Virginia Tech is leading the ACC’s Coastal Division and has posted all three of its victories on the road.
The Hokies hope to pad their lead when they host Georgia Tech on Thursday night.
The Yellow Jackets (3-4, 1-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) have won their last two meetings against the Hokies (4-2, 3-0), as well as their last two meetings in Lane Stadium. This time, they will be facing a defense short on experience against the triple option.
“They’ve got a lot of young guys but they’ve got some really good athletes and they run well,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “Where they’ve struggled the most is on the back end against passing teams, really.”
A year ago, it was one of those plays — an 80-yard pass play — that doomed the Hokies in a 28-22 loss in Atlanta.
Hokies coach Justin Fuente said Virginia Tech’s scout team has done a good job of preparing the defense for how to defend the triple option, but the one aspect that is more difficult to simulate is the Yellow Jackets’ speed.
“I’m always very fearful that on the very first play of the game the defense is going to look over to the sideline and go, ‘Yeah we recognized that play but it was executed so much faster than we looked at for the past week,’ that they’re a step off,” he said. “Our kids have embraced that challenge of simulating it.”
While the teams are not geographical rivals, Johnson said success has turned the series into a rivalry.
“I think that’s what makes it a rivalry,” he said. “I’ve been here 11 years. Eight of the 11 years the team that’s won the Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech game has won the Coastal Division. That’s the way it’s been.”
Virginia Tech has won five of those divisional titles, the Yellow Jackets three.
As the lone unbeaten team in the Coastal Division, the Hokies have the upper hand on winning another title this season, and they have the added advantage of playing four of their last five games at home.
Key to that success will be the continued development of a young defense that allowed 49 points against Old Dominion and 45 against Notre Dame , but Fuente said he has been pleased with their growth to date.
“They are going to have to stick together,” he said. “In the next five weeks, it’s going to be really difficult and they’re going to have to stick together and focus on continuing to improve. From what I’ve seen so far, they’re into that.”
Here are some things to watch when Georgia Tech visits Virginia Tech:
Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech are tied for the most appearances on ESPN’s Thursday night games with 32. The Hokies have thrived in that scenario, winning 23 of their appearances, including all six against the Yellow Jackets.
JACKETS ON ROAD ROLL
Georgia Tech will be trying to become the first road team to win three straight games in Blacksburg since Miami in 1967, 1982 and 1992. Johnson is 4-6 against the Hokies overall, but 2-0 against Fuente’s Virginia Tech teams.
RUN, RYAN, RUN
Quarterback TaQuon Marshall leads Georgia Tech is rushing with 598 yards and has run for nine touchdowns, but won’t be the only signal caller in the game that can do damage with his feet. Virginia Tech’s Ryan Willis ran for 88 yards in the Hokies 22-19 victory against North Carolina . Included in that was a 33-yard scoring run.
DON’T BLAME THE OPTION
Georgia Tech lost three fumbles in the final three minutes of the third quarter in its 28-14 loss to Duke before a bye week. Johnson was quick to say the fumbles were not a product of his spread option offense, but “ball security issues” by running back Jerry Howard, quarterback TaQuon Marshall and kickoff return specialist Juanyeh Thomas. He said he and his assistants have “got to do a better job of teaching” players to hold the ball “high and tight.”
MORE ON TURNOVERS
Whatever the cause, protecting the ball is an obvious key for the Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech has lost the ball only three times in its three wins — all three in the season-opening win over Alcorn State. The Yellow Jackets have nine turnovers in their four losses. They were plus three on turnovers in their win against the Hokies in 2017.
By HANK KURZ Jr., AP Sports Writer