Hokies' defining November has arrived

Upon its Feb. 4 release, analyzing Virginia Tech's 2010 football schedule was instant-oatmeal easy. The Hokies' ACC fortunes would hinge on consecutive November games against division rivals Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Miami.

Welcome to November.

Sure enough, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Miami and North Carolina are the class of the Coastal Division. The Hokies (6-2, 4-0 ACC) lead the pack by two games in the loss column, but unlike their rivals, they've yet to confront one of the other big four.

That changes Thursday night when Virginia Tech welcomes reigning conference champion Georgia Tech to Lane Stadium.

Now to the most demanding Hokies fans, November perfection, a December ACC title and January Orange Bowl victory would be the proverbial Mary Kay on a swine. Such is their frustration and/or anger over Virginia Tech's season-opening loss to Boise State and subsequent faceplant against James Madison.

That Boise State is undefeated and fourth in the Bowl Championship Series standings assuages few. That JMU is 1-4 in the Colonial Athletic Association infuriates many, and indeed makes the defeat all the more inexcusable.

More forgiving fans and reasonable observers applaud the Hokies for winning their last six. Sure, some of the competition was suspect — Wake Forest is allowing the most points in its ACC history — but the come-from-behind victory at North Carolina State was impressive in the present, more so in hindsight.

Yes, the JMU no-show cost Virginia Tech any hope of national relevance, and deservedly so. But that was/is no reason for the Hokies to abandon the season.

"They've probably got the football team that's playing better than anyone else in the league right now," Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said Wednesday.

Offensively, there's no question. Thanks to quarterback Tyrod Taylor, a gaggle of running backs and receivers, and an improving line, Virginia Tech has matched a school record by scoring 40 or more points in four consecutive games.

Defensively? Well, let's see how coordinator Bud Foster's bunch handles the Yellow Jackets' option.

Georgia Tech is Phase I of the Hokies' defining November, and anyone clinging to Virginia Tech's alleged Thursday night mojo is sadly mistaken. The Hokies won 11 consecutive Thursday night ESPN appearances from 1999-2005 but lost at home to Boston College in '07, at Miami in '08 and at home to North Carolina last year.

Translation: "Enter Sandman" scares no one. Certainly not Georgia Tech, which two years ago came within Joshua Nesbitt's late overthrow of wide-open Roddy Jones of defeating the Hokies.

Nesbitt is 42 yards shy of surpassing Clemson's Woody Dantzler (2,761 yards from 1998-2001) as the ACC's career rushing leader among quarterbacks, and odds are he'll get that and more Thursday.

In a 28-23 victory over the Hokies last season, Nesbitt rushed for 122 yards and three touchdowns, including a 39-yard dagger with 3:00 remaining. Two years ago at Lane Stadium, he ran for 151 yards and a score.

The Yellow Jackets' offense has improved during the season, "but it is not up to everybody's expectations and our expectations," Johnson said. "Sometimes I am not sure if I create some of that myself because I have such high expectations. There are very few offenses that score every time they get the ball. That is our mindset, though."

Here's evidence of that mindset: Georgia Tech has converted 15-of-26 fourth downs. Conversely, Virginia Tech is 3-of-6 on fourth down.

Johnson's double-down style was on full display two Saturday's ago at Clemson. Receiver Tyler Melton took an end-around handoff and threw a pass to Nesbitt — the play drew a pass interference penalty.

Trailing 17-0 early in the second quarter, the Yellow Jackets faked a punt from their own 19, and upback Lucas Cox ran 22 yards for a first down.

Those gambits couldn't spare Georgia Tech (5-3, 3-2) a 27-13 defeat. The Yellow Jackets have never lost two straight in Johnson's three seasons, but that shouldn't matter Thursday.

If Kansas, N.C. State and Clemson can beat them, so should Virginia Tech.

David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime, and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP. Sign up for text alerts by texting "BIGSPORTS" to 71593.

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