No. 17 Virginia Tech readjusts goals facing Georgia Tech
ATLANTA (AP) — With Virginia Tech’s biggest prize now out of reach, it would be easy to get discouraged.
Justin Fuente doesn’t want to hear that kind of talk.
The Hokies coach insists there’s still so much to play for.
Readjusting its goals after a crushing loss to Miami , No. 17 Virginia Tech (7-2, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) faces Georgia Tech on Saturday in a game that no longer has implications on the national or conference race.
Fuente quickly listed all the things that should keep his team motivated.
“We have an opportunity to have a very accomplished season, playing a better bowl game, send out seniors out the right way,” he said. “We have a rivalry game several weeks from now (against Virginia). I mean, there is a lot that goes into it. We’re going to play a team (Georgia Tech) that kicked our butts last year in our own stadium.”
Indeed, the Hokies are still smarting a bit from that 30-20 beatdown at the hands of the Yellow Jackets, who won the 2016 meeting with a backup quarterback completing only two passes.
A more recent defeat stints even more. Virginia Tech’s hopes of gaining an inside track to the ACC championship game and perhaps even making a run at a spot in the College Football Playoff were wiped out by last week’s 28-10 loss to the Hurricanes.
Still, if the Hokies can win out, there’s still a chance to land a major bowl bid.
“I know it’s disappointing when you want to achieve something and you’ve come up short,” Fuente said. “The only way to get feeling better is to go play better.”
“We had way too many missed assignments the last two games,” coach Paul Johnson said. “It’s frustrating. A lot of it is basic stuff.”
Compounding the angst, three of Georgia Tech’s losses have been by a total of six points. In all of those games, the Yellow Jackets were leading late in the fourth quarter.
Johnson has tried a little tough love on his players.
“I would be doing them a disservice if I didn’t voice my displeasure when things aren’t going well,” he said. “If you can’t take it, then you’re probably not going to make it anyway.”
Some things to watch for in this Tech-vs.-Tech matchup:
SOMETHING’S GOT TO GIVE: Georgia Tech’s triple option leads the ACC in rushing offense with an average of 331.9 yards per game, while Virginia Tech has allowed the fewest yards on the ground (122.8). A year ago, the Yellow Jackets torched the Hokies for 309 yards. But Virginia Tech has had success against the triple option. Georgia Tech lost 17 of its last 19 games when failing to rush for at least 200 yards, and three of those setbacks were to the Hokies.
BIG PLAYS: In last season’s game, Virginia Tech surrendered touchdown runs of 53 and 56 yards . Otherwise, the Hokies did a solid job defending the triple option, according to defensive coordinator Bud Foster. “That’s sort of our target area, if we can keep them to 250 or less in the running game ... because if we can eliminate the explosive plays, we’ve had success,” he said. “We’ve got some experienced guys back that have played this offense, and that’ll be helpful as we go into this matchup.”
SAME OL’ STARTERS: In addition to experience, the Hokies have benefitted greatly from their defensive stability. Ten players have started every game on that side of the line, with the only change coming at one of the cornerback positions. Adonis Alexander started the first two games before giving way to Brandon Facyson, who has started every game since.
QUARTERBACK DUEL: Georgia Tech’s TaQuon Marshall leads the Yellow Jackets with 870 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns, so the key is to force him into passing situations. He’s completed just 42 percent of his throws. Virginia Tech’s Josh Jackson has put up some impressive numbers as a freshman (2,229 yards passing, 17 TDs), but he’s coming off a tough game at Miami. It will be interesting to see how he bounces back after throwing two interceptions and getting sacked four times.
REECORD WATCH: Virginia Tech receiver Cam Phillips is 112 yards away from breaking the school record for career receiving yards. Isaiah Ford holds the mark with 2,967 yards.
AP Sports Writer Hank Kurz Jr. in Richmond, Virginia contributed to this report.