Virginia Tech hasn’t lost a road football game in more than two years, a remarkable stretch of 11 consecutive victories that stands as an ACC record. Continuing the streak Thursday at Georgia Tech may well hinge on the Hokies learning from their last road setback.
It was October 2009, and the opponent, as now, was Georgia Tech. Virginia Tech was once-beaten, ranked fourth nationally and attempting to stone Paul Johnson’s option offense.
When the Yellow Jackets’ first four possessions netted 21 yards, the riddle appeared close to solved. It was just before halftime, and the Hokies led 3-0. None of Georgia Tech’s 19 snaps had gained more than 5 yards.
But then quarterback Josh Nesbitt heaved a deep pass toward DeMaryius Thomas. Cornerback Rashad Carmichael covered well, but the taller Thomas snared the ball for a 51-yard gain to Virginia Tech’s 12. Nesbitt’s 1-yard sneak five plays later and 32 seconds before halftime gave the Yellow Jackets a lead they would never relinquish en route to a 28-23 victory.
Nesbitt did not complete another pass, and Georgia Tech ran for an astonishing 272 yards during the second half, milking the clock with touchdown drives of 60, 86 and 75 yards. But the long pass and resulting touchdown started the avalanche.
Such passes, usually set up when defenses bite on play-action, are what the 10th-ranked Hokies need to prevent Thursday.
I know, I know. Georgia Tech’s passing seems as relevant as Kate Moss’ pedicure. But consider:
The No. 20 Yellow Jackets (7-2, 4-2 ACC ) have completed at least one pass for at least 30 yards in seven of nine games. The exceptions are Virginia (long of 21 yards) and Miami (long of 17).
Guess which games Georgia Tech lost.
Quarterback Tevin Washington threw at least one touchdown pass of 35 yards or more in each of the Yellow Jackets’ first five contests, a combined seven in the opening three games against Western Carolina, Middle Tennessee and Kansas. Receiver Stephen Hill caught three, for 82, 77 and 71 yards.
In Georgia Tech’s marquee moment, a 31-17 upset of previously unbeaten Clemson, Hill caught a 44-yarder. Two plays later, Washington scored from the 3 to give the Jackets a 24-3 halftime lead.
Hill is no Thomas, and he’s certainly no Calvin Johnson, the former Georgia Tech All-American now thriving with the Detroit Lions. Moreover, his hands are suspect. But at 6-foot-5, he’ll tower over Virginia Tech cornerbacks such as 5-10 Jayron Hosley.
If the average-armed Washington lofts a jump ball toward Hill, the Hokies will need to make a play. Most important, seasoned defensive backs such as Hosley and Eddie Whitley can’t commit solely to run support, lest receivers break lonesome open.
Virginia Tech defeated Georgia Tech 28-21 last season in Blacksburg and almost was burned by the long ball. Forced into the game after Nesbitt sustained a broken right arm, Washington completed a 42-yarder to Tyler Melton to set up the Jackets’ third touchdown. A 38-yarder to Kevin Cone moved Georgia Tech to the Hokies’ 37 in the final minute before Carmichael’s end-zone interception on second down from the 16 ended the threat.
In 2008, Johnson’s debut season with the Jackets, Virginia Tech was lucky to survive Georgia Tech 20-17. Nesbitt threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to running back to Roddy Jones and with 2:30 remaining overthrew a wide-open Jones on a pass that should have produced a 66-yard, go-ahead touchdown.
So yes, slowing the Jackets’ rushing attack – they rank second nationally at 328 yards per game – is a chore. And yes, Virginia Tech defensive coordinator is adding speed to his starting lineup with linebacker Jack Tyler and end Tyrel Wilson.
But at game’s end, unless the Hokies’ offense and David Wilson have hogged possession for 40-plus minutes, Georgia Tech figures to have rushed for 275-300 yards. Johnson’s option has produced rushing totals of 278, 309 and 316 yards against Virginia Tech.
A more telling number may be the Jackets’ passing total. If the Hokies’ secondary avoids big plays, Virginia Tech figures to extend its road success and justify its top-10 ranking.
I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDPCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun