per game and VT 33 points per game) doesn’t stand up under close inspection:
take out VT’s two blowout wins by the combined score of 125-0 and GT’s win
over Samford, and GT actually averages 17.6 per game versus 16.3 for the Hokies.
In terms of play selection, GT has 254 rushing attempts versus 156 passes
(62% running plays). Shutting down the running game is usually a priority for
VT, but it takes on even greater significance in this game.
The focus of the running game is 5’10”, 210 JR tailback P.J. Daniels.
Daniels is a former walk-on who emerged because of injuries last fall and ended
up being the ACC’s leading rusher with 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns. Daniels
has had good numbers this year as well, racking up 529 yards (4.8 per carry) and
4 touchdowns in four and a half games of work (Daniels missed the Miami game and
half of the UNC contest). He is the ACC’s leading rusher on a per-game basis
Daniels is a punishing runner who specializes on work between the tackles.
Against VT, he’ll have to run north-south to be effective as I don’t think
he has the speed to outrun the VT defenders to the corner.
The backup to Daniels is speed merchant Chris Woods (5’11”, 190 JR). He
is capable of getting to the corner and is another example of how scouting can
be an inexact science – he transferred to GT after his freshman season at
Morris Brown. Woods had a nice game in his start against Miami when he ran for
74 yards on 12 carries. On the year, he has 36 rushes for 180 yards (5.0 per
carry). R-FR Rashaun Grant (5’10”, 192) also sees time as he has 31 carries
for 144 yards.
R-SR fullback Jimmy Dixon (6’1”, 225) is a returning starter who is a
reliable blocker. He has zero rushing yards this year, so don’t look for him
to touch the ball in the running game except in short yardage.
GT occasionally uses their backs as pass receivers, but it isn’t a staple
of their offense. Dixon and Daniels each have six catches for 59 and 31 yards,
respectively, and Woods and Grant have combined for six grabs.
T-SO quarterback Reggie Ball (5’11”, 195) is the triggerman for the
Jackets. Ball got national acclaim last year as he took over the starting job as
a true freshman and he generally performed well under the circumstances,
completing 52 percent of his passes for nearly 2,000 yards and 10 touchdowns (11
interceptions). Although he is a little short for a quarterback and not the
traditional pocket passer, he certainly showed a lot of promise.
As you would expect with any young quarterback, Ball came into this season
needing to improve his reads and his pocket presence. However, at least
statistically, Ball has regressed from last season. He is completing fewer than
half his passes and has nearly as many interceptions already this year (10) as
he had in all of last year.
GT’s offensive fortunes are clearly tied to his productivity: he threw
three interceptions in each of GT’s two losses. If he turns the ball over, the
Jackets will have a tough time putting up points.
On the positive side of the ledger, much like Bryan Randall, Ball is a great
competitor and capable of making plays with his feet. He is GT’s second
leading rusher with 203 net yards (3.2 per carry). Ball also plays with a tough
guy personality, and doesn’t shy away from contact when he runs the ball.
At wide receiver, ballyhooed true freshman Calvin Johnson is a rising star in
the ACC. Johnson was regarded by many analysts as a top 50 national recruit last
year given his prototype size (6’4”, 225) and speed (4.5). Johnson has
backed up his press with some serious numbers early this year as he has 23
catches and 395 yards (17.2 per catch) and five touchdowns. He leads the team in
all three receiving categories. As with most freshmen, he has some technique
tricks to learn, but he is going to nab a lot of collegiate accolades before
collecting paychecks on Sundays. As you might expect, GT likes to utilize his
height on fades and corner patterns and a matchup with Jimmy Williams down in
the red zone could be fun to watch.
The other wide receiver is veteran Nate Curry (5’10”, 195, R-SR). Curry
was the leading returning receiver from last year (37 receptions, 426 yards) but
hasn’t seen the ball a lot this fall as he only has 11 catches for 135 yards.
His statistics have also been somewhat limited because of an injury earlier this
Although he doesn’t start, 6’1”, 200 SR Levon Thomas has been
productive and he is one of the team’s best athletes. He has the longest
reception of the year for GT (59 yards), and is second on the team in catches
(19), yards (338) with the leading average per catch (17.8). Both Johnson and
Thomas can make plays down the field when Ball breaks containment.
The fourth wide receiver is R-JR Damarius Bilbo, a 6’3”, 225 converted
quarterback. Keep an eye on him as any GT trickeration likely would revolve
around him, given his overall athleticism and his ability to throw.
Tight end Darrius Williams (6’6”, 270 R-SR) is massive and is more a
staple in the running game. He only has two receptions on the year.
One of the strongest units of last year’s Jacket team was their offensive
line, but they lost All-ACC Hugh Reilly and enigmatic (but talented) left tackle
Nat Dorsey. Those losses have been felt along the line.
