Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
Virginia Tech picked up a marquee win against a ranked ACC opponent in Wake Forest last weekend. If they want to continue their push for the Coastal Division crown against Georgia Tech, they will need to focus on these three matchups.
Deshawn McClease vs. Georgia Tech Defensive Line
Virginia Tech’s running game got back on track against Wake Forest. With both Hendon Hooker and Keshawn King back in the lineup, the Hokies had a lot more options on the ground.
One player who benefits a lot from having those two players back in the lineup is starting running back Deshawn McClease. That showed on Saturday when he had two rushing touchdowns.
“Hendon [Hooker], you have to respect him as a runner and a passer,” McClease said. “That creates a lot of opportunities for everybody else.”
McClease was not the only player to have a big game on the ground for the Hokies. Wide receiver Tre Turner had 73 rushing yards on just 4 carries via jet sweeps.
As a whole, Virginia Tech’s offense is most dangerous when they are getting production in the running game from many different players. However, it remains important that McClease is able to move the ball as the starting back.
That will be especially true this week against Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets rank dead last in the ACC in rushing defense, as they are surrendering an average of 210 yards per game on the ground.
Offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen and the offensive staff undoubtedly know that Georgia Tech has struggled against the run. For that reason, they will probably try to attack them early and often with the rushing attack.
It seems that the pieces are coming together relatively well for McClease to have a big day once again. If he can step up to the challenge, he could put the Hokies in a great position for victory.
James Graham vs. Caleb Farley
Georgia Tech freshman James Graham is one of the youngest starting quarterbacks in the entire country. With that said, he has shown great improvement throughout the course of the season.
Graham had arguably his best game of the year last weekend against Virginia. He completed 15 of 22 passes for a career high 229 yards and two touchdowns.
The two games before last week show just how up and down Graham has been. Against Pittsburgh and Miami, he went a combined 12 for 31 for 154 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception.
That kind of inconsistency is not too surprising for such a young quarterback. Virginia Tech will look to take advantage of Graham’s inexperience and force him into making mistakes.
Luckily for the Hokies, Caleb Farley has emerged as one of the ACC's best cornerbacks. He had another great showing against Wake Forest with two solo tackles and a pass breakup.
Farley now has 11 pass breakups to go alongside his three interceptions this season. Even amid the success, though, Farley is till not satisfied.
“I’ve left a lot of plays on the field this year,” Farley said Tuesday. “I look forward to getting better.”
Farley will have a chance to continue growing this week against a very young signal caller. The Hokies will need him and the other cornerbacks to make it a tough day for Graham.
Justin Fuente vs. Georgia Tech
Since his hiring, Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente has been unable to conquer the Yellow Jackets. He is 0-3 in his career against Georgia Tech, including last year’s ugly loss.
As a brief reminder, Georgia Tech demolished the Hokies at Lane Stadium last season. The Jackets picked up an astounding 465 rushing yards en route to a 49-28 victory.
While the previous two games were not as ugly, the end result of a Georgia Tech victory remained. Georgia Tech won 28-22 in 2017 and 30-20 in 2016.
Of course, there will be one big difference in this game from the previous three. Paul Johnson and the triple option are no longer present at Georgia Tech. For long time Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster, that is a welcome change of pace.
“It’s kind of cool to be honest with you,” Foster said of not having to prepare for the triple option this week. “I think I might have been the first one to call Paul [Johnson] when he announced his retirement.”
Foster reiterated that Georgia Tech’s offense has still been effective this year even with a new scheme. He added that the Hokies defense will be looking to eliminate the big plays this week.
If Virginia Tech has their way, Johnson’s absence will not be the only thing about this game that goes differently. Fuente hopes to make this year that he finally gets in the win column against Georgia Tech.