ATLANTA (TNS) — Upon returning home from arguably the worst conference defeat in coach Paul Johnson’s tenure, Georgia Tech finds itself facing another similarly steep climb.
There’s no shortage of evidence that No. 19 Virginia Tech, whom the Yellow Jackets will go on the road to play next Saturday, is even more formidable than the North Carolina team that won 48-20 Saturday in Chapel Hill, N.C. The 28-point margin was the largest for a Johnson-coached team in an ACC game.
“We played about as poorly as you can play on defense and we weren’t much better on offense or special teams,” Johnson said after the game. “It’s a deadly combination.”
Sunday, bookmakers established the Hokies as a 14-point favorite. The Jackets have not been bigger underdogs since the 2012 ACC championship game, when they were 15 1/2 -point underdogs to Florida State, according to covers.com. ESPN assigned the Hokies a 78.4 percent probability of winning. Further, Georgia Tech also has uncertainty at quarterback and center, where linchpins Justin Thomas and Freddie Burden both left the North Carolina game with upper-body injuries.
The betting line expresses understandable confidence in the Hokies. While a run-first offense, Virginia Tech has an efficient passing game, one that avoids mistakes and makes plays downfield. Georgia Tech was wholly unable to stop North Carolina from playing that game, and Miami earlier.
As has been the case throughout the season, Tech couldn’t pressure Tar Heels quarterback Mitch Trubisky with a four-man pass rush and was not effective enough when sending extra defenders.
Further, Georgia Tech’s run defense is springing leaks, a problem against a Hokies offense that runs 61 percent of the time. North Carolina hit a season high with 283 rushing yards and Duke’s 254 rushing yards were its season best against an FBS opponent, and neither the Blue Devils nor the Tar Heels have been particularly effective in the run game.
In short, nothing really has been working for the Georgia Tech defense.
The issues, Johnson said following Saturday’s loss, “are nobody beats blocks, nobody tackles, nobody covers anybody. That about covers it.”
On the flipside, Tech’s offense may not have a greater nemesis than Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster. The Hokies offense is not the equal of the Tar Heels’, but their defense is far superior to North Carolina’s. Virginia Tech ranks 17th nationally in defensive yards per play at 4.81.
While trying to game plan for Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech will have plenty to fix in practice. Namely, defensive coordinator Ted Roof needs to figure out how to remedy his run defense and come up with more solutions to pressure the quarterback.
Safety Corey Griffin said that everything that North Carolina ran against the Jackets, the defense prepared for in practice. That didn’t prevent the Tar Heels from gashing the Jackets for 636 yards of offense, the second most that Tech has given up in school history.
“Lining up, fitting (in gaps),” he said. “It all comes down to the small things, like those small things turn into big things. They gash us when we don’t do those small things correctly.”
Offensively, Tech has been advancing the ball quite effectively, but for the second game in a row had some problems in the red zone. Against both Duke and North Carolina, the Jackets drove inside the opposition 5-yard line and had to settle for field goals, not the end of the world but a problem for a team having trouble keeping its opponent out of the end zone.
“(Saturday) wasn’t really our day,” A-back Clinton Lynch said. “But we’ve just got to execute better and actually get it in the end zone when we have the opportunity to.”