GT averages 4.3 yards per rushing attempt, a number similar to VT (4.2 per
carry). The Jackets have yielded 11 sacks on the year, which is a good number
given the competition they have played. The line appears to be improving as they
have given up only one sack the last two weeks against Maryland and Duke (before
you laugh, remember that Duke got pressure on Bryan Randall).
The three returning starters are concentrated on the right side of the line.
Probably the best player is three year starter Kyle Wallace (6’6”, 295 SR)
at right tackle. Wallace has good feet and understands all the tricks given his
experience. Playing alongside him is 6’4”, 308 JR right guard Brad
Honeycutt, a solid run blocker. Honeycutt and Wallace provide most of the
running room for Daniels.
The center probably will be Andy Tidwell-Neal, a 6’5”, 310 SR. He started
last year at guard but, much like Will Montgomery, moved over to center to help
the team. He has been limited by an injury in the last two games, but at the
time I write this he is expected to play. If he can’t go, look for R-FR Kevin
Tuminello (6’4”, 280).
The important left tackle position is manned by 6’5”, 305 Leon Robinson.
Robinson has played better than anticipated this year, permitting Wallace to
remain at right tackle, but he’ll face his biggest challenge of the year when
he lines up against the VT ends. R-FR Matt Rhodes has started the last two games
at left guard and acquitted himself well, but Maryland and Duke are not nearly
as good inside as the Hokies have been.
The golden boy among ACC assistants right now is defensive coordinator and
former UVa defensive back Jon Tenuta. Tenuta had success as Ohio State’s
defensive coordinator in 2000, and then moved onto North Carolina for a season,
molding the Heels into the top ranked defense in the conference (with some
residual Mack Brown talent still in place). Tenuta is a very good coach, and he
may be in line for a head job as early as next year.
Tenuta’s team mirrors his personality: GT plays an aggressive, attacking
4-3 scheme that helped the Jackets finish 20th nationally in defense last year,
and they may end up being even better this season. Prior to this Saturday’s
games, GT was 16th in the country in total defense (288 yards per game), giving
up 124 yards on the ground (41st nationally) and 164 yards through the air (14th
nationally). Despite being minus 7 in turnover margin on the year, GT only
surrenders 17.7 points per game. Tenuta emphasizes speed over size and he does a
fair amount of zone blitzing. If lessons were not learned from the N.C. State
debacle, Thursday night could be ugly for the Hokie offense. In the last two
weeks against Maryland and Duke, Georgia Tech has allowed a combined total of
265 yards of offense.
Up front Georgia Tech regularly rotates six defensive linemen, three ends and
three tackles. The bell cow is undoubtedly 6’3”, 265 R-JR defensive end Eric
Henderson. Henderson led the league with 11 sacks and also chipped in a school
record 24 tackles for a loss last year. While statistically he hasn’t had the
same impact individually this year (18 tackles, seven for a loss and two sacks)
because of missed time, his importance is demonstrated by this tidbit: in the
three games Henderson was injured earlier this year, including one matchup with
mighty Samford, the Jackets had three sacks. Since his return, the Jackets have
17 sacks in three games, including five against Miami. He is their Darryl Tapp.
The bookend to Henderson is speedy returning starter Travis Parker (6’5”,
260 JR). Parker is a returning starter and was an honorable mention all
conference pick last year despite being forced to play inside at tackle. He is a
good player in his own right, and he has 18 tackles on the year, including 2.5
for a loss and a sack. He plays the run well, as you might expect given his time
inside. Parker moves to defensive tackle in some passing situations.
The third end who plays a significant amount is 6’4”, 250 R-FR Adamm
Oliver. Oliver has 17 tackles on the year including 3.5 for losses and two
sacks. He started when Henderson was injured.
The third returning starter on the defensive front is big bodied sophomore
Mansfield Wrotto (6’3”, 305). Wrotto received a lot of accolades after an
impressive freshman season. His numbers are modest this year (11 tackles, 2.5
for a loss), but he occupies people inside. Wrotto’s undersized classmate Joe
Anoai (6’3”, 255) uses quickness to make plays as demonstrated by his 5.5
tackles for a loss and two sacks. Anoai is a high motor player that won’t give
up on a play.
The third tackle is impressive true freshman Darryl Richard (6’4”, 300).
Richard was a very highly regarded high school player from Louisiana, and he has
broken into the rotation despite his limited experience. He will be very good
down the line.
Cumulatively, the defensive line has tallied 88 tackles, including 24 for a
loss and 8 sacks this year. Equally important, however, has been their ability
to keep offensive linemen away from GT’s linebackers and they have responded
in a big way.
