UVa Vs. Georgia Tech Scouting Report: GT Offense

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Jon Copper and the Hoos face a veteran offensive line this week.

Patrick Nix is gone to lead the Miami Hurricane offense, Reggie Ball has departed to wherever lifetime inconsistent quarterbacks go, and Calvin Johnson has taken his magical hands and vertical leap (as well as the ACC record book) to the NFL.

But the Yellow Jacket offense still has good skill people and a veteran offensive line. That combination allowed GT to jump out of the chute in 2007 with 30- and 55-point wins over Notre Dame and Samford respectively. But Samford is well, Samford. And the Irish are reeling. When Tech ran into a Boston College team that could actually play defense, the offense went from superhuman to ordinary.

Georgia Tech faces a Cavalier defense that ranks 10th in the conference in total defense, 6th in rushing defense, 6th in scoring defense, and 9th against the pass. Virginia has handled the run fairly well, but has been leaky against the pass. With leading rusher Tashard Choice limited or out for the game, Georgia Tech and quarterback Taylor Bennett will certainly try to exploit that weakness.

Statistics

  • After starting 11 of 27 drives (41%) on the plus-side of the field against Notre Dame (4 of 12) and Samford (7 of 15), Tech started just one of its 13 drives in Boston College territory last Saturday.
  • Georgia Tech has not committed a turnover since the fourth quarter of the Gator Bowl last season. That means the Yellow Jackets have played more than 182 minutes of football and have had 205 consecutive offensive snaps without throwing an interception or losing a fumble.
  • Georgia Tech has played 122 consecutive games without being shut out. The last time the Yellow Jackets were blanked came on Oct. 18, 1997, a 38-0 loss at No. 3 Florida State.
  • The 24.9 points per game the Jackets averaged last season were the most in five years. They lead the conference after 3 games with a 37.3 PPG average.

Coach Groh Says …

“We are just going forward with full expectation that [Tech running back Tashard Choice ] is going to play. All our preparations are with that in mind. He’s a terrific back, certainly the equal of any back in this conference. He can really hit the crease, he finds the smallest of slivers and he’s through it quickly. He’s very elusive in the open field and he’s obviously a very durable player. … Everything passes through him. You’re going to have to have a good day on him and those people who pave the way for him or else you are going to have a lot of difficulty.”

Chris Long says …

“Any ACC win is huge. That’s our focus, to be 3-0 this week and to get that’s it’s going to be a big challenge; it’ll be a big test for us. We just got to prepare week in and week out and look at it as an opportunity to gain an edge in the ACC, which is what we want to do is at the end of the year be playing in the ACC Championship and we’ve got a long way to go.”

Who’s That?

#22 Tashard Choice , RB, 6-1/255, Senior, 52 rushes, 337 yards, 6.5 YPC, 4 TDs, 8 receptions, 68 yards, 8.5 YPP: A 2007 Doak Walker and Maxwell Award candidate, Choice led the ACC in rushing with 1,473 yards and was named second team All-ACC in 2006. Currently, he ranks second in the conference (behind Virginia’s Cedric Peerman ) and 25th nationally in rushing. Choice recorded 110 yards on 11 carries in limited action against Samford and posted a career-high 196 yards and two touchdowns on 26 rushes in the win at Notre Dame. Against BC he carried the ball 15 times for 31 yards before leaving the contest with a hamstring injury – he is considered questionable this week. It was the first time in 9 games that Choice was held to less than 100 yards on the ground. A threat in the passing game, he is Tech’s second-leading pass receiver.

#60 Kevin Tuminello, C, 6-4, 292, Senior: The building construction major is the cornerstone for one of the top offensive lines in the league. The Rimington Trophy candidate leads a unit that ranks first in the ACC in fewest sacks allowed and first in rushing offense. A sound technical blocker, Tuminello can also get physical as he showed with 10 knockdown blocks against the Irish. Now in his third season as Georgia Tech’s starting center, Virginia will be his 31st career start.

#5 Greg Smith, WR, 6-3/195, Sophomore, 9 catches, 102 yards, 11.3 YPC: A big target in the red zone and on third down, Smith leads the Jackets in total receptions and receiving yardage. He recorded a career-high five receptions for 63 yards vs. Boston College and had a team-high three catches for 31 yards against Notre Dame. A threat to run from the slot position or on a direct snap from center, Smith scored his first collegiate rushing touchdown on a six-yard run in Tech’s win over Samford.

