After tripping up in a poorly executed game on a Thursday night at Miami in September, Georgia Tech enters the game having won three straight. That includes last Saturday's victory at Tallahassee, which should live on forever in the memories of Yellow Jacket fans. After a first half that saw all nine drives go for touchdowns and no defense from either team, Georgia Tech played the second half with a fire and intensity that hadn't been seen since November 29th, 2008. Quarterback Josh Nesbitt set the tone while keeping the offense on the field most of the third quarter and much of the fourth. He made read after read, and play after play, dealing repeated blows to the FSU defense eventually knocking them out. After driving down to the FSU 22 yard-line, with Georgia Tech leading 42-38 and 7:41 left in the 4th quarter, Nesbitt made a pitch on a second down play that A-back Roddy Jones couldn't handle. Florida State's Nigel Carr picked up the ball and went to run with it. Nesbitt had raced over to the play immediately and as he tried to tackle Carr, he saw the ball in front of him and stripped it away from the linebacker gaining back possession. For Georgia Tech, this seemed to be the blow that knocked FSU out cold. Two plays later, Nesbitt would scamper for a 22-yard touchdown run that would put his team up by two possessions and take away any hope FSU had briefly gained just a minute earlier. Nesbitt had thrown his team on his back, accounting for 105 (95 rushing) of the 132 yards of total offense gained in the 4th quarter. He has certainly made his impact on the three-game winning streak leading the ACC's top offense to average over 472 yards per game during that period.
Virginia Tech comes into Saturday having won five straight games after losing the season opener in the Georgia Dome against Alabama. The Hokies, always known for their defense and special teams, are getting by just fine with their offense this season. After squeaking by Nebraska at home 16-15, they've exploded averaging over 431 yards per game of total offense in wins over Miami, Duke, and Boston College. The defense has also been a bright spot the last three games giving up just over 256 yards per game. Surprisingly, the Hokie faithful had worried about the rush defense after the first three games of the season. They gave up 200 yards per game on the ground in those games. They've obviously improved since against the run, however there is still a little room for debate about the vulnerability of the defense. Georgia Tech is certainly known for its running game, but stopping it is a different game. Whether or not a team is good at stopping the run doesn't mean much when it comes to tempering the Yellow Jacket offense, proven over the last year time and time again by Paul Johnson's squad. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster will have to have his defense disciplined and ready to keep their assignments to make things go their way. With the traditional knack for causing turnovers, the Hokies' defense will be hoping to cause a few to gain the edge in the game.
Virginia Tech Offense - Junior quarterback Tyrod Taylor has certainly been improved this year. He has always been very dangerous scrambling out of the pocket and running all over defenses. Now, his passing ability has become a major threat. Over the last three games he has passed 28-41 for 551 yards and a 5-0 TD/Int ratio. The Hokies still however, do most of their damage on the ground. Led by standout redshirt freshman running back Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech averages over 208 yards per game on the ground. Williams leads the ACC with over 122 rushing yards per game. The receiving corps has stepped up nicely this year for the Hokies. Sophomore wide receiver Jarrett Boykin leads the team in recepetions (3.17/gm) and receiving yards (59.17/gm).
Impact Player - QB #5 Tyrod Taylor: I'm thinking Georgia Tech will have to put a little more attention on stuffing Ryan Williams and the running game, opening up some vital opportunities for the Hokie quarterback. He can make the plays with his legs and his arm, and is very efficient on 3rd downs. This could definitely spell trouble for a Yellow Jacket defense that has been picked apart.
Georgia Tech Offense - Having been on fire lately, the offense is moving full steam ahead behind its quarterback. After starting off the season with some ugly passing stats, Josh Nesbitt is passing at a 66% rate with two touchdowns and no interceptions the last three games. Take his 486 passing yards over that stetch, combine it with his 290 rushing yards and five touchdowns and you've got some great things happening. Not to mention Jonathan Dwyer is starting to do his thing. He's got 343 rushing yards and three touchdowns the last three games. It hasn't just been the Nesbitt and Dwyer show either, as A-backs Anthony Allen, Embry Peeples, Roddy Jones, and Marcus Wright have all gotten involved. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas seems to have a big day every time Georgia Tech plays. He's averaging a whopping 103.3 receiving yards per game to go with four touchdowns. For every time Thomas catches a ball, he's averaging almost 24 yards each time.