Coming into the season linebacker was a concern as veteran starters Daryl
Smith and Keyaron Fox were gone, as well as part time starter Ather Brown. 6’4”,
230 JR Gerris Wilkerson was a starter at defensive end last year, but he was
able to move back to his natural middle linebacker position when Parker moved
from defensive tackle to defensive end.
Wilkerson has been very productive as he has 60 tackles on the year (10 per
game and second in the conference) including 7.5 tackles for a loss and an
interception. He is tough, physical and runs very well to the ball.
While Wilkerson is a fine player, he has only had the second best year among
GT linebackers thus far. Former strong safety Chris Reis moved to strongside
linebacker this year, an apparently odd fit given his size (6’1”, 219).
However, the seemingly omnipresent junior has had a breakout season this fall as
he leads the ACC in sacks with seven, is second in the league with 10 tackles
for a loss, and second on the team with 45 tackles. He has been particularly
impressive since Henderson’s return as he has eight tackles for a loss and
seven sacks in the last three games. Reis also is tied for the team lead with
three passes broken up and has forced two fumbles.
Tenuta has done a fantastic job of allowing Reis to run free and use his
instincts and tackling ability to wreak havoc. Instead of forcing him to body up
on a fullback on isolation plays, he has designed schemes to allow him to
constantly attack with great results. Both Reis and Wilkerson are all conference
academic selections, and their ability to read and diagnose plays greatly
contributes to their productivity.
The weakside linebacker is KaMichael Hall, a 6’0”, 225 SO. He saw some
spot duty as a true freshman last year and has 24 tackles this year (3.5 TFL, 2
The secondary is headed by another all conference academic player, senior
free safety James Butler. Butler has great size (6’3”, 210) and is a likely
first day NFL draft pick. He is the quarterback of the defense and had the
versatility to finish second in the ACC in interceptions last year with five
while also setting a GT secondary record with 119 tackles.
Butler’s numbers this year are not quite as eye popping as he only has 43
tackles, third on the team, and one interception, but he is athletic enough to
make plays anywhere on the field. He has a blocked punt this year and is worth
watching on special teams.
Strong safety Dawan Landry (6’2”, 215) is also a returning starter who
knows how to hit. He is fourth on the team with 36 tackles, including four for a
loss, and he has one interception.
At corner the Jackets return starter Reuben Houston (6’0”, 190 JR) and
have elevated speedy sophomore Kenny Scott (6’2”, 185) to the other spot.
Houston has 30 tackles and an interception on the year, while Scott has 18
tackles and three passes defensed.
Physically, GT has an interesting defensive team: the front four includes two
ends that are heavier than a starting tackle, two outside linebackers that are
undersized at 219 and 225, and a jumbo secondary that includes no players under
6’0”. Both safeties weigh in the 215 range and are nearly as big as the
outside linebackers. Despite the seemingly odd arrangement, this defense is very
good. They aren’t as athletically gifted or fast as N.C. State, but they
understand opposing offenses better and are more consistent with their
GT’s Special Teams
The Rambling Wreck is just okay on special teams, and the Hokies should have
an advantage here. JR punter Ben Arndt only averages 38.3 yards per kick,
although the coverage has been good yielding a solid net average of 35.9. Their
kicker is redshirt freshman Travis Bell, and he has been very good thus far
converting on six of seven attempts and all his PATs. His long this year is 47
The kickoff coverage has been poor for GT as they surrender 28.5 yards per
return. With Mike Imoh and Eddie Royal deep, this could be an area to watch.
Georgia Tech has used several punt returners and after some mediocre results
seems to have found their man in redshirt freshman Patrick Carter (6’3”,
190). He has averaged 12.7 yards per return compared to an overall team average
of 7.3 yards per return. Levon Thomas is the primary kickoff returner and he
nets 21 yards per attempt.
Coming into this season I expected VT to lose in Atlanta. It’s a tough
place to play, tougher than the average fan realizes, and the Jackets have some
top shelf talent. The similarities between these teams are striking.
Both teams have athletic quarterbacks who occasionally struggle with
accuracy, good tailbacks who can make yards between the tackles (with admittedly
different styles), a freshman wide receiver with game breaking ability and
offensive lines that returned three starters but still have yet to mesh
(although GT has done a far better job pass blocking than VT). On defense, both
teams have monster front fours led by talented defensive ends, new linebackers
whose play has been far superior to preseason expectations, and solid
The VT offense has struggled to score in the last three games (16 points
versus State, 19 versus WVU with a special teams touchdown, and 17 versus Wake).
