Virginia Tech is looking to improve to 6-0 after a loss in the Justin Fuente era against Georgia Tech while the Yellow Jackets are looking to avoid a three-game losing streak. With that said, Jackson Pugh goes Inside The Enemy with the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
1. The Triple Option is Working, Despite Little Experience
Immediately before the 2016 season began, many thought the Yellow Jackets would struggle offensively, especially since they had to replace their quarterback and their leading rusher from 2016. RB Dedrick Mills was supposed to be one of the ACC’s top rushing threats, as he ran for 771 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2016. However, before the season began, Mills was handed a suspension for a violation of athletic department rules. With Georgia Tech being forced to plug new players into a difficult offensive scheme, it’s fair to say that the suspension stung where it hurts the most… or not. (ESPN)
Through nine games, the Yellow Jackets already have two players with more rushing yards than Mills overall in 2016. QB TaQuon Marshall has replaced Justin Thomas brilliantly, rushing for 870 yards and 14 touchdowns. RB KirVonte Benson came out of nowhere to rush for 844 yards and 6 touchdowns. And if that wasn’t enough, Georgia Tech has more rushing threats in the back of the hive; five other players have rushed for 100 yards or more thus far. As a whole, the Jackets are 3rd in the FBS in rushing yardage, while averaging 5.5 yards per carry and accumulating 26 rushing touchdowns. (NCAA.com).
While those numbers are mostly thanks to Georgia Tech’s run-heavy triple option scheme, it is worth noting that Georgia Tech is 3rd in time of possession, and is averaging 31.8 points per contest. Certainly, Georgia Tech’s offense has been successful, and Virginia Tech will have to do a better job of defending the option than they did last year.
Bud Foster offered some insight on what it will take to stop the Yellow Jackets rushing attack. “if we can keep them in the 250 or less in the run game, depending on how many plays they run, and we can eliminate the explosive plays, that’s how we’ve had success,” Foster said. “But there’s also where the challenge lies, making sure you can come off blocks and making sure we get great reads, and making sure we’re fitting properly and being disciplined.” (Tech Sideline)
Pat Benatar would love this Yellow Jackets team, which has been heartbreakingly close in all of its losses in 2017. To put that into perspective, Georgia Tech has lost four games this season by a total of 20 points. In three of those losses, GT blew a double-digit lead at some point after halftime. Those blown leads include a 28-14 lead against Tennessee, a 24-12 lead against Miami, and a 28-13 lead against Virginia. It appears that Georgia Tech has learned some bad habits from another team in Atlanta, as the fourth quarter is just not a strong suit for either the Falcons or the Jackets.
All of Georgia Tech’s losses occurred at a place other than Bobby Dodd Stadium, with the combined record of those four teams being 26-9. Otherwise, Georgia Tech has taken care of business at home.
Although those games were against weaker opponents, the Jackets should receive credit for winning all four home games by 14 or more points. Perhaps the biggest takeaway from these statistics: Georgia Tech’s record may not be indicative of how good they really are. That 4-4 record can be deceiving, but clearly, Georgia Tech has played every opponent on the schedule tough. Given Virginia Tech’s history of overlooking games- especially last season against Syracuse and Georgia Tech- this could be a heartbreaker in the undesired direction if the Hokies underestimate the Yellow Jackets again.
3. Offensive Line Struggles- Specifically Pass Protection
While this unit deserves credit for GT’s excellent rushing attack, it also deserves just as much criticism for the pass game struggles. With triple option-offenses throwing very few times throughout the season, one would think such offenses would surrender very few sacks, due to the number of drop backs. For instance, Army has only given up one sack on the season, Navy 9, and Air Force 15. Unfortunately for TaQuon Marshall, the Yellow Jackets have turned that theory into yellow Journalism.
The Jackets surrender an average of 2.38 sacks per game, good for 88th in the country. To put that number into a different perspective, GA Tech has only had 107 dropbacks on the season, but they have surrendered a sack on 19 of them. This means that Marshall is getting sacked on 17.8 % of his drop backs. In comparison, Massachusetts- a 2-7 team that ranks last in sacks allowed- gives up a sack on 10.5% of their drop backs. If one of college football’s worst programs is 7% better at protecting the passer than your team, there is certainly reason for concern.
One of the big reasons for these struggles is health. Georgia Tech currently has three offensive lineman suffering from injury. Redshirt junior Jacob Stickler is out, C Scott Morgan has an undisclosed injury, and senior Andrew Marshall is out for the season. You can be certain that Bud Foster and the Virginia Tech defense won’t feel sorry for Georgia Tech, especially since the Hokies rank 11th in total defense. If the Jackets can’t throw the ball, they will have to hope their running game is enough to put them over the edge.
As if we haven’t made enough observations about the triple-option, teams that run such systems tend to be more disciplined. The Yellow Jackets are no exception.
Currently, Georgia Tech ranks 5th in fewest penalties per game, as well as 2nd in fewest penalty yards per contest. While the Yellow Jackets may not have the most talented team, they have perhaps been able to stay in games by simply not beating themselves.
Bud Foster gave respect to the GA Tech offense, in regards to their discipline and execution. “These guys, they’re well-coached, they’re tough, they’re physical, they execute, and Paul has seen I think everything under the sun thrown at him, trying to defend this option,” Foster said. In that case, you can be certain that the Jackets won’t sting themselves in the foot. The Hokies will have to be the ones delivering the punch.
5. The Rise of LB Bruce Jordan-Swilling
Being the son of a hall of fame football player can produce extremely high expectations, many of which are too high. Look at Barry Sanders Jr., Deion Sanders Jr., and others not making nearly the impacts that their fathers made. However, freshman linebacker Bruce Jordan-Swilling, son of former Yellow Jacket Pat Swilling, has shown no signs of reluctance during his first season. His brightest moment came last week against Virginia, in which Swilling had 11 tackles, a pick-six, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Even with those Butkus Award type stats, Swilling isn’t easing off the gas petal. “[I have] room for improvement. And just to top it off, we lost. You can never have a good game and still lose,” he said.
Swilling also emphasized attacking the line of scrimmage and getting the defensive calls in earlier. However, the great responsibility given to him shows just how much he has emerged throughout the 2017 season. If he continues his dominance, it may be a long day for the Hokies’ between-the-tackles running game. (RamblinWreck.com)