#13 Taylor Bennett, QB, 6-3/205, Junior, 39-71 passing, 410 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs: A 2007 Manning Award Candidate, Bennett connected on 20 of 39 passes for 204 yards against the Eagles. He was unspectacular but solid in the season opener at Notre Dame, completing 11 of 23 passes for 121 yards. Bennett took over the starting quarterback job in the Gator Bowl in a 37-34 loss to West Virginia. He completed 19 of 29 for 326 yards and three touchdowns against the Mountaineers, but Calvin Johnson hauled in 186 yards and 2 TDs to help boost the production – he’s now playing in Detroit. The southpaw QB has attempted 72 consecutive passes without tossing an interception.

A Closer Look

Running Offense: TECH HAS A SEASONED OFFENSIVE LINE WITH FOUR RETURNING STARTERS who have each started 26 or more games. That quartet helped the Jackets rank second in the ACC in rushing last fall while blocking for the league’s top ball carrier, Tashard Choice . The Jackets run a multi-formation, multi-personnel grouping offense, consisting of counter plays and slants where they will lead with the fullback or pull the offside guard. They like to pull and trap with their guards, #61 Matt Rhodes and #73 Nate McManus, who are tough, experienced players with very good mobility. The guards combine with scrappy three-year center starter Kevin Tuminello (#60) to form a very good interior line.

Choice is the primary tailback and possesses good vision and speed. He is particularly effective when he makes a decisive cut and accelerates into a hole so look for Virginia string out plays and try and force him to change direction. Gap control is critical and Choice must not be given big seams to run through. The improved play of Allen Billyk at the nose makes this an easier task than it was last season. All of Tech’s backs ARE SKILLED AT ATTACKING THE CUTBACK LANES, so sealing the ends and staying with assignments will be crucial for the offside defenders. Don’t be shocked if Cavalier defensive coordinator Mike London breaks out the four-down linemen set Saturday afternoon, something to this point in the season we have seen little of this season.

Passing Offense: New offensive coordinator JOHN BOND HAS BREATHED NEW LIFE INTO TECH’S PLAY-ACTION BASED, MOVE-THE-CHAINS, RUN-ORIENTED OFFENSE. In addition to trying to stretch the field more often, Bond’s passing attack uses all the available pass catchers, including backs and tight ends.

With Tech’s running game dominating the first two outings, Bond did not showcase his creativity in the passing game, preferring to move the ball with screens and swing passes early. Against the Eagles, we were exposed to the controlled passing attack most expected to see from Bond. It is designed to take advantage of the underneath in zone coverage and to attack vertically against press coverage. Against the Eagles, Bennett did not prove he can do either very effectively without a sustained running game.

DON’T EXPECT VIRGINIA TO SIT BACK IN ITS TRADITIONAL COVER-2 FORMATION but look for more Man-2 coverage with the safeties playing deep half zone coverage with linebackers and corners manning up on the backs and receivers especially on first down. Expect a heavy reliance on the sub defenses (nickel and dime packages); London may try to insert some well-timed blitzes combined with mixing six- and seven-man zone coverages. The Hoos could possibly drop ends Chris Long and Jeffrey Fitzgerald into coverage as well to give Bennett different looks.

In the red zone: GEORGIA TECH HAS SOME LOFTY NUMBERS IN THE RED ZONE (9 TDs IN 15 TRIPS) BUT those stats are padded with 8 visits against 1-AA Samford. Against Notre Dame and Boston College, the Jackets converted just 42% of their red zone trips into touchdowns. It’s interesting to note that GEORGIA TECH HAS NOT THROWN A TD PASS THIS SEASON in the red zone or otherwise.

CHOICE HAS CARRIED THE LOAD FOR TECH IN THE RED ZONE, TOUCHING THE BALL 31% OF THE TIME. These numbers do not include the Samford game (which I discount) and do account for Choice’s absence following his injury against BC. Dwyer has 22% of the touches in the red zone but most in the place of Choice. The other big target here is WR Greg Smith. He, like Dwyer, has been the Jackets’ target 22% of the time in the red zone. They have yet to throw to the tight end in the red zone this season so Virginia should be aware of this and LOOK FOR THE TIGHT END THIS WEEK especially if Choice sees limited action.

