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PREVIEW: Tech looks to snap losing streak to Hokies

Yellow Jackets quarterback Vad Lee and the Georgia Tech offense is averaging 345.3 yards per game on the ground through four games this season. (Reuters)

Yellow Jackets quarterback Vad Lee and the Georgia Tech offense is averaging 345.3 yards per game on the ground through four games this season. (Reuters)

ATLANTA — Georgia Tech seeks to continue its strong start in the ACC while visiting Virginia Tech strives to continue its recent success against the Yellow Jackets when the squads meet tonight.

Georgia Tech has won its first two ACC games for just the third time in 15 years and can place a firm grasp on the Coastal Division lead with a win over the Hokies, their biggest division threat. Virginia Tech has won three straight and five of the last six meetings.

The Yellow Jackets defeated North Carolina 28-20 last week and have won six consecutive ACC regular-season games, one shy of the school mark set from 2009-10. Virginia Tech has won three consecutive games since losing to Alabama in its opener, but had to go into triple-overtime before outlasting Marshall 29-21 last week. The Hokies beat Georgia Tech last season 20-17 in overtime.

Virginia Tech senior quarterback Logan Thomas is off to a poor start, completing 48.5 percent of his passes and being intercepted six times while throwing four touchdown passes.

Thomas has rushed for 22 career touchdowns — one off the school mark for quarterbacks set by Tyrod Taylor (2007-10) — while redshirt freshman Trey Edmunds (who rushed for 132 yards against Alabama in his first collegiate game) has a team-best 352 rushing yards.

Senior defensive end J.R. Collins has a team-best 4.5 sacks, senior middle linebacker Jack Tyler has a team-high 33 tackles while freshman cornerback Brandon Facyson (three) and junior safety Detrick Bonner (two) have combined for five of the Hokies’ nine interceptions for a defense that ranks fifth nationally (233.3 yards per game).

The Yellow Jackets (3-0, 2-0) are racking up 345.3 yards per game on the ground (fourth nationally) and have rushed for at least 324 in each game. Senior David Sims (211 yards) has yet to be tackled for a loss on 38 rushes, sophomore quarterback Vad Lee (seven passing touchdowns) has 180 rushing yards and three touchdowns, and senior Robert Godhigh (174 yards) is averaging 12.4 yards per rush and also has five receptions for 83 yards.

Defensively, the Yellow Jackets are allowing 11.3 points (12th nationally) and are unsure whether junior outside linebacker Quayshawn Nealy (hamstring) or sophomore safety Chris Milton (wrist) will be available due to injuries suffered in the North Carolina game.

To end its three-game losing streak to Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech will have to find a way to move the ball and score on a defense that coach Paul Johnson called the best the Yellow Jackets have faced this season.

And the Jackets will have to do so at a point where the coach isn’t terribly enthused with the offense’s execution of its staple plays. At his Monday news conference, Johnson was critical of how Tech has run its option plays and vowed improvement this week in practice in anticipation of the Coastal Division matchup with the Hokies tonight at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

“We’ve just got to work on it,” he said. “Rest assured, we’ll work on it this week.”

What isn’t working on the option? In Johnson’s perspective, how about close to everything?

In his first season as starter, Lee has struggled making the correct reads on when to keep the ball or give it either to the B-back or the A-back. Johnson said that the interior offensive line hasn’t blocked well enough to create paths for the B-back. The A-backs and wide receivers haven’t blocked consistently on the perimeter, preventing 20-yard runs from turning into touchdowns.

Do not mind that Tech is 3-0, is ranked No. 10 in the country in scoring offense despite playing a slow tempo, and on Saturday managed to bungle its way to converting nine of 16 third downs while holding onto the ball for 40 minutes in its win over North Carolina. Broke is broke and Johnson had an explanation.

“We’ve got too much stuff going on,” Johnson said. “We’re doing too much stuff and we’re not good at any of it. That’s not the way I like to play.”

Asked to elaborate, Johnson said he didn’t want to reveal much of the game plan for the Hokies. He did say the number of checks — plays changed at the line of scrimmage — will be limited compared to past games.

“What we’ve got to do is refine what we’re doing and get good at what we do,” Johnson said.

Playing the Hokies doubtlessly accentuates Johnson’s requirement to play with more precision. Virginia Tech is ranked No. 5 in the country in total defense (233.3 yards per game) and tied for No. 28 in scoring defense (17.3 points per game). Georgia Tech is actually ranked No. 12 in scoring defense (11.3 points per game) and 11th in total defense (275.3 yards per game).

“They all can run, they’re very physical, the two inside guys are both 300-pound guys that have good feet and can move,” Johnson said, speaking of Virginia Tech tackles Luther Maddy and Derrick Hopkins. “And the rest of their guys, it’s like a bunch of athletes. They’re not overly big, but, man, they can run. They hit, (are) physical. And they don’t usually screw up. They kind of know what they’re doing.”

In the five games the Hokies and Jackets have met since Johnson’s hire, Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s unit has held Georgia Tech under its ACC scoring average all five times and held the Jackets under its yards-per-play average four of the five times. Monday, Johnson gave Foster his due as a game-planner and in-game tactician.

Johnson said the Hokies play the same basic defense annually, but will adjust coverages and assignments.

“Bud does a great job,” Johnson said. “He’s smart. He can look at what you’re doing and come up with a scheme that makes it hard to do what you like to do.”

By Johnson’s standards, his own team is doing likewise.