The Atlantic Coast Conference closes out Week 1 in its customary, prime time Labor Day slot and this season’s Georgia Tech – Virginia Tech match-up is a good one. Hokie quarterback Logan Thomas generated no shortage of buzz in the offseason, garnering considerable Heisman hype. The 6-foot-6, 260-pound, dual threat play maker is drawing comparison to 2010 Heimsan winner Cam Newton. A spring and summer spent fine tuning his passing to better match his mobility
Indeed, all eyes will be fixed on Thomas in his 2012 debut. And Frank Beamer will need a solid outing from his quarterback against an underrated Georgia Tech side. Yellow Jacket head coach Paul Johnson’s triple option offense yields big point production, but it’s defensive coordinator Al Groh’s unit that will determine tonight’s conference clash.
The Jackets had flashes of defensively brilliance a season ago, like when they stifled high powered Clemson to hand the Tigers their first loss, 31-17. Yet sustaining that level proved challenging — the Yellow Jackets gave up over 26 points per game, including a season high 37 to Logan Thomas and these Virginia Tech Hokies.
The Gobblers frustrated the Ramblin’ Wreck to such a point that Georgia Tech linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu punched Thomas, prompting his disqualification from the contest.
Johnson and Groh need Attaochu at his best both physically and mentally tonight. He’s the driving force in Tech’s defense, a hard-blitzing presence off the edge who registered six sacks a season ago. Getting to the Hokie backfield and disrupting Thomas is key, as he will be the undeniable focal point of the offense.
The Hokies come into the season without a developed star at running back: both Ryan Williams and David Wilson are gearing up for rookie seasons in the NFL in the coming week (Williams was drafted in 2011, but injured in the preseason and sat out all last year).
Wilson filled in for Williams brilliantly, even receiving some Heisman attention late in the year. Of JC Coleman, Tony Gregory, Michael Holmes and Martin Scales, none has emerged as that No. 1 feature back to complement Thomas. Taking advantage of the running backs’ inexperience is tantamount for the Yellow Jackets, and thus shortening the length of Hokie possessions.
The Virginia Tech ranked defense among the nation’s best a season ago, and should approach that same level once more under master coordinator Bud Foster. His units are always aggressive and ball-hawking. Johnson settled on Tevin Washington to return as starting quarterback, despite some chatter that Vlad Lee was performing better in spring workouts. Washington has been susceptible to passing miscues when called on to throw, which is a trap Va. Tech loves for its opponents to fall into.
The Hokies must force Washington into throwing situations by limiting both him and running Orwin Smith. Smith saw somewhat limited opportunities in 2011, but was the most explosive Tech rusher at over 10 yards per carry. He and David Sims will be Washington’s primary pitch targets on options plays; look for Foster to dial up formations that bring extra tacklers into the box early and force Washington’s hand.
Opening the season with conference play is a difficult proposition, as a loss sets such a negative tone for a team’s league title hopes. Virginia Tech is a favorite to compete as it is every year, while Georgia Tech is a perhaps under-appreciated dark horse. But for the Yellow Jackets to start earning some buzz, it needs to put the sting into Virginia Tech. Blacksburg will be rocking.