LONDON LIKES TO BRING PRESSURE HERE AND THAT’S THE WAY TO GO. The constricted area of the red zone frees Virginia’s safeties from deep zone coverage and allows them to provide help against the pass between the seams and in run support. That should free up London to bring it all in the red zone without fear of giving up big yardage.

On first down: IN THE FIRST TWO GAMES OF THE SEASON, IT WAS THE TASHARD CHOICE EXPRESS. Choice posted 196 yards on the ground against the hapless Irish defense and 110 in limited action against Samford. The Jackets threw just 36 times in those two games and rarely on first down. Against BC, that ratio reversed as GT went to air 16 times on first down with 13 runs. The Hoos will attempt to set the edge by deploying the outside linebackers 2 to 3 yards beyond the line of scrimmage while the ends try to clog the gaps and disrupt the counters and sweeps.

TECH HAS DONE A NICE JOB OF SPREADING THE WEALTH ON FIRST DOWN PASSES. The receivers are the primary option (52%) on first down, but the backs have been brought into the action (26%) as well as the tight ends (20%). WATCH FOR THE CAVALIERS TO BE VERY AGGRESSIVE ON FIRST DOWN. Virginia should expect Choice to play, but hamstrings are notorious for limiting players so he will likely not be 100%. But the Jackets have good depth at tailback with speedy Rashaun Grant and super star freshman Jonathan Dwyer (23 carries, 181 yards, 7.9 YPC). But neither has the receiving, pass blocking, or running skills of Choice.

I LOOK FOR TECH TO TAKE A PAGE FROM THE UNC PLAYBOOK AND WORK UNDERNEATH against Virginia’s secondary and linebackers with crossing and slants to the inside and flares and outs to edges. Bennett has yet to prove to me that he can consistently make the type of throws T.J. Yates did against Virginia so I like pressing the Tech QB with an aggressive blitz package until Tech can prove they can go deep or run the ball effectively.

On third down: FORCE THE JACKETS INTO THIRD-AND-LONG SITUATIONS. Most teams struggle with third and long, but the Yellow Jackets are just plain awful. In fact, Georgia Tech has had difficulties on third down in general this season – the Jackets are last in the conference, moving the chains just 8 times in 38 attempts (21%). Tech was 1for 11 on third-and-long chances against BC, 1-5 vs. Stamford and 3-11 vs. Notre Dame (5 for 27 overall). Luckily for GT, the Hoos have been giving up conversions at an alarming 42% clip, including 49% to the Tar Heels.

LOOK FOR #5 GREG SMITH & #89 JAMES JOHNSON to be involved on third down. More than 60% of Tech’s third down passing attempts thus far in 2007 have gone to wide receivers and Smith and Johnson have been the target 85% of the time. GT will go to the backs on occasion but so far have hit the tight end just twice. WATCH FOR MIKE LONDON TO PLAY A LOT OF SUB-DEFENSE (DIME & NICKEL) on third down, opting to cover the receivers with press coverage and using the safeties to provide zone help to linebackers underneath. Virginia may opt for a Cover-3 zone on third down to provide some help underneath but I look for the two safeties to be deep in zone coverage and play the five defenders underneath in man coverage with a corner replacing one of the backers as the fifth defender.

Coaching: The name is Bond. John Bond. And his mission is pretty clear, put up a lot of 007’s. The creator of HIGH-OCTANE OFFENSES AT NORTHERN ILLINOIS, ARMY, AND ILLINOIS STATE has brought a sophisticated run game and his spread passing attack to Tech’s run-oriented offense. Bond has coached the wishbone, a spread-passing scheme, and a pro-style offense and he brings elements of all three to the Jackets’ scheme. Typically known for a passing game that features the quarterback throwing to six or seven different receivers a game, Tech’s new offensive coordinator has taught Tech fans that the fullback and tight ends are eligible to catch passes. This season Bond has integrated those positions into the passing game.

