The Hoos are finding new and more interesting ways to lose every week. Missing a last second FG is nothing compared to blowing a 22 point lead and giving up 35 unanswered points. The Hoos offense continues to struggle. The defense, which has looks so good at times, seems worn down. The special teams have actually been the high point this season, which seems unbelievable after the past few years.
The Yellow Jackets have had an up and down season. They are 4-3 overall, but they started 3-0 and then lost 3 in a row. Last week, they beat Syraucse 56-0. The Hoos lost this matchup at Scott Stadium in 2009, but other than that, they haven't lost at home to the Yellow Jackets since 1990. I think we know all about that game.
Georgia Tech Offense
QB: #2 Vad Lee - 6'1" 215 lb, Sophomore; #5 Justin Thomas - 5'11" 179 lb, RS Freshman
AB: #25 Robert Godhigh - 5'7" 190, Senior; #31 Deon Hill - 6'0" 202 lb, Junior; #10 Synjyn Days - 6'2" 211 lb, Junior; #9 Tony Zenon - 5'8" 175 lb, Junior; #3 Dennis Andrews - 6'0" 190 lb, RS Freshman; #7 B.J. Bostic - 5'11" 173 lb, Junior; #21 Charles Perkins - 6'0" 218 lb, Junior
BB: #20 David Sims - 6'0" 225 lb, Senior; #37 Zach Laskey - 6'1" 214 lb, Junior
WR: #88 Darren Waller - 6'5" 225 lb, Junior; #15 DeAndre Smelter - 6'3" 220 lb, Junior; #84 Michael Summers - 6'1" 190 lb, RS Freshman; #16 Corey Dennis - 6'2" 201 lb, Junior; #26 Travin Henry - 6'3" 210 lb, RS Freshman
LT: #52 Will Jackson - 6'3" 295 lb, Senior; #79 Chase Roberts - 6'3" 280 lb, RS Freshman
LG: #78 Trey Braun - 6'5" 292 lb, Sophomore; #76 Nick Brigham - 6'3" 300 lb, RS Freshman
C: #50 Jay Finch - 6'3" 285 lb, Senior; #77 Thomas O'Reilly - 6'3" 308 lb, Sophomore
RG: #70 Shaquille Mason - 6'1" 305 lb, Junior; Brigham
RT: #53 Bryan Chamberlain - 6'4" 290 lb, Sophomore; Roberts
By now, I think most Virginia fans (at least the ones reading this preview) are familiar with Paul Johnson's triple option offense. I'll briefly describe the basic play, but I'm not going to go into much detail. If you're interested, there are any number of websites that explain the triple option. This youtube video actually has Paul Johnson explaining it himself.
The offense lines up with the QB under center, a RB set in a normal fullback position (this is the B-back) and two wing-backs (these are the A-backs) lined up outside of the OT and a yard or so off the line. The QB takes the snap and the B-back crashes down into the center of the line. The QB either hands him the ball, or fakes it to him. This is the first "option". If the QB fakes the hand-off, he then runs off to one side or the other, with the A-back on the play side stepping back a few yards and running ahead of the QB. The QB then decides whether to run the ball or pitch the ball to the A-back. These encompass the 2nd and 3rd options in the triple option.
While that, in a nutshell, is the triple option, there are obviously many, many alterations that can be made to force the defense into even more difficult decisions. One example is for the back-side A-back to swing around and simply take a pitch from the QB. Alternatively, the backside A-back could swing around and take the place of the play-side A-back on the option. In this case, the play-side A-back becomes a lead blocker.
At its core, the triple option is simplistic. However, with all the variations and looks, it becomes incredibly complex. When it is clicking, it can be very difficult for defenses to stop. Case in point, the Yellow Jackets rushed for 461 yards last season against the Hoos. On the season, Georgia Tech has the 5th ranked rushing offense in the nation, averaging over 300 yards per game. They have the 55th ranked total offense, averaging 430 yards per game. They have one of the lowest passing offenses in the nation (118th), largely because they don't throw much. They are 78th in the nation in passing efficiency.
Vad Lee was a big-time recruit, although most schools saw him as a WR. Paul Johnson saw him as a prototypical option QB, and GT fans have been hyping him ever since. Lee is a very good runner. He isn't near as polished as passer as the past two GT QBs have been. Lee is completing just 44% of his passes this year. That number isn't quite as outrageous as it seems, because many of GT's pass attempts are long passes downfield. Last year, Tevin Washington completed 56% of his passes. Lee, however, is just a sophomore, so he'll get better. Lee's yards per attempt is at 8.5, which isn't too far off of Washington's 9.1 last year.
