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Game Preview: #22 Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech
by Jeff Ouellet, 10/26/04

Thursday, October 28th, 2004, 7:30


Forecast (from
Click the "Atlanta Weather" link to the right.
Thursday 8:00 pm forecast, as of 3:00 pm Tuesday: Mostly cloudy, 66 degrees, 24% chance of rain.

Click here for's VT/GT roster card

Preview: #22 Virginia Tech (5-2, 2-1) at Georgia Tech (4-2, 3-2)
by Jeff Ouellet

After their first appearance this season in the top 25, the 22nd ranked Virginia Tech Hokies (5-2, 2-1) travel to Atlanta to take on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (4-2, 3-2) this Thursday night at Bobby Dodd Stadium in a key ACC game. A win would position VT well, as there are only three other conference teams with zero or one loss (UM, FSU, UVa) at this point in the season, and VT will be a strong favorite in its next two conference games. A loss would place VT squarely in the middle of the ACC bowl pecking order and make the postseason a dicey proposition.

The Rambling Wreck has replaced Pittsburgh as this year’s conference team that is toughest to figure. They are perfectly capable of coming out, especially at home, and playing a lights out defensive game coupled with an efficient offensive game. On the other hand, they also can be turnover prone, which makes them very beatable. In their losses, GT turned the ball five times (versus UNC in a 34-13 loss) and four times (versus Miami in a 27-3 loss).

The Head Coach for GT is former Dallas Cowboys coach Chan Gailey. Gailey was hyped as an offensive guru during his time in the League, but, ironically, his teams at Georgia Tech have played things fairly conservatively. Defense was the staple of last year’s team, and likewise is the strength of this year’s edition. Gailey has done an okay job, but he hasn’t set the world on fire. He is in his third year in Atlanta and his 18-14 mark is about what you would expect, given the talent on hand when he inherited the job.

GT’s Offense

The Yellow Jacket offense is “pro style” and Gailey uses multiple sets. The offense is predicated on the running game as the Rambling Wreck averages nearly 181 yards per game on the ground (good for 33rd nationally going into the games last Saturday) and 171 yards per game through the air. Although Gailey handles the offense, different assistant coaches coordinated the running game (Patrick Nix) and passing game (Buddy Geis) last year. Nix has the offensive coordinator title this year, perhaps underscoring the emphasis on the ground.

The statistics for the two offenses involved in this game are remarkably similar. VT runs for four more yards and passes for seven more yards per game. The enormous disparity, however, in overall productivity (GT scores 19.3 points per game and VT 33 points per game) doesn’t stand up under close inspection: take out VT’s two blowout wins by the combined score of 125-0 and GT’s win over Samford, and GT actually averages 17.6 per game versus 16.3 for the Hokies.

In terms of play selection, GT has 254 rushing attempts versus 156 passes (62% running plays). Shutting down the running game is usually a priority for VT, but it takes on even greater significance in this game.

The focus of the running game is 5’10”, 210 JR tailback P.J. Daniels. Daniels is a former walk-on who emerged because of injuries last fall and ended up being the ACC’s leading rusher with 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns. Daniels has had good numbers this year as well, racking up 529 yards (4.8 per carry) and 4 touchdowns in four and a half games of work (Daniels missed the Miami game and half of the UNC contest). He is the ACC’s leading rusher on a per-game basis this season.

Daniels is a punishing runner who specializes on work between the tackles. Against VT, he’ll have to run north-south to be effective as I don’t think he has the speed to outrun the VT defenders to the corner.

The backup to Daniels is speed merchant Chris Woods (5’11”, 190 JR). He is capable of getting to the corner and is another example of how scouting can be an inexact science – he transferred to GT after his freshman season at Morris Brown. Woods had a nice game in his start against Miami when he ran for 74 yards on 12 carries. On the year, he has 36 rushes for 180 yards (5.0 per carry). R-FR Rashaun Grant (5’10”, 192) also sees time as he has 31 carries for 144 yards.

R-SR fullback Jimmy Dixon (6’1”, 225) is a returning starter who is a reliable blocker. He has zero rushing yards this year, so don’t look for him to touch the ball in the running game except in short yardage.

