Georgia Tech’s defense under Nate Woody has had its ups and downs this season but will need their best effort on Thursday night against Virginia Tech.
Thursday night’s matchup between Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech is the biggest game to date for the Yellow Jackets and for the Hokies the game will be a huge deciding factor in their ACC Coastal division title hopes. Both teams will surely come out firing on Thursday night, both looking for a huge win.
If Georgia Tech hopes to come out with a third-straight win over the Hokies, they’ll need a big performance out of their defense. So far under first-year defensive coordinator Nate Woody, the Jackets defense is allowing 28.3 points per game which ranks 75th best in the country out of 130 teams. They’ll have a strong test on their hands on Thursday night as they take on a Virginia Tech offense averaging 32.8 points per game.
The Virginia Tech offense overall is pretty balanced with a 53.7% / 46.3% run-pass ratio.
Former Kansas Jayhawk Ryan Willis will be the Hokies starting quarterback on Thursday night. Willis took over for injured quarterback Josh Jackson during the Hokies 49-35 loss to Old Dominion last month. Since then Willis has led the Hokies to a 2-1 record with the lone loss coming against No.6 Notre Dame.
For the Hokies this season, Willis has been a quality quarterback but hasn’t blown anyone out of the water either. Through five games, Willis has completed 57.9% (81-for-140) of his passes for eight touchdowns and three interceptions. While Willis doesn’t have a great completion percentage, what he does have is a strong-arm. It his arm strength, matched with some of the Hokies quality wide receivers will be a strong test for the Jackets secondary who has struggled against some deep balls this season. We’ll see what Nate Woody and corner backs coach Joe Speed have come up with for the Hokies passing attack.
On the ground, Willis can move but is not a highly mobile quarterback. So far this season, Willis has 40 carries for 147-yards and two touchdowns. The Jackets won’t have to worry greatly about Willis running with the ball but they cannot completely ignore the possibility either as they got burned badly throughout the USF game by a similar quarterback in Blake Barnett.
In their last game against North Carolina, the Hokies listed their starting running back as Deshawn McClease OR Steven Peoples. While no depth chart has yet to be released for Thursday’s matchup, it wouldn’t be shocking to see a similar designation as the two running backs are the team’s top two rushers on the season.
Both McLease and Peoples this year have put together decent seasons. Peoples, has 78 carries for 407-yards and five touchdowns while McLease has 58 carries for 261-yards and one touchdown. Together, the two running backs have put together 136 carries for 668-yards and six touchdowns which over the course of six games isn’t too shabby.
The Hokies rushing attack for the most part this season has been up-and-down. While they put together two, 300+ yard performances against William & Mary and Old Dominion, they also struggled against Florida State, Duke, and Notre Dame rushing for under 150-yards in all three contests.
For the Yellow Jackets defense stopping the rushing attack is going to rely heavily on the Jackets linebackers that have been hit-or-miss this season in the run defense. If the Jackets struggle with tackling, the Hokies may have a field day on the ground but overall the run defense has been stellar the last three weeks. If the Jackets can continue the hot streak, they’ll be able to stop a Hokies ground game that has struggled of recent.
The Hokies wide receiver unit is a talented one and may also be a bit underrated. The Hokies have a passing game that focuses on throwing beyond the sticks most of the time as they have eight wide receivers averaging 10+ yards per reception and four averaging 15+ yards per reception. The Jackets secondary will have to play on the receivers most of the game as if they give the Hokies receivers rooms while playing off the line, the Hokies will take advantage of the opportunities given.
The top target for the Hokies through their first six games is Damon Hazelton Jr. who has 29 receptions this season for 515-yards and five touchdowns. The transfer from Ball State has been tremendous for the Hokies this season and will be a major factor in Thursday’s game.
Junior wide out Eric Kumah is on pace for a career year, as he has 21 receptions for 317-yards and two touchdowns. He’s one strong game away from breaking both his career receptions and career receiving yards highs. Sophomore Hezekiah Grimsley has become more of a target this season with 16-receptions and 204-yards after having 12-receptions and 139-yards as a true freshman. He still however is looking for his first career touchdown.
Another sophomore to watch will be Sean Savoy, who after having a strong freshman campaign of 39-receptions and 454-yards, has taken a step back but is still contributing to the Hokies passing attack. He has 14-receptions for 153-yards. The final receiver to watch and potentially the most dangerous is the speedy freshman Tre Turner. Turner is nursing an injury but when he’s on the field, he’s hard to contain as his numbers prove, averaging 19.0 yards a reception on seven receptions so far this season.
Overall, the Hokies wide receiver group features a mix of strong possession receivers and receivers who can take a top off the defense. It will create interesting matchups throughout the game for both sides.
The Hokies offensive line this season hasn’t been horrendous but it hasn’t exactly been great either. So far this season, the Hokies have allowed 14 sacks this season and give up on average 2.33 per game. When it comes to total tackles for a loss, the Hokies have allowed 35 total and an average of 5.83 per game which is actually more than the Jackets 5.57 per game which should you tell a lot of what you need to know about Virginia Tech’s offensive line.
Overall, the Jackets front seven should have its moments against the Hokies offensive line. A big game out of Anree Saint-Amour is certainly not out of the question as he matches up well with what the Hokies will be throwing at him. That being said, he can’t do it all by himself, and the Jackets should look for more production out of Desmond Branch and Kyle Cerge-Henderson against the Hokies.
Overall, the Hokies offense will present its fair share of challenges for Georgia Tech’s defense. While the Hokies have averaged over 30+ points per game this season, they have also struggled in their last two games scoring just 23 and 22 points respectively, the latter coming against North Carolina, one of the worst Power 5 programs in the country.
The Jackets will have to play tight coverage when the Hokies are in passing situations as Willis does have the arm to make to extend the field and can put a ball through a tight window now and then. Willis overall has a good stable of receivers to throw to as well, including a few receivers who a really open up the field and try to take the top off the Jackets defense. The Hokies rushing attack has taken a step back of recent but can hurt opposing defenses who struggle in space such as the Jackets have this season. The Jackets will have their hands full on Thursday, to say the least based on past performances.