Lee has rushed for over 350 yards at 3 yards per carry. This is also well behind Washington's pace from last year. David Sims leads the team with just over 400 yards rushing, at about 5 yards per carry. He is about on the same pace as he was last season (although he missed part of last season). Last year, the Yellow Jackets had 5 rushers with over 500 yards. This year, they aren't at that same pace. Lee and Sims are well on their way, as is Robert Goodhigh. The Jackets have rotated through A-backs a fair amount, largely because of an injury to Deon Hill. Hill played last week, although he had just 1 carry. The game was over by halftime, and many of the starters didn't play in the 2nd half. Backup QB Justin Thomas was actually the team's leading rusher, although Lee led the team in carries. (Lee leads the team in carries by a wide margin on the season.)
When Lee does pass, oftentimes it is off of a play-action. This requires a lot of discipline from the DBs, who tend to be so concerned with edge contain against the option that they lose their man deep. For some reason, despite throwing the ball barely 100 times a season, Paul Johnson keeps coming up with big, fast WRs who can catch the deep ball (this includes current NFL WRs Stephen Hill and Demaryius Thomas). The leading receiver this year is DeAndre Smelter, who is in his first season playing college football after 3 years as a college baseball outfielder. The Jackets have just 3 WRs who've caught passes, but each average over 15 yards per receptions. Michael Summers averages 32 yards per reception (on just 4 catches).
On paper, GT's OL is small. However, this is by design. With the triple-option, flexibility and quickness are more important traits for OLs than brawn. They need to be able to get out and block on the edges, and that requires a great deal of quickness. It also requires a lot of technique. If an OG takes an extra step on his way to the edge, he could get in the QBs way and upset the timing of the play. GT's OL does a lot of cut blocking. They want to either get the defenders to the ground, or make them leave their feet. Either way, they aren't pursuing the ball. Virginia defenders will need to protect low, and be able to avoid these cut blocks. One down side to the cut block is that it normally takes the blocker out of the play as well. Beating one of these blocks gives you an advantage at the point of attack.
This game is likely to be decided by the Hoos defense. If the Hoos are going to come out on top, they need to upset the timing of the GT option. If GT gets big plays and ends up running for 400+ yards again, the Jackets will win big. GT wants big plays. They don't want to move the ball methodically, gaining 3-4 yards per play. If the defense sticks with their assignments and gaps, they can slow down the GT offense. That is about all you can ask for.
Georgia Tech Defense
DE: #45 Jeremiah Attaochu - 6'3" 242 lb, Senior; #47 Tyler Stargel - 6'3" 251 lb, RS Freshman
DT: #99 Euclid Cummings - 6'4" 275 lb, Senior; #92 Francis Kallon - 6'5" 303 lb, RS Freshman
DT: #96 Adam Gotsis - 6'5" 277 lb, Sophomore; #98 Jimmie Kitchen - 6'3" 279 lb, Sophomore
DE: #93 Emmanuel Dieke - 6'6" 270 lb, Senior; #91 Patrick Gamble - 6'5" 271 lb, RS Freshman
SLB: #11 Brandon Watts - 6'2" 235 lb, Senior; #35 Tyler Marcordes - 6'4" 232 lb, Sophomore
MLB: #32 Jabari Hunt-Days - 6'3" 247 lb, Sophomore; #30 Daniel Drummond - 6'3" 245 lb, Senior
WLB: #54 Quayshawn Nealy - 6'1" 232 lb, Junior; #40 Paul Davis - 5'11" 215 lb, Freshman
CB: #8 Louis Young - 6'1" 196 lb, Senior; #27 Lynn Griffin - 6'0" 195 lb, RS Freshman
S: #14 Jemea Thomas - 5'10" 195 lb, Senior; #23 Domonique Noble - 6'2" 204 lb, Sophomore
S: #12 Demond Smith - 6'0" 185 lb, Sophomore; #6 Chris Milton - 5'11" 185 lb, Sophomore
CB: #28 D.J. White - 5'11" 184 lb, Sophomore; Thomas
GT's defense has been outstanding this year, ranking 13th in the nation. But, against the better teams on the schedule, they have given up a lot of points. Miami scored 45. BYU scored 38 (that is the same BYU team that they Hoos held to 16). GT's defense is also well balanced, ranking 28th against the run and 24th against the pass. One area where they really excel is on 3rd downs. They've given up just 30% conversion rate, good for 16th in the nation. This does not bode well for a Virginia offense that converts just 36% of 3rd downs, good for 85th in the nation.
It actually isn't easy to tell why the GT defense is so good. They don't force a ton of turnovers (51st in the nation), they don't generate a ton of negative plays (85th in TFLs and 111th in TFLs). They are 28th in the nation in rushing yards per attempt at just under 4 ypc, but they've given up a 60% completion rate on passes, and give up 7.3 yards per pass attempt. Probably the biggest factor in their defensive success is their offensive success. They are 2nd in the nation in time of possession, at over 35 minutes per game. When you hold the ball for 10 minutes more than your opponent, you are likely to win. Even in their losses, they've had a big time of possession advantage. Still this is veteran defense that doesn't make mistakes. That is, perhaps even more than the time of possession, the most important part of their defense. They make you work for everything. They don't miss tackles. And they don't give up many big plays.
