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The best defense against Georgia Tech may be a ball control offense

As Hokies fans count down to Thursday night's primetime ACC affair against Georgia Tech, the big story the next few days will center around defensive coordinator Bud Foster's new scheme to stop the Yellow Jackets option attack. If you recall, they had their way with Virginia Tech in the second half of last year's 28-23 victory in Atlanta.

I'll have a story on that in Thursday's paper, but perhaps lost in all the talk over how the defense plans to slow down Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt is the role Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring could play in all this.

As you well know, Coach Paul Johnson's option attack is a rhythm-based offense that depends on manageable situations on third and fourth down and playing with a lead. Once the Yellow Jackets get in a groove, it's hard to stop them. That makes the opposing offense doubly important. Essentially, the less Nesbitt sees the field courtesy of the opposition's long scoring drives, the harder it is for him to get going.

Last year, though, the Hokies did just the opposite. In the first half, Virginia Tech got the ball inside Georgia Tech territory on five of its seven drives, but entered halftime with three points, 129 yards and two Tyrod Taylor interceptions to show for it. Then, in the second half with the Yellow Jackets offense methodically dissecting the Hokies defense, Virginia Tech possessed the ball for just 7 minutes 32 seconds.

But this doesn't appear to be the same offense that lost consecutive games to Georgia Tech and North Carolina last year. Of late, the Hokies have been on a roll offensively, moving up to 14th nationally in scoring offense after putting up 40 or more points in four straight games for the first time since the beginning of Michael Vick's redshirt sophomore season in 2000. Taylor, meanwhile, has thrown 10 touchdown passes since his last interception, which came in the first quarter of Virginia Tech's win over North Carolina State.

So when he spoke with reporters over the weekend, Stinespring said he's not getting so hung up on time of possession, despite the advantage it gives the defense. He just wants his offense to continue pouring in points like it has in recent weeks.

"Don’t get so caught up on the clock; get caught up on playing well and that’s what’s important," Stinespring said. "Because sometimes I think if you’re not careful, you get caught up on: ‘We gotta do this, we gotta do that. They just chewed up some clock, we gotta do it.’ What we gotta do is move the chains and score points and take care of our business like we’re supposed to week in and week out."

It should be even easier to do so this week. Stinespring said he's once again operating under the assumption that he has three starting running backs based on the way sophomore Ryan Williams has practiced during the bye week.

However, Williams said Saturday he's still just "85 or 90 percent" healthy after missing four games with a right hamstring injury. Coming off a 1,655-yard campaign a year ago, Williams has just 149 yards on the ground and five touchdowns so far in 2010.

“Statistically, I don’t care. I want to win; I want to be able to get to the ACC championship [game]," Williams said. "Statistically, I got stats from last year. I’m just not 100 percent. In the first two games I was in, our offense wasn’t gelling the way it should have been. Unfortunately when I got hurt we started knowing what we needed to do, so stat-wise, the first two games didn’t look so [good]. It ain’t no big thing, though. We're 6-2 right now."

Virginia Tech's three-headed rushing monster will be the key against a Georgia Tech defense that has been gashed in the running game. Led by a familiar face in defensive coordinator Al Groh, the Yellow Jackets' new hybrid 3-4 scheme is giving up 162 yards per game on the ground. In Georgia Tech's last game, a 27-13 loss to Clemson, the Tigers gained 236 yards rushing and had two touchdown runs of more than 40 yards.

Stinespring said Groh's defense this year is much different than the one Georgia Tech ran a year ago, and has very few similarities to the scheme Groh ran at Virginia. The strength of the Yellow Jackets defense is the linebacking corps, where senior Brad Jefferson and junior Steven Sylvester patrol the field. The duo has combined for seven sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss this season. Groh has tried, with varying degrees of success, to confuse offensive linemen on their assignments with a front seven in which it's hard to decipher who is a defensive lineman and who is a linebacker.

And because the Yellow Jackets are giving up just 192 yards of passing offense per game this year, that would all seem to lend itself to the idea of Virginia Tech returning to its ground and pound, control the clock roots Thursday night. Even Coach Frank Beamer admits, the Hokies offensive performance will play a major role in whether the defense can slow down Georgia Tech.

“I think you either need to have the ball or be scoring," Beamer said. "Either way, you’ve helped yourself. If you’ve got the ball, they don’t have it. If you’re scoring, I think it’s tougher for them to play from behind with that particular offense.”

By Mark Giannotto  | November 2, 2010; 10:59 AM ET
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Next: Virginia Tech progress reports: the secondary


In watching GT get defeated this year, it looks like the way to play them on defense is to play the pitchman and make Nesbitt beat you. He may (or may not) get his yards but he'll get pounded all game long. Opening up a lead like Clemson did helps too. Hopefully Foster is watching the GT-Clem tape.

Posted by: calhokie | November 2, 2010 11:20 PM | Report abuse

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