GT occasionally uses their backs as pass receivers, but it isn’t a staple of their offense. Dixon and Daniels each have six catches for 59 and 31 yards, respectively, and Woods and Grant have combined for six grabs.

T-SO quarterback Reggie Ball (5’11”, 195) is the triggerman for the Jackets. Ball got national acclaim last year as he took over the starting job as a true freshman and he generally performed well under the circumstances, completing 52 percent of his passes for nearly 2,000 yards and 10 touchdowns (11 interceptions). Although he is a little short for a quarterback and not the traditional pocket passer, he certainly showed a lot of promise.

As you would expect with any young quarterback, Ball came into this season needing to improve his reads and his pocket presence. However, at least statistically, Ball has regressed from last season. He is completing fewer than half his passes and has nearly as many interceptions already this year (10) as he had in all of last year.

GT’s offensive fortunes are clearly tied to his productivity: he threw three interceptions in each of GT’s two losses. If he turns the ball over, the Jackets will have a tough time putting up points.

On the positive side of the ledger, much like Bryan Randall, Ball is a great competitor and capable of making plays with his feet. He is GT’s second leading rusher with 203 net yards (3.2 per carry). Ball also plays with a tough guy personality, and doesn’t shy away from contact when he runs the ball.

At wide receiver, ballyhooed true freshman Calvin Johnson is a rising star in the ACC. Johnson was regarded by many analysts as a top 50 national recruit last year given his prototype size (6’4”, 225) and speed (4.5). Johnson has backed up his press with some serious numbers early this year as he has 23 catches and 395 yards (17.2 per catch) and five touchdowns. He leads the team in all three receiving categories. As with most freshmen, he has some technique tricks to learn, but he is going to nab a lot of collegiate accolades before collecting paychecks on Sundays. As you might expect, GT likes to utilize his height on fades and corner patterns and a matchup with Jimmy Williams down in the red zone could be fun to watch.

The other wide receiver is veteran Nate Curry (5’10”, 195, R-SR). Curry was the leading returning receiver from last year (37 receptions, 426 yards) but hasn’t seen the ball a lot this fall as he only has 11 catches for 135 yards. His statistics have also been somewhat limited because of an injury earlier this year.

Although he doesn’t start, 6’1”, 200 SR Levon Thomas has been productive and he is one of the team’s best athletes. He has the longest reception of the year for GT (59 yards), and is second on the team in catches (19), yards (338) with the leading average per catch (17.8). Both Johnson and Thomas can make plays down the field when Ball breaks containment.

The fourth wide receiver is R-JR Damarius Bilbo, a 6’3”, 225 converted quarterback. Keep an eye on him as any GT trickeration likely would revolve around him, given his overall athleticism and his ability to throw.

Tight end Darrius Williams (6’6”, 270 R-SR) is massive and is more a staple in the running game. He only has two receptions on the year.

One of the strongest units of last year’s Jacket team was their offensive line, but they lost All-ACC Hugh Reilly and enigmatic (but talented) left tackle Nat Dorsey. Those losses have been felt along the line.

GT averages 4.3 yards per rushing attempt, a number similar to VT (4.2 per carry). The Jackets have yielded 11 sacks on the year, which is a good number given the competition they have played. The line appears to be improving as they have given up only one sack the last two weeks against Maryland and Duke (before you laugh, remember that Duke got pressure on Bryan Randall).

The three returning starters are concentrated on the right side of the line. Probably the best player is three year starter Kyle Wallace (6’6”, 295 SR) at right tackle. Wallace has good feet and understands all the tricks given his experience. Playing alongside him is 6’4”, 308 JR right guard Brad Honeycutt, a solid run blocker. Honeycutt and Wallace provide most of the running room for Daniels.

The center probably will be Andy Tidwell-Neal, a 6’5”, 310 SR. He started last year at guard but, much like Will Montgomery, moved over to center to help the team. He has been limited by an injury in the last two games, but at the time I write this he is expected to play. If he can’t go, look for R-FR Kevin Tuminello (6’4”, 280).

The important left tackle position is manned by 6’5”, 305 Leon Robinson. Robinson has played better than anticipated this year, permitting Wallace to remain at right tackle, but he’ll face his biggest challenge of the year when he lines up against the VT ends. R-FR Matt Rhodes has started the last two games at left guard and acquitted himself well, but Maryland and Duke are not nearly as good inside as the Hokies have been.