The GT defense is a 4-3 defense, although they will show 3-4 looks on passing downs. Jeremiah Attaochu will play out of a 2 point stance and rush the QB. This doesn't really change anything about the defense, except that Attaochu looks like an OLB rather than a DE. Everything is still one-gap. While Gotsis leads the team with 9 TFLs and 3 sacks, Attaochu is really the big-play guy on the DL for the Jackets. Attaochu is 2nd in both categories with 4.5 TFLs and 2 sacks. He'll likely be a 2nd day pick in the NFL Draft this spring. Dieke will sometimes come out on passing downs, but he is very good against the run.
The LBs are the playmakers on this team. Watts, Hunt-Days and Nealy are 2-3-4 on the team in tackles. Hunt-Days had actually briefly lost the starting job to Anthony Harrell, but Harrell was injured last week and is likely out for the season. Hunt-Days is very athletic, but missed the spring with an injury. He's still not 100%, but is still a playmaker. He's just a sophomore, but he's going to be in the NFL before long. Nealy and Watts also have NFL potential but not nearly as much as Hunt-Days.
The secondary is led by Thomas, who leads the team in tackles. He's been a CB as well as a S in his career, and will even switch between the two positions during a game. You can see he's the backup at one CB spot. He is another GT defender who will be in the NFL soon (very soon for him, as he's a senior). Nobody else in the secondary is special. Young is a solid cover guy, but White can be beaten. Smith is a good tackler who struggles to cover faster players. If the Hoos can get a TE matched up on Smith, that would be a good place to attack. Smith began the season as the backup to Jamal Golden who is out for the season.
I would have more confidence in the Hoos offense if Jake McGee was heathly. He could have a big game going against the Yellow Jacket's secondary. The front 7 for the Jackets is the strength of the defense, which is going to put a strain on the Hoos OL. The Hoos aren't likely to have a ton of success running in between the tackles against this defense. The way to beat them is on the perimeter.
I have been saying this for most of the past 2 months, but the Hoos need to use more read-option and get Watford on the edge more often. The pitch plays that have worked for big plays a few times this season are also good options against this defense. Getting the ball to Smoke or Shepherd on the edge is a recipe for success. Consistently running Kevin Parks into the heart of the defense isn't.
Watford has been used entirely incorrectly this year. He's simply not a 40 pass per game QB. Not yet anyway. However, maybe the experience he's gained by throwing the ball so much will help him this week. The Hoos are likely to need to throw to have success against GT. If Watford has a big game with his arm, it'll help open up the ground game.
Or, the Hoos could go to Greyson Lambert. Nobody knows if Lambert is ready, but then again Watford is supposedly ready and he's the 101st ranked QB in the nation. How much worse could Lambert be? At least he's got an accurate arm. If the Hoos are going to need to throw to beat the Yellow Jackets, maybe the best option is to use the QB who is best at throwing the ball.
Georgia Tech Special Teams
K: #87 Harrison Butker - 6'3" 190 lb, Freshman
P: #82 Sean Poole - 6'1" 160 Senior
KR: Griffin; Sims
The Yellow Jackets don't have the dynamic return men that the Hoos have seen so far this year. Smelter is solid as a PR, but he isn't in the same league as Duke's Jamison Crowder. GT's top KR, Golden, is out for the season.
Butker is playing pretty well for a true freshman kicker. The Jackets are really high on him and think he's going to be great. But right now, he's just decent. Poole, on the other hand, is a very good punter and would be 11th in the nation if he had enough punts to qualify. GT simply doesn't punt very often.
One thing to watch out for is Chris Milton against the UVA punt team. Milton has blocked 3 kicks this year, and the Hoos have been susceptible to the blocked punt this year. Vozenilek has been very good, but he's a bit slow getting the ball off his foot. A blocked kick could easily turn this game.
It appears I have been too confident in the Hoos all season. I keep picking them to win and they keep coming up short. Of course, when I've picked them to go down, they've played well. It's been a strange season.
I don't like the Hoos chances this week. The Jackets are good at what the Hoos are bad at, and vice versa. The Hoos offense is better at running the ball than throwing it. The GT defense is better at stopping the run. The Hoos offense is better at stopping the pass than the run. The GT offense hardly ever passes and has a dominant ground game.
It is a terrible matchup for the Hoos. Fan support is way down, so the stadium is likely to be as empty as it's been in a while. The team seemed broken last week after the Duke game. Can they get back up and get the energy level needed to overcome the 10 point favorite? I don't think so.
Prediction: Yellow Jackets 38, Hoos 10