Virginia Tech, owning the head-to-head tiebreaker over North Carolina, has the inside track for the ACC Coastal Division crown. The only path to a title for the Tar Heels involves a Hokies conference loss and this week’s game with Georgia Tech figures to be Virginia Tech’s toughest remaining challenge.
Many Yellow Jackets fans would like to see a change in their program, but head coach Paul Johnson has Georgia Tech at 5-4, one game short of bowl eligibility after a 3-9 2015 season. North Carolina took down Georgia Tech last week in a big way, winning 48-20, fueling the fires once again in Atlanta.
Virginia Tech leads the all-time series by a 9-4 margin.
Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 12 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPNU
Spread: Virginia Tech -14
Three Things to Watch
1. Taking Down Justin Thomas
After a slow start to 2016 – that followed a disappointing '15 – the Georgia Tech quarterback has returned to the explosive form he showed back in '14. Two weeks ago, Thomas ran for 195 yards, threw for 264 more and accounted for four total touchdowns. In the loss last Saturday to UNC, Thomas had 82 rushing yards and passed for 144. Last year, Bud Foster’s defense stymied Thomas after being almost beaten single-handedly by the then-sophomore two years ago. The level of Thomas's success will have a big impact on Saturday’s game.
2. Virginia Tech Ground Game
Georgia Tech’s rush defense had been pretty solid for most of the season, but last week North Carolina – a team that has had difficulties running the ball – had 283 yards on the ground. On the other side, the Hokies have had a very consistent running game this year, rushing for at least 150 yards in each of their nine games. Travon McMillian will not finish the year with the same numbers as last season, but he has had some fine moments and quarterback Jerod Evans and the receivers on jet sweeps have aided the Hokies' ground efforts. The Jackets must make sure that last week’s performance was an aberration.
3. Third Down Defense
There is a stark difference between the two teams with regards to third down defense. The Hokies are fourth in the nation, allowing just a 27 percent conversion rate. Meanwhile, Georgia Tech is last in America, allowing opponents to convert on more than half (52 percent) of their opportunities. Georgia Tech needs to stay on the field on offense and get off the field on defense if the Yellow Jackets want to have a chance to win.
Virginia Tech has it all laid out nicely. A win over Georgia Tech on Saturday coupled with a victory over Virginia on Thanksgiving weekend would punch the Hokies’ ticket to the ACC Championship Game. The Yellow Jackets' offensive system is always a test, but coordinator Bud Foster and the Virginia Tech defense have had success against the option before. Plus, the Hokies are big and mean on that side of the ball. Conversely, Georgia Tech is vulnerable to the run and the pass which could make the Virginia Tech balanced offense very dangerous. At home, with so much on the line, the Hokies win easily.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 37, Georgia Tech 17
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.