GT’s Defense

The golden boy among ACC assistants right now is defensive coordinator and former UVa defensive back Jon Tenuta. Tenuta had success as Ohio State’s defensive coordinator in 2000, and then moved onto North Carolina for a season, molding the Heels into the top ranked defense in the conference (with some residual Mack Brown talent still in place). Tenuta is a very good coach, and he may be in line for a head job as early as next year.

Tenuta’s team mirrors his personality: GT plays an aggressive, attacking 4-3 scheme that helped the Jackets finish 20th nationally in defense last year, and they may end up being even better this season. Prior to this Saturday’s games, GT was 16th in the country in total defense (288 yards per game), giving up 124 yards on the ground (41st nationally) and 164 yards through the air (14th nationally). Despite being minus 7 in turnover margin on the year, GT only surrenders 17.7 points per game. Tenuta emphasizes speed over size and he does a fair amount of zone blitzing. If lessons were not learned from the N.C. State debacle, Thursday night could be ugly for the Hokie offense. In the last two weeks against Maryland and Duke, Georgia Tech has allowed a combined total of 265 yards of offense.

Up front Georgia Tech regularly rotates six defensive linemen, three ends and three tackles. The bell cow is undoubtedly 6’3”, 265 R-JR defensive end Eric Henderson. Henderson led the league with 11 sacks and also chipped in a school record 24 tackles for a loss last year. While statistically he hasn’t had the same impact individually this year (18 tackles, seven for a loss and two sacks) because of missed time, his importance is demonstrated by this tidbit: in the three games Henderson was injured earlier this year, including one matchup with mighty Samford, the Jackets had three sacks. Since his return, the Jackets have 17 sacks in three games, including five against Miami. He is their Darryl Tapp.

The bookend to Henderson is speedy returning starter Travis Parker (6’5”, 260 JR). Parker is a returning starter and was an honorable mention all conference pick last year despite being forced to play inside at tackle. He is a good player in his own right, and he has 18 tackles on the year, including 2.5 for a loss and a sack. He plays the run well, as you might expect given his time inside. Parker moves to defensive tackle in some passing situations.

The third end who plays a significant amount is 6’4”, 250 R-FR Adamm Oliver. Oliver has 17 tackles on the year including 3.5 for losses and two sacks. He started when Henderson was injured.

The third returning starter on the defensive front is big bodied sophomore Mansfield Wrotto (6’3”, 305). Wrotto received a lot of accolades after an impressive freshman season. His numbers are modest this year (11 tackles, 2.5 for a loss), but he occupies people inside. Wrotto’s undersized classmate Joe Anoai (6’3”, 255) uses quickness to make plays as demonstrated by his 5.5 tackles for a loss and two sacks. Anoai is a high motor player that won’t give up on a play.

The third tackle is impressive true freshman Darryl Richard (6’4”, 300). Richard was a very highly regarded high school player from Louisiana, and he has broken into the rotation despite his limited experience. He will be very good down the line.

Cumulatively, the defensive line has tallied 88 tackles, including 24 for a loss and 8 sacks this year. Equally important, however, has been their ability to keep offensive linemen away from GT’s linebackers and they have responded in a big way.

Coming into the season linebacker was a concern as veteran starters Daryl Smith and Keyaron Fox were gone, as well as part time starter Ather Brown. 6’4”, 230 JR Gerris Wilkerson was a starter at defensive end last year, but he was able to move back to his natural middle linebacker position when Parker moved from defensive tackle to defensive end.

Wilkerson has been very productive as he has 60 tackles on the year (10 per game and second in the conference) including 7.5 tackles for a loss and an interception. He is tough, physical and runs very well to the ball.

While Wilkerson is a fine player, he has only had the second best year among GT linebackers thus far. Former strong safety Chris Reis moved to strongside linebacker this year, an apparently odd fit given his size (6’1”, 219). However, the seemingly omnipresent junior has had a breakout season this fall as he leads the ACC in sacks with seven, is second in the league with 10 tackles for a loss, and second on the team with 45 tackles. He has been particularly impressive since Henderson’s return as he has eight tackles for a loss and seven sacks in the last three games. Reis also is tied for the team lead with three passes broken up and has forced two fumbles.

