Once upon a time, a Georgia Tech engineering professor named I.W. Chen would introduce himself to his sophomore Statics class by his nickname, The Bamboo Shaft. "First test, very easy," Chen would say, smiling. "Second test, not so easy. Third test, I shaft at will. Hahahahahah!"
Serious students would buckle down and wind up with at least a passing grade. Lazy or unconfident students would snatch up a drop slip and leap from the windows of the building.
After passing a tough early test at Auburn and two middling quizzes at home, the Georgia Tech football team gets to find out how serious it is Saturday in Ol' Professor Frank Beamer's classroom in Blacksburg, Va. No drop slips allowed.
The No. 4-ranked Hokies feature one of the nation's toughest defenses, giving up an average of five points a game and coming off two straight shutouts. Oh, yeah, and they have a kid at quarterback with a name like the chest ointment. Wick or Viddick or something. Marcus Vick! Funny, he looks a bit like the Atlanta Falcons QB, too.
Quarterback Reggie Ball is recovering from viral meningitis that put him in the hospital last weekend, so the Georgia Tech offense will have to find a way to keep Vick off the field as much as possible. The Jacket defense, which may work without its top pass rusher for the second straight week, can take heart from N.C. State's example; the Wolfpack held Vick's team to only 20 points in Raleigh on opening weekend.
Sez here that Virginia Tech will not win by 45-0 for the third straight week. But with Ball less than 100 percent, and freshman backup Taylor Bennett likely outmatched at this level, the Georgia Tech defense will need a near shutout to give the Jackets a shot at passing this entrance exam for the Top 10.
Where they're coming from: The defending ACC champs expected this to be an even bigger year with Vick back as a junior. He was suspended last year for off-field incidents. The Hokies struggled in their opener against N.C. State's tough defense, but held on to win 20-16. They cruised over weak Duke and Ohio teams, but the offense didn't play as well as the scores would indicate; many points came on short drives after turnovers.
Hokies to watch: Vick, of course. Michael's little brother is a highlight film waiting to happen on any snap. He's completed 61 percent of his passes for six TDs and one interception. He's rushed for 119 yards (excluding sacks) and one TD in three partial games (he's been spelled by Cory Holt in the past two routs), but statistics don't capture how often he makes a defender miss. Vick spreads the ball around to a good receiver corps, and David Clowney is his top deep threat, with eight receptions and two touchdown catches. Tight end Jeff King (9 catches, 2 TDs) is an All-ACC candidate. On defense, end Darryl Tapp has three sacks and four tackles for loss. All-America corner Jimmy Williams is the sole returning defensive back.
Who's hurt: Ball is practicing; his condition is a matter of pain, fatigue and weakness, so how he feels Saturday will determine whether Taylor Bennett starts in his place again. Virginia Tech guard Reggie Butler (knee) is out. Center Will Montgomery will slide over and junior Danny McGrath will start at center. Georgia Tech defensive end Eric Henderson and tight end Michael Matthews are questionable, backup running back Rashaun Grant and backup wide receiver Xavier McGuire are probable, and deep snapper Gavin Tarquinio is expected to play Saturday.
Xs and Os: The Hokies run about twice as often as they throw, splitting tailback duties between Mike Imoh and Cedric Humes. Vick gets about 10 carries a game, but is more dangerous throwing the ball. On defense, the Hokies' strength is in its ferocious front seven. The Hokies don't blitz their defensive backs as often the Jackets do, but they hardly need to, with 9 sacks and 20 tackles for loss by linemen and linebackers.
Key matchups: Tech's defensive tackles vs. VPI's middle 3. After Butler went out in the first quarter of the Ohio game, Virginia Tech struggled to move the ball consistently and gave up three sacks. With Henderson out, DT Joe Anoai will need to dominate Virginia Tech's interior linemen to make Vick get rid of the ball before he finds the seams in Tech's zone. Calvin Johnson vs. Williams should be good, but more key will be Georgia Tech's other receivers against Virginia Tech's otherwise inexperienced secondary, three of whom are first-year starters. Whoever gets the start for the Jackets at quarterback is likely to have some open targets, if the line can hold off the Hokies' pass rush.