Impact Player - QB #9 Josh Nesbitt: Heard enough about him already? Too bad. If you watch the game, he is the key for Georgia Tech every play as he makes all the reads. When the defense causes Josh to have to call his own number, he makes them pay. He's one of the toughest players in college football and the fiery competitor has a big chance to put his team (and himself, although he doesn't care about that) in the limelight.
Virginia Tech Defense - This unit has confused many so far this season. At first, it couldn't stop the run at all the first three games. Then it played lights out against Miami at home (in the rain). After that, Duke lit the secondary up through the air, coming oh-so-close to an upset. Finally, the Hokies held Boston College to just 163 total yards last Saturday. Don't be fooled though by BC's winning record. They are 107th in the nation in total offense. So, is this as dominating a unit as it has been in the past? I don't think it is, HOWEVER, I do think it's a solid group that could play Georgia Tech similarly to how Clemson did (make some stops, cause a couple turnovers, but definitely give up the yards). The greatest and most important thing this defense excels at is keep teams out of the endzone. Led by senior linebacker Cody Grimm and junior defensive end Jason Worilds, the Hokies give up just 17.67 point per game.
Impact Player - #17 S Kam Chancellor: He has stated he knows from watching tape on last year how to stop GT's offense. Well, the confident junior will play a huge role as the secondary will have to step up and come up to try and stop the run.
Georgia Tech Defense - It hasn't been too pretty the last two weeks against Florida State and Mississippi State. Before that, things had seemed to improve against UNC. But now we all know the Tar Heels offense isn't very intimidating. Injuries have been a problem. The Yellow Jackets have lost starting end Robert Hall and have been without safeties Cooper Taylor and Dominique Reese, defensive end Anthony Egbuniwe, and linebacker Kyle Jackson is gone for the season. There is still no excuse for how badly the last couple games have gone. A bright spot for the unit was the 2nd half last game at FSU. They came out made a couple stops and got a turnover and gave the offense the ball to take time off the clock and score. Turnover margin has definitely been the positive this season for the Yellow Jacket defense. Despite the yards being racked up against them, GT has been able to get the ball back for its offense and leads the conference in turnover margin.
Impact Player - #91 DE Derrick Morgan: Georgia Tech could use a big game from its star defensive end. If Morgan can manage a sack or two to go along with some tackles for loss against the run, it would help reap reward for sure. Seeing double teams, though, will just make it tougher.
Keys to the Game:
Who will have the edge in 3rd down efficiency? - Both quarterbacks excel on 3rd down. ESPN's ACC blog reports that they are the top two quarterbacks in the country for passing efficiency in situations of 3rd down and 7+ yards to go. Taylor is 13-23 with 4 TDs and 13 yards per attempt, while Nesbitt is 11-21 with 2 TDs and 12.1 yards per attempt. Neither quarterback has thrown an interception in this situation. Watch closely for these situations.
Who will win the turnover battle? - Sure, you could argue this is key for every game, and you'd be right. However, I believe it's vital to this game. Each offense looks unstoppable running the ball. The passing attacks on both squads are enjoying some access as well. Which defense can step up and make the big plays to cause a shift in the game will be very important and both teams have a knack for doing it. As mentioned earlier, Georgia Tech leads the conference in turnover margin, but what about the Hokies? They stand at number two in the conference.
Which defensive line makes the plays? - Each team has a star defensive end. But, it will be how the whole unit plays to help control the game. Virginia Tech's line will be hoping to burst through and disrupt some plays before GT can even get them started. Georgia Tech's battered line needs to improve its pass rush and overall push in general to fill up the Hokie running lanes and contain Taylor.