The Hokies will open up ACC play against Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Thursday night, and though they have beaten the Yellow Jackets five of the past six years, this latest matchup should prove crucial in the standings. Either Virginia Tech or Georgia Tech has represented the Coastal Division in every ACC championship game, and the Yellow Jackets are off to a 2-0 start in conference play after coming back to beat North Carolina, 28-20, this past week.
Unlike the past three years, the Hokies didn’t have a bye week to prepare for Georgia Tech Coach Paul Johnson’s unorthodox spread option attack. In fact, this is the first time Virginia Tech has played a Thursday night game on short rest since upsetting No. 10 Clemson back on Oct. 26, 2006.
To compensate, the Hokies spent their past several Sunday practices on Georgia Tech preparation, but Coach Frank Beamer admitted Tuesday that it still involves “packing a lot of stuff in a short period of time.”
Beamer, who has played more true freshmen this year (11) than he ever has before, expressed hope over the past month that this team would establish its identity in conference play began. But even Beamer was willing to concede Virginia Tech’s 3-1 record is a bit misleading, noting “we are where we are” when asked by a reporter if the Hokies had progressed according to plan.
Quarterback Logan Thomas was frank about the realities Virginia Tech must confront as it continues to adjust to new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler. Thomas ran the ball 23 times against Marshall, and noted that the pounding he takes is worse since he lost 15 pounds this offseason.
So despite the challenges presented by Georgia Tech’s option, the Hokies’ primary concern going forward revolves around finding something that works consistently for a unit that has only been able to move the ball in fits and starts.
“I think that’s how we’re built as an offense. We’re not a big explosive play offense,” Thomas said. “I think it’s time for us to expand, start adding in a couple more passes, a couple more runs and put a little bit more responsibility onto people. That’s really about the extent that we’ll go. It’s nothing really earth shattering, nothing anybody else wouldn’t do.
One of the big reasons Georgia Tech has gotten off to a 3-0 start this year is its improved defense under veteran defensive coordinator Ted Roof, hired this offseason. The Yellow Jackets will enter Thursday’s game with the No. 11 defense in the entire country.
Virginia Tech, meanwhile, has converted just eight of its 16 opportunities inside the opponent’s 20-yard line into touchdowns and currently ranks No. 116 in the country in red zone offense.
“I don’t think we’re where we thought we would be. We thought we’d be a little bit stronger and doing a little bit better,” Thomas said. “The red zone is what’s killing us. We know it.”
Some of Virginia Tech’s scoring issues are kicking-related. The Hokies have missed six consecutive field goals the past two games, but Beamer confirmed Monday that redshirt senior Cody Journell will be the team’s starting place kicker Thursday night.
Journell, who missed three field goals (one was negated by a penalty) and an extra point at East Carolina two weeks, was suspended this past Saturday for a violation of team rules. When asked if Journell’s previous off-field issues — he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor trespassing in May 2012 after originally being charged with a felony and needed to be reinstated to the team by Athletic Director Jim Weaver before last season — factored into his decision-making, Beamer once again declined to comment further on the violation.
But he did offer some support for Journell, who made 36 of his 44 career field goals before slipping up against the Pirates.
“He’s made some mistakes, but he’s certainly a good kicker and a good kid and good family,” Beamer said.
Journell spoke with reporters after practice Monday, emphasizing Beamer did not issue any sort of “last straw” ultimatum.
“I made a mistake last week and I’m sorry for it,” Journell said. “And I want to apologize to the coaches and players and my family and everybody that supports me. But I’m back this week and everything’s going to be fine.”