Virginia Tech appears to have righted its once-badly listing ship, having won four of its last five football games since being picked apart at home by Duke, 45-10. Now, the Hokies get to test their newfound momentum on the road at Georgia Tech, a team they haven’t beaten since Justin Fuente became their coach.
The Yellow Jackets, in their first season under Geoff Collins, are coming off a surprisingly competitive loss at Virginia.
Ken Sugiura, a former Richmond Times-Dispatch intern back in 1994, has been at the Atlanta Journal Constitution since 1998. Sugiura, who grew up just outside of Chicago, has been covering Georgia Tech since 2001.
All season long, we'll bring you a look from the other side, getting the insight and thoughts of newspaper beat writers from Virginia and Virginia Tech's opponents. These are the local journalists who cover these teams on a daily basis. We hope it reminds you the value of reading local newspapers and their websites.
Sugiura took time out to answer four downs worth of questions about Georgia Tech going into Saturday’s game against Virginia Tech.
For more on the Yellow Jackets and their match up with the Hokies, you can follow Sugiura on Twitter @ksugiuraajc and read his coverage at ajc.com.
1) Georgia Tech was a 16 1/2 point underdog against Virginia last weekend, yet the Yellow Jackets led late in the first half and only lost by a final count of 33-28. How did they view that result? Just another disappointing loss or a major breakthrough in how they played?
They were disappointed, but encouraged, particularly by the play of the offense. The team plays with a lot of effort and resilience, even as losses have mounted. Against Virginia, they were down three key defensive players, and the roster is young and thin to begin with. (Starting center William Lay is a walk-on and so is Djimon Brooks, one of the defensive tackles in the rotation.) So to lose by one possession on the road against a pretty good team was tough. That said, though, I think players see the team getting better. The offense had its best game of the season against Virginia.
2) Georgia Tech showed off a big-play offense against UVA last week, with five players turning in plays of 25 yards or longer. Is that something the Yellow Jackets are finding here late in the season, because allowing big plays has been Virginia Tech's bugaboo or two years now?
I think it could be. In his fifth career start, Georgia Tech quarterback (and former Hokies commit) James Graham had easily the best game of his career. He entered the game with a completion rate of 43 percent, but completed 15 of 22 passes against UVA for 229 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Graham also has a pretty decent group of receivers to throw to, including freshman Ahmarean Brown - 17 catches, 361 yards, five touchdowns - and Adonicas Sanders and Malachi Carter.
The offensive line has gotten better over the course of the season with former Alabama line coach Brent Key, which has helped both Graham to have time to throw and also running back Jordan Mason to have holes to run through on stretch plays. Mason, also, has really good vision and has the strength and agility to break or avoid tackles. What he's done a lot is turn one-yard gains into five-yard gains and five-yard gains into 15-yard gains.
3) UVA's dual threat QB, Bryce Perkins, ran for 106 yards and a touchdown against Georgia Tech. Virginia Tech's Hendon Hooker isn't quite as accomplished a player, but he's also a run-pass threat. What if anything can the Yellow Jackets do in a week's time to tighten up their defense against a mobile quarterback?
Nothing exotic, but just the things that you always want to do against a quarterback who can run -- staying in your rush lanes when he drops back to pass and setting edges, getting off blocks and tackling well on designed runs. All those things hurt the Jackets against Perkins. It probably helps that they're working on these things for a second week in a row. Perkins is elusive and hard to tackle, and his ability to escape trouble was a significant factor in the game's outcome.
4) Understanding that it's a different offensive approach, it's still a bit stunning to see a Georgia Tech team last in the ACC in time of possession. What's been the problem for the Jackets on third down, that's preventing them from keeping the ball and keeping their offense on the field?
The pass protection has been slow to develop. It's not a group with a lot of experience, and the linemen had trouble with twists and blitz pickups, making third-and-long a trouble spot, as I suppose it is for most teams. It was better against Virginia, which was top five nationally in sacks going into the game but did not record a sack Saturday (which is not to say that it didn't exert pass-rush pressure.) Plus, Graham had been inconsistent with his accuracy until this past Saturday's game.
Plus, just generally speaking, the offense has been inconsistent as players have learned and gotten better at executing the offense, meaning plays have busted on first and second down, leading to third-and-long.
To go back to the second question, it's one reason why big plays are so important, as they loosen some of the pressure on the offense to crank out first downs.