Virginia Tech vs. Georgia Tech: Hokies look to control the ball vs. Yellow Jackets

Robert Willett/AP - Virginia Tech hopes to have reason to celebrate on Thursday night against Georgia Tech.

It didn’t matter how successful Virginia Tech has been against Georgia Tech of late, winning three in a row and four of the past five years, and it didn’t bother him that Thursday will be his first-ever meeting against a team coached by Paul Johnson.

New Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler chose not to watch any film of previous meetings in the annual series between Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. After all, Georgia Tech is playing with a new defense this year, switching to a 4-3 scheme under veteran defensive coordinator Ted Roof.

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But Loeffler already seems to understand the realities an opposing offense must embrace when facing Johnson’s vaunted flexbone. The team that has won the time-of-possession battle in this series has emerged with a victory four of the past five years.

“Offensively they’re gonna hold the ball, so you won’t get many opportunities,” Loeffler said this week. “When you get opportunities, you gotta play mistake-free football. You have to.”

Showing some more life offensively, and making an attempt to “expand” the offensive playbook, as quarterback Logan Thomas put it this week, could go a long way toward determining the pecking order in the ACC’s Coastal Division standings.

The Yellow Jackets are already 2-0 in conference play, and another win Thursday would put them in the driver’s seat to advance to a second straight ACC championship game, with Miami the only serious threat in their way. What else should you keep an eye on during tonight’s nationally televised ACC matchup? Here are three more notes:

Logan Thomas and the read option

Loeffler called last Saturday’s triple-overtime win against Marshall “the biggest mistake game” the Hokies’ offense has had this season, and he seemed perturbed at how many yards were left on the field. Though Thomas carried the ball a season-high 23 times for 58 yards, he appeared to make several poor decisions leading the team’s read-option attack. Loeffler said the blame shouldn’t simply be thrust on Thomas, because some of his mis-reads were the result of assignment errors by others.

But don’t be surprised if Thomas is asked to carry more of the rushing load again, particularly because Coach Frank Beamer said Wednesday that he “could tell” running back Trey Edmunds was slowed by a hip injury during practice this week. The Hokies do expect sophomore J.C. Coleman (ankle) to return, and redshirt freshman Joel Caleb could also see extensive action if Edmunds is limited.

In the past, Thomas’s feet have had a bruising effect on Georgia Tech’s defense. In two career games against the Yellow Jackets, he has rushed 33 times for 110 yards and two touchdowns and completed better than 56 percent of his passes for 439 yards and five touchdowns. Last year, Thomas also orchestrated a game-tying field goal drive in the waning moments of the fourth quarter.

The Hokies will need more of that, and less of the signal-caller who has multiple interceptions in three of his past five starts, if they hope to emerge with a crucial ACC win.

Virginia Tech’s freshman cornerbacks

With dynamic freshmen Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson in the fold, the Hokies haven’t seemed to miss a beat without all-ACC cornerback Antone Exum. But the two newbies will be under the microscope Thursday night.

Defensive coordinator Bud Foster has decided to use senior cornerback Kyle Fuller at whip linebacker against the Yellow Jackets, hopeful his experience playing the position two years ago will pay off. That, though, will leave Kendall Fuller and Facyson to fend for themselves on the perimeter, and “they’re gonna take some shots on them, I’m sure,” Foster said.

Virginia Tech’s players talked this week about the danger of being lulled to sleep by Georgia Tech’s steady doses of option runs only to give up a big play through the air, and quarterback Vad Lee appears to be a more dangerous passer than his predecessors under Johnson. He had four touchdown passes two weeks ago against Duke.

Cody Journell’s psyche

For the second year in a row, place kicker Cody Journell is hoping Georgia Tech will provide him with a moment of redemption.

A year ago, in Virginia Tech’s season opener against the Yellow Jackets, Journell kicked a game-winning field goal in overtime in his first appearance since being reinstated to the program after pleading guilty to trespassing in May 2012. He can only hope Thursday goes as smoothly.

Journell was suspended just before Virginia Tech took the field against Marshall last weekend for violating team rules. But Coach Frank Beamer has stood behind him this week and will allow him to kick against Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

In his last outing at East Carolina, Journell missed two field goals and an extra point (and had a third missed field goal negated by a penalty). He has since blamed the struggles — Journell had hit 36 of his 44 career field goal attempts prior to that — on over-compensating as he tried to correct a flaw in his mechanics.

Journell said this week he is “as confident as I can be without being 100 percent” that the problems have been fixed, but his demeanor bears watching should Thursday’s game come down to the wire again.

 
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