Last week, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech combined to score 76 points. And both lost. The frustration has to be high for both programs entering their game on Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Last week's loss was undoubtedly maddening for Virginia Tech. The Hokies have struggled offensively for much of the season and were kept afloat by their defense. But last Saturday, to score 36 on a tough Syracuse defense but get torched for 41 by a lackluster Orange offense, was unacceptable. On top of it all, Justin Fuente's team blew a nine-point lead in the final five minutes of the game. That can't happen.
For Georgia Tech on Saturday, it was a quick start and a fast finish. But the in-between was a big problem. The Jackets got up 13-0 on Virginia and closed with the game's final 13 points. However, the rest of the game was a 48-14 whitewash by the Cavaliers. At 3-4 with five games remaining, Georgia Tech is looking to reach that magic six victory total, and with a rugged schedule remaining, this week's game is a must-win.
Georgia Tech has won four of the last six in this series, but the Hokies mauled the Jackets 45-0 last year in Atlanta.
Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 30 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Georgia Tech -4
When Virginia Tech Has the Ball
Malachi Thomas, where oh where have you been? The true freshman running back who had 48 yards on 11 carries coming in was given a chance to tote the football and responded with 151 yards and three touchdowns against the Orange. The Hartwell, Georgia, product will have plenty of motivation this week going against the home state school that failed to extend him a scholarship offer just a year ago.
Thomas was not the only back to produce, as Raheem Blackshear ran for 78 and had a 30-yard reception. It appears that perhaps this offense may have found something to rely on, but they will continue to need more from the passing game. Braxton Burmeister was just 10-of-20, though he did have 177 passing yards.
The Hokies will have good reason to try and establish the run this week. Georgia Tech has allowed at least 158 yards on the ground in six of their seven games this year, and Virginia pounded out 240 last week. However, in recent weeks, it hasn't mattered how opposing offenses wanted to move the ball. Pittsburgh had 580 yards of total offense, Duke 489, and Virginia a whopping 636. After a strong defensive start to the season, the Jackets' defense has fallen on hard times.
When Georgia Tech Has the Ball
Jeff Sims took over at quarterback for Jordan Yates in the North Carolina game, and since then, the Georgia Tech offense has seen a spike in production. In the four games since Sims' return from his left arm injury, the Yellow Jackets have averaged 34 points per game. He has run effectively and pushed the ball downfield, though his bugaboo from last season is beginning to show itself again. Sims threw 13 interceptions in his freshman year, and he has had five more in the last three games. Sims is very talented, but he has to value the ball a bit more.
The Virginia game also signaled the 2021 arrival of Jahmyr Gibbs. After a solid freshman campaign, much was expected of the Jackets running back, but he hadn't had a breakout performance until last Saturday, when he had 132 yards on 13 carries. Veteran Jordan Mason chipped in with 58 as the team ran for 270 yards.
Much like Georgia Tech, the Hokies have had their issues stopping the run. Following Syracuse's 314-yard rushing effort, Virginia Tech has given up 206 yards per game on the ground over its last five games. Most concerning, considering the running ability of Sims, was that Syracuse quarterback Garrett Shrader had 174 yards on the ground and reached the end zone three times. Shrader and Sean Tucker ran wild on the Hokies last week, Sims and Gibbs are capable of much the same.
Things seem to be spiraling out of control for Fuente in Blacksburg. The Hokies have lost four of five with their only win being an unimpressive victory over FCS Richmond. Simply becoming bowl eligible is not enough to please Hokie fans, and with four road games remaining on the schedule, it will be interesting to see what kind of fight Virginia Tech plays with this week. Georgia Tech is also 3-4, but bowl eligibility would be an accomplishment after missing the postseason the last two seasons. The Yellow Jackets' problem is that their four remaining games after this week are at Miami, Boston College, at Notre Dame, and top-ranked Georgia. Without a win this week, it's nearly impossible to see three victories in those final four contests. But the Jackets will only need two more after Saturday, as the defense will keep the Virginia Tech running game in check and Sims will make big plays with his legs and his arm in Georgia Tech's fourth win of the season.
Prediction: Georgia Tech 31, Virginia Tech 21
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— 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.