As Virginia Tech makes their final preparations to welcome Georgia Tech into Lane Stadium, these three matchups may well decide the outcome of Thursday night’s contest.
Virginia Tech Corners vs. Jordan Mason
Many critics have emerged regarding Virginia Tech’s cornerbacks this season. These critiques have been somewhat validated, as the Hokies have given up 295.5 yards a game through the air. Luckily, the Hokies are facing Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense this week.
The young trio of Bryce Watts, Caleb Farley, and Jovonn Quillen will face a new challenge. Namely, they will have to be able to tackle on the edge.
Really, any Georgia Tech running back could be interchanged with Jordan Mason on this list. They have a laundry list full of capable runners, as is usually the case. However, Mason is the most elusive, so he will probably be more apt to run on the outside.
Mason’s stats this year are quite impressive. As a freshman, he has accumulated 482 yards on seventy carries. That is an impressive 6.9 yards per carry, along with four touchdowns.
To this point, the Hokies’ corners haven’t had their tackling ability tested often and have had some struggles when those times have come. Farley ranks tenth on the team with only 15 total tackles. Watts is not much better, coming in at eighth with 16 tackles. The leading tackling corner is backup Jovonn Quillen, and even he only has 17. There have been moments where missed tackles from Hokies’ cornerbacks have caused big plays including Farley’s missed tackle on Cam Akers that led to his field-flipping run.
The good news is that the safeties and linebackers have fared much better on the tackling front. Still, against a quirky offense like Georgia Tech’s, it is extremely important for that front line to make plays. The corners will have to play much closer to the line of scrimmage then they are used to, and they will have to wrap up on the Yellow Jackets’ ball carriers.
Ryan Willis vs. Georgia Tech Secondary
While Virginia Tech’s cornerbacks will be more focused on the run, Georgia Tech’s corners will be focusing on the exact opposite.
The Yellow Jackets rank an unimpressive 73rd in the FBS in pass defense, allowing 227 yards per game through the air this season.
Ryan Willis is in prime position to take advantage of this weakness. He has averaged 211 yards per game since taking over for Josh Jackson. Possibly even more impressive is Willis’ 135.85 QB Rating.
The fact that Virginia Tech’s running game has struggled as of late is another reason that Willis will have to step up. While it would certainly be helpful if guys like Steven Peoples and Deshawn McClease could get things going on the ground, it is likely that Willis will be forced to throw a lot in this game.
One positive we heard about Ryan Willis was that he was capable of putting up points. While Josh Jackson is more conservative, Willis has never been afraid to fling the football around, for better or for worse.
Even though Fuente is very wary of turning the ball over, sometimes you have to take chances in order to win games. Willis has never been afraid to take chances, and that gives him a better chance to win in shootouts.
Frankly, I think a shootout is Virginia Tech’s best chance to win this game, because the defense has not shown the ability to play shutdown football.
Damon Hazelton vs. Lamont Simmons
After taking about the importance of Ryan Willis, it only makes sense that we talk about his number one target. Damon Hazelton has been a force to be reckoned with this year, racking up 5 touchdowns, 515 receiving yards, and 17.76 yards per catch.
Despite these impressive stats, Hazelton did not have his best game against UNC in the Hokies last outing. Willis targeted Hazelton a whopping eleven times, but he only managed two receptions, and both were on the final drive of the game.
A lot has been made about Ryan Willis and Damon Hazelton being roommates. While that chemistry was on full display against Duke and Notre Dame, it was much harder to see in Chapel Hill. Hopefully, the Georgia Tech game will resemble the one in Durham in that regard.
As a senior, Lamont Simmons is Georgia Tech’s most experienced cornerback. That means he will probably be lined up against Hazelton the majority of the time.
Despite being a starting cornerback, Simmons’ numbers are less than stellar. He has only one pass breakup all year, though he did have an interception last week against Duke.
Simmons spoke after the Duke game about the somewhat disappointing season that the Yellow Jackets have experienced thus far.
“Definitely not how you expect your senior season to go, but we just have to keep fighting and keep pushing through to win these next few games,” said Simmons. “Take it one game at a time.” Simmons will certainly be looking to change the Jackets fate this Thursday in Lane Stadium.
The Hokies will have to stay disciplined on defense in order to win this game. Virginia Tech has given up too many big plays this year, and Georgia Tech is better than anyone at breaking off chunk yardage.
In addition, Virginia Tech will have to take advantage of Georgia Tech’s weaknesses. Specifically, Ryan Willis needs to have a good day through the air.
Lastly, look for Hazelton to get back to his successful ways this week. While he did not have his best game against the Tar Heels last week, Hazelton is still an elite receiver in the ACC, and this week is the perfect week for him to get back into his stride.
If the Hokies can get the best out of these three matchups, they have a great chance to win the game.