The Hokies (3-1, 0-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) play at Georgia Tech on Thursday night, and the Yellow Jackets (3-0, 2-0) present defensive challenges that Virginia Tech only sees once a year.
“It’s hard to prepare,” defensive end Derrick Hopkins said of the Yellow Jackets’ triple-option offense. “Their scheme is so unique.”
The Hokies under defensive coordinator Bud Foster have always focused on playing assignment football against the Yellow Jackets explosive offense, and have fared well, winning four of five meetings.
Last year, though, the Hokies had all summer to get ready and still needed a field goal on the final play of regulation and another in overtime to prevail in their season opener, 20-17, at Lane Stadium.
This year, the Yellow Jackets have a defense, too. It’s ranked 11th nationally in total defense, allowing just 275 yards per game, which rivals the Hokies’ unit, ranked fifth and allowing 233 yards.
“Trying to get ready for this team in a short period of time is tough,” Hokies coach Frank Beamer said Monday, noting that the Yellow Jackets end 60 percent of their possessions with a touchdown.
Both teams are also coming off tough games.
The Hokies scored late in regulation to force overtime, then beat Marshall 29-21 in triple overtime, while Georgia Tech stayed perfect by rallying from a 20-7 deficit to beat North Carolina 28-20.
Games like that take a toll, Yellow Jackets defensive tackle Euclid Cummings said.
“Guys are a little sore, but it’s a Thursday night game,” he said Monday. “We’ve been wanting a Thursday night game since we’ve been in high school. You can’t help but get excited.”
Coach Paul Johnson cut back on the offense because of the short week, and on his expectations for players.
“We’ve got guys who will probably try to play Thursday without putting on pads all week because they’re banged up and injured,” he said Monday. “On this level, that’s hard to do.”
Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas ran the ball 23 times against Marshall.
“We’ve just got to take care of our bodies, make sure we’re getting treatment in the cold tubs as much as we can so we can get back to being fresh,” he said, while admitting that he was sore, too.
Thomas also has to adjust to the Yellow Jackets’ new defensive scheme, orchestrated now by former Duke coach Ted Roof. It is allowing just 11.3 points per game, and that includes a 70-0 shutout of Elon.
“They fly around. I think they feel comfortable in their new scheme underneath their new coach.” Thomas said. “Those guys have played against us for many years now, and they kind of understand, they know kind of how we’re going to play against them. We’re expecting them to be physical and tough.”
Thomas is also hoping the Hokies, who have struggled on offense because of dropped passes and the absence, so far, of a reliable running game, open things up a bit with some new plays.
“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,” he said. “That’s really about the extent that we’ll go.”
The Hokies are averaging 341 yards per game, 104th in the country, and just 181 yards per game through the air, 102nd. Thomas, on the season, is 65-for-134 for 698 yards with six interceptions.
On 16 trips inside the 20 yard line, Virginia Tech has eight TDs and two field goals.
“The red zone is what’s killing us,” Thomas said. “We know it. We have the ability to put up more points and we haven’t done it, and that’s something we need to keep working on, keep getting better at, because honestly the red zone is the money area. That’s where you’ve got to get it done.”