Tonight’s battle in Atlanta is the biggest Thursday night game of the college season to date. Virginia Tech visits Georgia Tech (8 PM ET, ESPN) with first place on the line in the Coastal Division and with it the chance to face presumably Clemson in the ACC Championship Game on December 3 in Tampa.
Georgia Tech kept themselves alive in this race with their big prime-time win over Clemson back on October 29. Both they, and the Hokies were off last week, so each team comes in with extra prep time. Georgia Tech might want to take that time to focus on fourth quarter play. The Yellow Jackets have nearly let games slip away against North Carolina, N.C. State and even Maryland . In those games they had a sizeable enough lead built up in the first three, but that’s a lot to ask tonight. This is a classic Paul Johnson –coached team in that they run the triple option, but it shouldn’t be confused with the 2009 Orange Bowl team that could pile up 500 yards a game on the ground. The Jackets have an excellent quarterback in Tevin Washington, but he is really the focal point of the entire offense. Back in ’09, backs like Jonathan Dwyer, now with the Steelers, were a real threat on the option. Tonight, Virginia Tech doesn’t have to worry as much about the pitch man and can keep its focus squarely on Washington.
Virginia Tech may be 8-1, but they haven’t overwhelmed anyone in getting to that record. Their inconsistencies are mostly tied to the play of sophomore quarterback Logan Thomas. When he’s on, like he was in a 38-35 win over Miami, the Hokies offense can do it all, because they start with David Wilson at running back, the best in the ACC. But Thomas has his share of sophomore moments, including last week against Duke where he did not play well, and Va Tech barely escaped 14-10. He doesn’t have to light it up, but he does need to move the chains and play well enough so that the Jackets can’t stop the box against Wilson. That job will be tougher if receiver Danny Coale isn’t healthy.
This has all the makings of a fantastic game, and I somewhat lean Virginia Tech purely out of deference to Frank Beamer and the likelihood of a big special teams play, as well as the fact I picked the Hokies to win this division at the start of the year and there’s no reason to change course now.
One important footnote to this game is that Virginia is still in the mix as well, and the Cavaliers actually control their own destiny. They and Georgia Tech are tied with two conference losses apiece, while Virginia Tech has one. Virginia has beaten Georgia Tech and still has the Hokies ahead of them. So if the Yellow Jackets win tonight, they still need a Virginia loss. Since the Cavaliers do play at Florida State on November 19 that shouldn’t be an issue, but Mike London’s possible Cinderella story in Charlottesville is one worth keeping an eye on.