Plays That Could Hurt Virginia

Wrinkle plays. So far this season Tech has run a reverse to the lightning fast Greg Smith (#5), WR Demaryius Thomas has thrown a pass, and the Jackets have snapped the ball directly to the running back on numerous occasions, including 11 times against Notre Dame.

Throwing To the Tight End? Around these parts, that’s a pretty common occurrence but in Atlanta where the TE’s caught five passes TOTAL last season, you might call throwing to that position a trick play. Against BC, sophomore tight end Colin Peek caught five passes. Peek has caught eight passes for 57 yards on the season. Tech has hit the TE five times on first down and two on third down. The Yellow Jackets have yet to throw to the TE in the red zone, but don’t be surprised if that’s a tendency GT looks to alter this weekend.

Strengths

  • Running game. Boston College did last Saturday what Georgia Tech’s nine previous opponents could not do – hold Choice to less than 100 yards rushing. Of course, he did leave with a hamstring injury. He is listed as questionable for Saturday but as coach Groh noted, he expects the tough running back to play. Choice ranks second in the ACC and 25th nationally in rushing with 112.3 yards per game. A durable and dependable back, Choice has made 294 consecutive carries without fumbling the football. As the season progresses, it’s becoming more evident that true freshman running back Jonathan Dwyer is a special talent. Dwyer ranks third in the ACC and 26th nationally in scoring and ranks 10th in the ACC in rushing, giving Tech two of the ACC’s top 10 ball carriers.
  • Offensive line. It’s hard to have an effective running game without the big uglies up front and GT has a good group. The Yellow Jacket offensive line is a big reason Georgia Tech ranks 1st in the ACC and 14th nationally in rushing offense as well as first in the ACC and 6th nationally in sacks allowed. The four veterans up front have combined to start 125 games. The foursome has started together 29 consecutive games.

Vulnerability

  • Ability to attack Virginia’s weakness. Yes, UNC exposed a big weakness in the Wahoos’ inability to cover the underneath zones. That’s great to know but only if an opponent has the ability and skills players to attack it. Bennett and the Tech receivers have yet to prove they can.
  • Backs in the passing game. Whether Choice plays or not, I do not believe he can be as effective a pass receiver as he was prior to his injury. Hamstrings take time to heal and even if he does play, that can limit the cutting effectiveness. He’ll need that ability to make big plays in space, which when healthy he is a danger to do. Choice is also a valuable asset in protection, something Dwyer is still learning and Grant has not seemed to grasp yet.

Virginia’s Defensive Keys

  • Stop the run with seven. I love the way Allen Billyk is playing, the interior linebackers have been solid against the run, and the backside defenders have done an excellent job sealing off cutback lanes since Wyoming. I think Virginia can stop the Tech running attack, but it requires maintaining gap control, getting good penetration from the front three, and good containment from offside defenders. The linebackers need to be active, converge to the ball, and limit the yards after contact. The secondary needs to fly to the ball and be sure with their tackling.
  • Ball disruption. Here’s one of those game keys we haven’t brought out in a while. It’s always key to win the turnover battle, but it’s been so long since Georgia Tech has given the ball away, coughing the ball up might just send them over the edge after the spanking they took last week against the Eagles. Georgia Tech is the only team in the nation without a turnover in 2007. In six seasons under coach Chan Gailey, Georgia Tech is 25-4 and has won 12 of its last 14 when committing fewer turnovers than the opponent. I’d like to see how Choice reacts to losing a fumble or see how Bennett responds to hurling his first interception and watching Vic Hall return it 58 yards for pick six. Yeah, good times. Seriously, this is an excellent week to shoot for that three turnovers per game mark.
  • Execute the fundamentals. We seem to always note the need to avoid big plays (so consider that issue addressed). What’s interesting this season is that many of the big plays against Virginia, especially in the Carolina game, could have been avoided by proper defensive positioning, taking correct tackling angles and, of course, tackling itself. Georgia Tech likes to put a lot of frills and lace on the offense with diverse formations, motion, and a lot of counter action. In the end, it’s nothing more than basic football. The way to combat the minutia is to play good contain, don’t bite on play fakes, be in the correct position on defense, and make sure tackles. Finally, it’s often said of defensive backs that they play defense because they can’t catch. Let’s try to dispel that that notion this weekend. If you get an INT chance, catch it.

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