How to Beat Georgia Tech, Steps 1-4
By Paul Myerberg // Nov 11, 2011
Georgia Tech’s approach to the option differs from the approach once espoused by Nebraska, back when the Cornhuskers were running roughshod over all comers under Tom Osborne. Way back when, Nebraska won games before kickoff: opponents shuddered at the idea of simply playing the game, and when it came time to buckle up and meet between the white lines, well, the game was over before it even began. The Yellow Jackets do things differently, not intimidating opponents in the hours and minutes leading up to kickoff but with paper cuts: little nicks and bruises, cut blocks and play-action, all designed to frustrate you to no end.
It often works. Ask Clemson how it works; the Jackets simply wore down the Tigers, keeping their prolific offense along the sidelines while they picked and nipped away for 60 minutes in a 31-17 win. But the key to beating Georgia Tech’s option attack is fairly simple, believe it or not, even if Clemson believes otherwise:
Get stops on first down. Georgia Tech hasn’t attempted a single pass all season when needing between one and three yards on third down. Georgia Tech doesn’t have to pass on such down and distances: the Jackets convert those at a ridiculous clip, and led the nation heading into last night with a third conversion rate of 57.6 percent. When facing third down and at least seven, however, the Jackets entered last night with rather unimpressive totals: 19 carries for 55 yards, 13 of 25 passing for 174 yards.
Don’t make things easier. No penalties, no turnovers, nothing that can give Tech an added advantage. Entering last night, the Jackets were 7-0 when committing the same number or fewer turnovers than the opposition; the Jackets were 0-2 when committing more turnovers than the opposition.
Control the football. Western Carolina won the time of possession battle, surprisingly. So did Kansas, perhaps more surprisingly. Neither made the Jackets work, however, which might explain how each lost by 42 points. But Virginia and Miami (Fla.) controlled the clock, forced Tech turnovers and limited their own: a simple plan for beating any team, but especially so against the Jackets.
Don’t give up. The most intangible key to victory doubles as the most vital. The Jackets aren’t bullies: they’re the fire ants to Nebraska’s elephant, picking away until you give up rather than crushing you under their massive weight. It’s easy to get discouraged, what with the cut blocks and drip-drip of the option, but maintaining focus for 60 minutes is positively vital.
So how did Virginia Tech beat Georgia Tech, 37-26, in Atlanta? The odds seemed somewhat against the Hokies: the game was on the road, in cold weather, against a team it has struggled with over the last half-decade. But with a strong finish and a taste of Georgia Tech’s own medicine, the Hokies virtually assured another trip to the A.C.C. title game.
The first down defense wasn’t perfect. But Virginia Tech held Georgia Tech to three yards or less on 13 first down plays, forcing the Jackets to work a little harder to extend drives. Georgia Tech averaged 3.5 yards per play on first down in the second half, and that total is aided greatly by a 29-yard run by Tevin Washington midway through the third quarter.
The Hokies were minus-one in turnovers, losing a David Wilson fumble deep in Georgia Tech in the third quarter. The Jackets turned that into a touchdown, reversing the field and the game, as a Virginia Tech touchdown would have given the Hokies a 28-19 lead. The Hokies also committed 6 penalties for 56 yards; the Jackets had 3 penalties for 35 yards.
Time of possession: a clear Virginia Tech victory. Here, in the running game, the Hokies took a page out of Georgia Tech’s playbook. In doing so, the Hokies controlled the tempo of the game. Logan Thomas attempted 13 passes, but he made them count: 209 yards, 16.1 yards per attempt, with three touchdowns. Overall, Virginia Tech rushed for 267 yards on 52 carries — Thomas had 70 yards, David Wilson 175 — while the Jackets rushed for 243 yards on 49 carries.
Most importantly, Virginia Tech kept its cool. The Hokies maintained their composure even after Wilson’s fumble resulted in a 14-point swing; what could have been a 28-21 lead turned into a 26-21 deficit. Several teams not just in 2011 but in the recent past have ripped their hair to shreds after falling victim to Georgia Tech’s ability to wear them down in the second half — taking a third quarter lead, for example, and playing keep-away until the final whistle.
Not so last night. The Hokies scored 16 unanswered points over the game’s final 16 minutes to turn that five-point deficit into a 37-26 win. It was done partly on first down, partly by limiting mistakes and partly by controlling the clock. Most vitally, however, Virginia Tech won with intangibles. It wasn’t the first time the Frank Beamer-led Hokies have done so.
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