With all this talk about just how difficult it is to slow down Georgia Tech’s unorthodox offense, it’s easy to overlook a simple solution that has nothing to do with personnel changes or how prepared the defense is for the varied looks Coach Paul Johnson might throw at the defense.
In the Hokies’ three meetings with the Yellow Jackets since Johnson arrived in Atlanta before the 2008 season, whoever has won the time-of-possession battle has ultimately won the game. This year, Virginia Tech ranks fourth in the country in time of possession, but the Yellow Jackets aren’t far behind, coming in at No. 14 through nine games.
Georgia Tech also leads the country in third-down conversion rate and ranks second in rushing yards per game. What’s interesting, however, is Georgia Tech’s ability to hit the big play as well. No team in the country has more plays of 60 or more yards than the Yellow Jackets this year.
So, as Coach Frank Beamer put it Tuesday: “keeping the ball and how you do it, whether you throw it or you run it, that’s not the issue. The issue is that you do it, and then come up with some points.”
That is the dilemma Virginia Tech must confront, especially after it put up just 14 points at Duke despite gaining 433 total yards. During the bye week, offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring and play-caller Mike O’Cain did some self-scouting to determine why the Hokies are throwing the ball at a record pace, have a running back who ranks second in the country in rushing yards yet rank just fifth in the ACC at 29.1 points per game.
The “glaring mistake,” as O’Cain put it, is that the Hokies are committing far too many turnovers and penalties in the red zone. Upon further review, eight of Virginia Tech’s 11 turnovers this year have come on plays in which the line of scrimmage was inside the opponent’s 50-yard line.
“It’s been a same old song kind of statement but it’s a glaring glitch in our armor now,” Stinespring said.
But O’Cain seems more concerned with not allowing Georgia Tech’s ball-control offense — and the need to score points, pick up first downs and give Virginia Tech’s defense some rest — to change how he calls the game.
“You try your very best to not let it affect the way you call plays, but I think it can,” O’Cain said. “You feel like your touches are going to be limited, but you consciously try not to. . . . But in the back of your mind, you know you need to control the football some . . . because if you don’t get it back, it could be awhile before you get it back.”
Georgia Tech’s defense is the 3-4 look everyone has grown accustomed to from an Al Groh-coached team, but the Hokies have noticed Groh isn’t blitzing as much on first and second down this season.
Instead, Groh has been utilizing shell coverages that will force quarterback Logan Thomas to go through his progressions and take what the defense gives him. Then, if Groh gets a team in a third-and-long situation he brings the heat with some confusing blitz packages in which it’s hard to identify the down linemen, said starting right tackle Blake DeChristopher, who added the team has been looking at film of some successful plays from its 33-21 victory over Virginia in 2007 to prepare for Thursday’s game.
O’Cain noted that in Georgia Tech’s upset of Clemson last week, the Tigers didn’t connect on any of their long passes and “Clemson probably throws as many deep balls as anybody.” O’Cain said his message to Beamer about the offensive game plan this week was, “You have to be patient.”
“The patient aspect is something I’m going to need to work on and it’s definitely something I’m going to be conscious of, because not everything is going to be busted for 70 yards and a touchdown,” Thomas said.
The good news for the Hokies is that they’ve had 13 touchdown drives that have taken eight or more plays this year. But if history is any indication, Virginia Tech will need to string at least a couple of those together if they hope to remain in the driver’s seat atop the Coastal division after this trip to Atlanta.
“The defense is always known, but we’re always doubted as an offense,” Thomas said. “Yeah, I think it’s about that time that we go out there and show what we’re capable of. In the previous games we’ve shown we’re capable of putting up a lot of points, putting up a lot of yardage, and hopefully that carries over to Thursday night. If so, I think some people will recognize what we can do.”