It’s tough to expect any appreciable improvement against a Georgia Tech
defense that is probably as good, and perhaps better, than any of those
I think the quarterbacks will decide the game. Bryan Randall is going to be
on the spot as he will have to make quick, smart decisions both in adjusting
protections and in throwing the ball on time. The whole offense was overwhelmed
by N.C. State’s zone blitz. Given his personnel and that game film, Tenuta
will come after the Hokies early and often, and Randall will have to make great
decisions. In particular, in situations where VT is inside its 20, he is going
to have to be willing to give up on a play rather than taking a sack or forcing
Randall also will have to make some plays with his feet as it is inevitable
that Reis will come free on some delayed blitzes. If Randall can break that
first tackle, there may be some plays available downfield.
Likewise, Reggie Ball is the key to GT’s chances. I don’t see the Jackets
consistently running the ball, so he will have to try to get Johnson, Thomas and
Curry involved in the passing game. His running is a threat, but the return of
Xavier Adibi helps interject additional speed and depth into the linebacker
corps that will be spying on him.
Of course, in a defensive struggle special teams and penalties take on added
significance. GT only has seven takeaways on the year, although part of that is
just bad luck (they have forced 13 fumbles and only recovered 3). Being minus
eight in the takeaway/giveaway statistic should be a concern for GT (VT is plus
five on the season).
The Jackets average nearly 55 penalty yards per game, an acceptable figure
that is roughly 10 yards per game less than the Hokies.
Before I make my prediction, I’ll note this statistic: in the last year and
a half, GT has never lost a game in which it scored 20 points (9-0). Conversely,
they are 2-7 in games in which they score fewer than 20 points. I don’t see
them getting 20 points against VT, although I’m not sure the Hokies will get
to 20 either.
Prediction: VT 17, GT 13
Will Stewart's Take: Jeff is right on with the comment about the game
coming down to the quarterbacks and special teams. I try to avoid saying that
teams "have to" do this or that, but I almost think VT "has
to" generate some points the special teams, via the kick block or the
One subplot to look for is the amount of playing time Xavier Adibi receives.
The party line this week out of Blacksburg is that Adibi is rusty from his time
off, and not in good football shape. He has lost 10-15 pounds, might get tired
easily, etc., etc. But as Jeff noted, Adibi's sideline-to-sideline ability may
be needed to contain Ball on the scramble. Jeff also noted that P.J. Daniels is
a tough back who likes to run between the tackles, and if he starts getting to
Mikal Baaqee and running him over, the VT coaches will be more likely to put in
Adibi, who (weight loss aside, and from what little we have seen him play)
delivers a blow with more authority than Baaqee.
But Xavier Adibi playing and being effective is not the key to this game.
Making headway against GT's defense and pressing the special teams advantage is.
This one will be a classic defensive battle that comes down to just a few plays.
I don't like VT's chances of making it into the end zone offensively against GT,
so it will be mostly field goals for the Hokies, I think – three of them, with
a TD generated from somewhere.
This one is a toss-up, in my opinion, so I'll play the part of the homer and
hope that VT's recent trend of winning close games continues.
Will's Prediction: VT 16, GT 13
Come join the Atlanta VTAA for the first semi-annual VT vs. GT Tailgate on Thursday, October
When? Two Hours before kick-off.
Where? Peter’s Parking Deck—Right Next to the Stadium at the corner of Bobby Dodd
Way and Fowler Street.
How to get there? Leave your car at the Jock’s & Jill’s in Brook-haven OR Midtown and take the shuttle to the stadium.
Cost? $35 includes dinner and non-alcoholic beverages; $10 Party Only, we provide
the beer and non-alcoholic mixers!! (Pay in ad-vance for dinner option)
There are three choices in terms of cost for the tailgate:
1. $45. Dinner, mixers and free beer (keg)
a. This needs to be paid in advance so the caterers can prepare.
b. The money goes towards the lot for the tailgate, the caterer bringing and setting up the tent, tables, chairs, etc., the food, the mixers
c. All the beer you can drink
d. $10 goes towards scholarship fund.
2. $35. Dinner, mixers (bring your own alcohol)
a. This needs to be paid in advance so the caterers can prepare.
b. The money goes towards the lot for the tailgate, the caterer bringing and setting up the tent, tables, chairs, etc., the food, the mixers
3. $10.00 Entrance to the Party
a. Includes all the beer you can drink (kegs are being donated)
b. $10 goes towards the scholarship fund.
Sign up today with Erin Davidge, using the registration form linked below (PDF format). Register by sending check made payable to Atlanta VTAA to address below. Please include name, phone number, and email address with your registration information.
Atlanta Chapter, VTAA
2000 Monroe Place NE
Atlanta, GA 30324
Contact Erin Davidge if you are interested in tickets to the game. First come first serve.
First shuttle will leave J&J’s three hours before kickoff.
Form (PDF format)