Tenuta has done a fantastic job of allowing Reis to run free and use his instincts and tackling ability to wreak havoc. Instead of forcing him to body up on a fullback on isolation plays, he has designed schemes to allow him to constantly attack with great results. Both Reis and Wilkerson are all conference academic selections, and their ability to read and diagnose plays greatly contributes to their productivity.

The weakside linebacker is KaMichael Hall, a 6’0”, 225 SO. He saw some spot duty as a true freshman last year and has 24 tackles this year (3.5 TFL, 2 sacks).

The secondary is headed by another all conference academic player, senior free safety James Butler. Butler has great size (6’3”, 210) and is a likely first day NFL draft pick. He is the quarterback of the defense and had the versatility to finish second in the ACC in interceptions last year with five while also setting a GT secondary record with 119 tackles.

Butler’s numbers this year are not quite as eye popping as he only has 43 tackles, third on the team, and one interception, but he is athletic enough to make plays anywhere on the field. He has a blocked punt this year and is worth watching on special teams.

Strong safety Dawan Landry (6’2”, 215) is also a returning starter who knows how to hit. He is fourth on the team with 36 tackles, including four for a loss, and he has one interception.

At corner the Jackets return starter Reuben Houston (6’0”, 190 JR) and have elevated speedy sophomore Kenny Scott (6’2”, 185) to the other spot. Houston has 30 tackles and an interception on the year, while Scott has 18 tackles and three passes defensed.

Physically, GT has an interesting defensive team: the front four includes two ends that are heavier than a starting tackle, two outside linebackers that are undersized at 219 and 225, and a jumbo secondary that includes no players under 6’0”. Both safeties weigh in the 215 range and are nearly as big as the outside linebackers. Despite the seemingly odd arrangement, this defense is very good. They aren’t as athletically gifted or fast as N.C. State, but they understand opposing offenses better and are more consistent with their assignments.

GT’s Special Teams

The Rambling Wreck is just okay on special teams, and the Hokies should have an advantage here. JR punter Ben Arndt only averages 38.3 yards per kick, although the coverage has been good yielding a solid net average of 35.9. Their kicker is redshirt freshman Travis Bell, and he has been very good thus far converting on six of seven attempts and all his PATs. His long this year is 47 yards.

The kickoff coverage has been poor for GT as they surrender 28.5 yards per return. With Mike Imoh and Eddie Royal deep, this could be an area to watch.

Georgia Tech has used several punt returners and after some mediocre results seems to have found their man in redshirt freshman Patrick Carter (6’3”, 190). He has averaged 12.7 yards per return compared to an overall team average of 7.3 yards per return. Levon Thomas is the primary kickoff returner and he nets 21 yards per attempt.

The Lowdown

Coming into this season I expected VT to lose in Atlanta. It’s a tough place to play, tougher than the average fan realizes, and the Jackets have some top shelf talent. The similarities between these teams are striking.

Both teams have athletic quarterbacks who occasionally struggle with accuracy, good tailbacks who can make yards between the tackles (with admittedly different styles), a freshman wide receiver with game breaking ability and offensive lines that returned three starters but still have yet to mesh (although GT has done a far better job pass blocking than VT). On defense, both teams have monster front fours led by talented defensive ends, new linebackers whose play has been far superior to preseason expectations, and solid secondaries.

The VT offense has struggled to score in the last three games (16 points versus State, 19 versus WVU with a special teams touchdown, and 17 versus Wake). It’s tough to expect any appreciable improvement against a Georgia Tech defense that is probably as good, and perhaps better, than any of those mentioned above.

I think the quarterbacks will decide the game. Bryan Randall is going to be on the spot as he will have to make quick, smart decisions both in adjusting protections and in throwing the ball on time. The whole offense was overwhelmed by N.C. State’s zone blitz. Given his personnel and that game film, Tenuta will come after the Hokies early and often, and Randall will have to make great decisions. In particular, in situations where VT is inside its 20, he is going to have to be willing to give up on a play rather than taking a sack or forcing a throw.

Randall also will have to make some plays with his feet as it is inevitable that Reis will come free on some delayed blitzes. If Randall can break that first tackle, there may be some plays available downfield.

