With the Coastal Division all but wrapped up by the Miami Hurricanes after their 28-10 victory over Virginia Tech last week, the season goals for both the Hokies and Yellow Jackets have shifted. Georgia Tech, who is sitting at a record of 4-4 on the season after their loss to Virginia last week, is fighting for bowl eligibility, and need to win two out of their final three games to guarantee themselves a spot in a bowl. The Hokies, whose record now sits at 7-2 after last week’s loss, still has an opportunity at a 10-win season, the second in as many seasons under head coach Justin Fuente.
Since the Hokies joined the ACC in 2004, the Ramblin’ Wreck of Georgia Tech have been one of their biggest rivals in the Coastal Division, with many of the games coming down to the final possession. Virginia Tech leads the overall series with nine wins in 14 games, but Georgia Tech won the matchup last season with a final score of 30-20. The 10-point victory was the largest margin of victory between the two schools since 2007 when Virginia Tech beat the Yellow Jackets 27-3.
Longtime Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster has coached in every ACC matchup between the Hokies and Yellow Jackets in his 22-years as defensive coordinator. Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson spoke about coach Foster in his weekly press conference saying, “I think it makes it a challenge and he’s definitely a challenging guy. We were talking this morning and the things that you have success with one year, you can count on they’re going to be taken away the next. You figure how they’re going to counter and it’s like any game, you have to be able to adjust on the fly. If you can’t adjust on the fly, you get behind the 8-ball.” The counter moves and adjustments made by both coaches speaks to how close each matchup has been, and the respect each side has for the other heading into Saturday’s matchup.
Virginia Tech’s defense is led by linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, who leads the team with 77 tackles on the season. Edmunds’ 7.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and three forced fumbles (tied for first in the ACC) had made him a force in coach Foster’s defense. He will have a key role in trying to slow down the challenging triple-option offense of Georgia Tech.
There are two guarantees with a triple-option offense: the offense is going to run the ball, a lot, and they will hold onto the ball forever. This year is no different as the Yellow Jackets rank in the top three in rushing offense (331.9 yards per game), and time of possession (34:39 per game). The offense is led by quarterback TaQuon Marshall, whose 870 rushing yards on the season continues the success of running quarterbacks under coach Johnson. Marshall will have to be smart with the football if the Georgia Tech offense is going to be successful on Saturday.
Running back KirVonte Benson has risen to ACC and national prominence with his 105.5 rushing yards per game. This puts him at third in the ACC and 21st overall nationally, and his 5.6 yards per carry average places him fourth in the ACC.
The Hokies offense continues to be successful under second-year head coach Justin Fuente, as they rank third offensively in the ACC in points per game averaging 32.6ppg. They are led by quarterback Josh Jackson, who has thrown for 2,229 yards and 17 touchdown passes this season. Jackson’s favorite target has been senior wide receiver Cam Phillips, who has caught 58 passes for 793 yards and six touchdowns. Like Georgia Tech’s TaQuon Marshall, Jackson, who threw two interceptions against Miami, will need to protect the football to take advantage of any opportunities they receive on Saturday.
The rivalry that has grown between the Yellow Jackets and Hokies is undeniable, as both schools mark this game on their calendar’s as a big game. The history between these programs and the close games that always seems to happen shows that no matter the records, either team can win any matchup, and both teams deserve respect. This matchup has the makings of another close one in Atlanta, and it will come down to whoever can protect the football better will come out victorious.
The Jackets and Hokies will kick-off Saturday from Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta at 12:20 p.m. on the ACC network.