Hendon Hooker leads his surging Hokies into Atlanta to play the Yellow Jackets
Often, there is a key moment in a season that can change the direction of a team. Sometimes it’s for the better; sometimes it’s for the worse. For the 2019 Virginia Tech Hokies, a complete embarrassment seems to have sparked a great resurgence.
On Friday, Sept. 27, Virginia Tech lost at home to Duke by a score of 45-10. At that moment, the Hokies were 2-2, with their only victories coming against Old Dominion and Furman, raising questions about head coach Justin Fuente’s job security. But starting with a win at Miami, Virginia Tech has won four of five with the only loss coming by one point at Notre Dame. As a result, if the Hokies win out, they will take the ACC Coastal crown.
This week they head to Atlanta to play an improved Georgia Tech team. The Jackets are still just 2-7, but they have been much more competitive in recent weeks, including giving division leader Virginia a mighty scare in Charlottesville last Saturday.
Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 16 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Regional/WatchESPN
Spread: Virginia Tech -5.5
When Virginia Tech Has the Ball
The most amazing thing about Virginia Tech’s 21-20 loss to Notre Dame was that the score was as close as it was considering the Hokies got virtually nothing through the air with Quincy Patterson at quarterback. In last Saturday's 36–17 win over Wake Forest, Hendon Hooker returned from his knee injury and gave the Hokies an aerial element, completing 15-of-23 pass attempts for 242 yards. Plus, the Hokies still got running production out of the position, as Hooker rushed for 69 yards and a score.
With talented wide receivers such as Damon Hazelton and Tre Turner, it is imperative that the Hokies have a quarterback who can get the ball in their hands. Against Wake Forest, Hazelton caught seven passes, and while Turner only had two catches, he also carried the ball four times for 73 yards. Expect more of the same this week, because getting rushing yardage in a traditional way has been a problem for the Hokies for much of the year.
The Georgia Tech defense has been put in bad situations by the team’s lackluster offense this season and has been worn down due to overwork. The rushing defense is last in the ACC, though things have stabilized a bit over the past three games. The problem is that Virginia’s Bryce Perkins and Pitt’s Kenny Pickett combined to complete 71 percent of their passes the past two weeks. Perkins, who like Hooker is a true dual-threat quarterback, also ran for 106 yards. The Jackets must keep the Hokies quarterback under wraps.
When Georgia Tech Has the Ball
Georgia Tech has taken some positive steps on offense, one being that head coach Geoff Collins has decided on a quarterback. James Graham had the best game of his career last Saturday at Virginia, completing 15-of-22 passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns. It had not been pretty in previous weeks, but the hope is that the redshirt freshman will play with newly developed confidence going forward.
Graham is aided by running back Jordan Mason, who has unquestionably been the Jackets’ offensive MVP this season. The sophomore running back is seventh in the ACC with 716 rushing yards and has gotten better as the season has gone on. Georgia Tech is not going to win this game by having Graham throw the ball all over the field, so the Jackets will need a quality outing from Mason and the running game.
But that won’t be easy. Bud Foster’s defense has been very stingy against the run over the past five games, allowing just 86 yards per game. If you take out the 143 yards North Carolina compiled in the six-overtime affair, the stats are even more impressive. Linebacker Rayshard Ashby is third in the ACC in tackles, and safeties Divine Deablo and Reggie Floyd are huge factors in run support. Teams have burned the Hokies with long pass plays, but at this point in his career, the Hokies shouldn't be too concerned about Graham beating them deep.
The Jackets are a different team than the one that lost to The Citadel in Week 3 and scored just two points against Temple in their next game. The wins have not necessarily followed, but the team is coming together. Of course, the Hokies are radically improved as well, and they have much more to play for this week. The Georgia Tech defense will battle but will again tire during the course of the game as the Virginia Tech defense will have little trouble getting the Jackets’ offense off the field. The Hokies score late to put the game away, setting up two huge final games of the regular season.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, Georgia Tech 17
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.
(Top photo courtesy of hokiesports.com)