Likewise, Reggie Ball is the key to GT’s chances. I don’t see the Jackets consistently running the ball, so he will have to try to get Johnson, Thomas and Curry involved in the passing game. His running is a threat, but the return of Xavier Adibi helps interject additional speed and depth into the linebacker corps that will be spying on him.

Of course, in a defensive struggle special teams and penalties take on added significance. GT only has seven takeaways on the year, although part of that is just bad luck (they have forced 13 fumbles and only recovered 3). Being minus eight in the takeaway/giveaway statistic should be a concern for GT (VT is plus five on the season).

The Jackets average nearly 55 penalty yards per game, an acceptable figure that is roughly 10 yards per game less than the Hokies.

Before I make my prediction, I’ll note this statistic: in the last year and a half, GT has never lost a game in which it scored 20 points (9-0). Conversely, they are 2-7 in games in which they score fewer than 20 points. I don’t see them getting 20 points against VT, although I’m not sure the Hokies will get to 20 either.

Prediction: VT 17, GT 13

Will Stewart's Take: Jeff is right on with the comment about the game coming down to the quarterbacks and special teams. I try to avoid saying that teams "have to" do this or that, but I almost think VT "has to" generate some points the special teams, via the kick block or the return game.

One subplot to look for is the amount of playing time Xavier Adibi receives. The party line this week out of Blacksburg is that Adibi is rusty from his time off, and not in good football shape. He has lost 10-15 pounds, might get tired easily, etc., etc. But as Jeff noted, Adibi's sideline-to-sideline ability may be needed to contain Ball on the scramble. Jeff also noted that P.J. Daniels is a tough back who likes to run between the tackles, and if he starts getting to Mikal Baaqee and running him over, the VT coaches will be more likely to put in Adibi, who (weight loss aside, and from what little we have seen him play) delivers a blow with more authority than Baaqee.

But Xavier Adibi playing and being effective is not the key to this game. Making headway against GT's defense and pressing the special teams advantage is. This one will be a classic defensive battle that comes down to just a few plays. I don't like VT's chances of making it into the end zone offensively against GT, so it will be mostly field goals for the Hokies, I think – three of them, with a TD generated from somewhere.

This one is a toss-up, in my opinion, so I'll play the part of the homer and hope that VT's recent trend of winning close games continues.

Will's Prediction: VT 16, GT 13

Tailgate Info:

Come join the Atlanta VTAA for the first semi-annual VT vs. GT Tailgate on Thursday, October 28, 2004.

When? Two Hours before kick-off.

Where? Peter’s Parking Deck—Right Next to the Stadium at the corner of Bobby Dodd Way and Fowler Street.

How to get there? Leave your car at the Jock’s & Jill’s in Brook-haven OR Midtown and take the shuttle to the stadium.

Cost? $35 includes dinner and non-alcoholic beverages; $10 Party Only, we provide the beer and non-alcoholic mixers!! (Pay in ad-vance for dinner option)

There are three choices in terms of cost for the tailgate:

1. $45. Dinner, mixers and free beer (keg)
a. This needs to be paid in advance so the caterers can prepare.
b. The money goes towards the lot for the tailgate, the caterer bringing and setting up the tent, tables, chairs, etc., the food, the mixers
c. All the beer you can drink
d. $10 goes towards scholarship fund.

2. $35. Dinner, mixers (bring your own alcohol)
a. This needs to be paid in advance so the caterers can prepare.
b. The money goes towards the lot for the tailgate, the caterer bringing and setting up the tent, tables, chairs, etc., the food, the mixers

3. $10.00 Entrance to the Party
a. Includes all the beer you can drink (kegs are being donated)
b. $10 goes towards the scholarship fund.

Sign up today with Erin Davidge, using the registration form linked below (PDF format). Register by sending check made payable to Atlanta VTAA to address below. Please include name, phone number, and email address with your registration information.

Atlanta Chapter, VTAA
2000 Monroe Place NE
Apt 2105
Atlanta, GA 30324


[email protected]

Contact Erin Davidge if you are interested in tickets to the game. First come first serve.

First shuttle will leave J&J’s three hours before kickoff.

Registration Form (PDF format)

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