My mind nearly exploded when I read the title “Jackets improving on third-down” on this AJC piece, but that momentary bit of confusion was quickly settled upon the discovery that the offense, not the defense, is the unit showing more signs of life during late-down counts. Phew, they had me for a second there. It’s completely true that Paul Johnson’s offense has done a much better job on third downs this season than they did during the injury-plagued 2015 campaign, converting at a rate of 55.6% over the last three games after narrowly missing the 30% mark over the three games prior. Part of that has to do with the quality of defenses that Tech has been facing — Pitt, Miami, and Clemson are much tougher up front than GA Southern, UNC, and Duke — but the improvement has been critical as far as keeping the defense off of the field for as long as possible. Any time the offense is clicking, there’s a chance at winning. That chance decreases significantly if the team doesn’t get a single stop on the other side of the ball, but putting up points is a good starting place.
When it comes to stopping the option, Virginia Tech’s Bud Foster has been as successful as anyone. I’m almost convinced that he stayed at Virginia Tech following the arrival of Justin Fuente for the sole purpose of facing the Jackets once a year in what is almost always a guaranteed shutdown performance for his defense. This time around, Foster is dedicating a full hour of practice on what sounds like a pretty regular basis to a middle drill, which is apparently one of his keys to success against Paul Johnson’s offense. If Justin Thomas isn’t 100%, Tech will be in trouble tomorrow afternoon. Even if he isn’t, however, I’m not so sure how possible it is for the Hokies’ walkon quarterback to replicate his play during practice.
Yeah, best of luck with that. We are going to see first hand after this season that not even a quarterback with years of experience running the option, even within Tech’s program, will be able to mock what Thomas has done. Asking your walkon quarterback to do so is a big task.
Tomorrow will mark the first trip up to Blacksburg for the Jackets since the 2014 season, when kicker Harrison Butker beat the Hokies on a last-second field goal. The finale that year was obviously a spectacular one, but I really believe that the Virginia Tech win is probably the most underrated game of the entire campaign. It was fun, with plenty of turnovers and excitement, and featured what would have been one of the best runs ever by Justin Thomas were it not called back on an illegal(ish) block. Take a look at the highlights just to refresh your memory:
The P.J. Davis pick-six, the game-tying touchdown catch by DeAndre Smelter with just minutes left, and the interception by D.J. White that set Tech up for the game-winner made for an amazing game. Hopefully Tech can replicate that success this time around against what figures to be an even better Hokie team.