Yes, the Hokies are in the midst of a 6 game win streak while the Yellow Jackets are coming off of a loss to a Clemson team that couldn't even beat Boston College. Yes, the game is in Blacksburg and the VT has revenge in mind after losing in Atlanta last season. But there are three factors that balance all of that out for the Yellow Jackets:
1) First and foremost, the Hokie defense has 7 new starters who have been gashed for big runs by several opponents already this season. The Georgia Tech offense is absolutely BUILT on big runs. Their running attack is predicated on taking advantage of any lapse in responsibility or poor open field tackling by the opponent. So far, VT's defense has been susceptible to both break downs in responsibility AND missed tackles. This is not good.
2) Georgia Tech is playing for it's life in this year's game. They know if they lose, their chance to defend their ACC title is done. Their backs are against the wall and Coach Paul Johnson - who is dangerous under normal circumstances - is going to be at his most cunning and fearless. I wonder if we'll even see the Georgia Tech punter as I'd expect Johnson to go for it on 4th down any time it's less than 7 yards to go from basically anywhere on the field.
3) Georgia Tech is going to score points. Their offense is too good. Not to oversimplify, but you have to outscore them to win. And anytime Hokie Nation is relying on the Hokie offense for a win, that is at BEST a 40/60 proposition against you. No opponent is a gimme when VT's offense has to carry the day. We all learned that earlier (and oh so painfully) this season. "Oh but the talent!" you cry out, my Calm and Beloved Reader. "Oh but our offensive coordinator", I respond. Don't EVER underestimate Coach Stinespring's ability to out-think himself, mis-use the personnel, fall victim to a blitz package and fail to make in-game adjustments. EVER.
So Georgia Tech has some bullets for this streetfight. And I laugh at the notion I hear from several commentators talking about what the teams that have beaten Georgia Tech have done on defense (minus the bowl games of course). Miami last year, Clemson this year, you would have thought these were amazing defensive performances. The simple fact is, those offenses got on the board early and made the Jackets play from behind. The Hokies had MANY opportunities to do that last year in Atlanta in the first half and failed as miserably as one can. Given the ball inside GT's 50 yd-line four different times, the Hokies came away with 3 points.
In this game, the Hokie offense absolutely, positively HAS TO get an early lead. Not necessarily score first - though that would be nice - but at least get a touchdown or two on their first few possessions. Get the Lane Stadium crowd even more revved up. Force a few passes from the Georgia Tech offense. Grab the momentum and the game by the horns. These are the huge impacts that the Hokie offense can have on this game. And against the 3-4 defense they should have opportunities.
The 3-4 coached by Al Groh (don't we wish he was still the head guy at Virginia?) is a schematically superior defense to the 4-3 because of the nearly unlimited flexibility in defenses or blitzes you can run out of a certain look. But it comes with one major condition. You HAVE to have the athletes at linebacker and a monster at nose guard to make it work. It's slowly being adopted across the NFL, but only in cases when teams have players like Terrell Suggs, or James Harrison, or Jason Worilds. Hybrid freakish athletes who can bullrush past offensive tackles as well as keep up with RB's and TE's in routes and make tackles in space. There aren't a whole lot of players like that at the college level, and Georgia Tech's linebackers are no exception. Each is decent at either being fast and athletic or big and strong, but none of them have the complete combination with the closest being ILB Brad Jefferson.
The Jackets have a big enough guy at nose guard in TJ Barnes at 6'7, 330 lbs, but he is just a big guy who lacks quick feet and a good get-off on the ball. This prevents him from tying up two guys on the offensive line which is what nose guards in the NFL are able to do. Single blocking the nose guard really frees up the pass protection for the rest of the linemen. Put it this way, Barnes is no Ndamukong Suh. So the Hokies SHOULD in theory be able to run and throw effectively against Georgia Tech.
When the Hokies are on defense, it's all about stopping one guy - QB Josh Nesbitt. He makes the entire Jacket offense run. By eliminating him on every play, and tackling him at the point of attack each time, you can effectively hamstring GT's offense. Of course, the gap between how easy that is to type and how easy that is to do is the size of the gap in talent between Ryan "MF" Williams and myself. It's the size of the gap between Michael Strahan's front teeth. It's the size of.... it's hard to stop Josh Nesbitt is what I'm saying.
On top of that, the Hokies need to absolutely punish B-Back Anthony Allen on the dive play, even when (or especially when) he doesn't get the ball. LB Bruce Taylor has a hurt ankle and despite him playing at such a fantastic level the past few games, I think it's a given that backup Jack Tyler will get playing time in this game, if for no other reason than to get some fresh pads in there to pound on Allen. Tyler, by all accounts, is very skilled at running through the "trash" and getting to the football in the running game. He also had better be skilled in pounding Allen's head in because there needs to be a lot of that on Thursday night.
I can only hope and pray (and meditate and cry and plead and beg) that the Hokies finally come out for a big game against a tough opponent and play lights out football in the 1st quarter, the way they have in the 2nd and 3rd quarters the past few weeks. If they do, this season can continue on its magical course. If they don't, the season can come off the rails faster than you can believe (2003 anyone?). This game is no trap. It's bigtime football, and the Hokies better bring their "A" game.