Editor’s note: The Roanoke Times is taking an early look at every game on Virginia Tech’s 2021 schedule over the next three weeks. Check back for stories Monday through Thursday each week looking at a different opponent.
Year two for Geoff Collins got off to a promising start.
Collins had the Herculean task of overhauling a Georgia Tech roster that relied on the triple option for more than a decade. The program looked like it was trending in the right direction when it opened last fall with a 16-13 upset win over Florida State on the road, and 2-2 overall start.
Reality set in when Clemson visited Atlanta.
Georgia Tech gave up 671 total yards in a 73-7 loss that set the tone for the weeks to come. The Yellow Jackets lost five of their last six with its lone win coming against a Duke team that went 2-9.
Those late season struggles don’t change the fact that Collins is building a strong overall foundation for the program. He’s signed six four-star players the last two years and another four commits for 2022.
It just might take another year or two before they can compete with the conference’s top teams, which is good news for a Virginia Tech team that will still have a decisive talent advantage going into this year’s matchup.
Last time vs. Virginia Tech: Virginia Tech W 45-0
What happened? Virginia Tech sure was thrilled not having to play against the triple option.
The Hokies welcomed in the Geoff Collins era with the team’s first shutout win in two years, and scoring the most points ever for the program at Bobby Dodd. It was the third largest margin of victory during Fuente’s tenure against a power five opponent.
Tech was up 31-0 by halftime after limiting Georgia Tech to one first down and 48 yards of total offense. Defensive back Caleb Farley returned an interception for a touchdown in the win. The Hokies turned to their backups more than halfway through the third quarter.
Hendon Hooker’s numbers weren’t gaudy, but he took advantage of every opportunity that came his way with 159 yards passing (9 of 13) and three touchdowns (two rushing).
Position(s) of strength: Georgia Tech’s offense should put up a pretty showing than the 2019 team did.
True freshman Jeff Sims showed plenty of promise as a dual-threat by throwing for 1,881 yards and leading the team in rushing (492 yards on 4.1 yards per carry). He scored 19 touchdowns (13 passing) and had 25 runs of 10-plus yards or more.
He will need to do a better job taking care of the ball (he threw 13 interceptions) and improve his accuracy — he threw for 54.9% on the season and didn’t even hit the 50% mark in three games — but that full year of experience under his belt should help.
He will benefit from an upgraded offensive line after the offseason additions of Norfolk State’s two-time All-MEAC tackle Kenneth Kirby and Vanderbilt grad transfer Devin Cochran. Cochran started 32 games at tackle in three seasons with the Commodores.
Georgia Tech’s run game isn’t lacking for talent either.
Running back Jahmyr Gibbs was another freshman standout for the Yellow Jackets, and was voted to the preseason All-ACC team this year as a specialist and all-purpose back. He had 968 all-purpose yards last year (138.3 yards per game).
He will make a nice pairing with Jordan Mason, who was third-team All-ACC in 2019 with 899 yards (5.2 yards per carry). He was limited to six games last year (two starts) due to injury.
Ch...ch...changes: Georgia Tech leaned heavily on the transfer portal to upgrade defensively.
Tech signed Maryland linebacker Ayyinde Eley, Alabama linebacker Kevin Harris and Texas defensive back Kenyatta Watson. The Yellow Jackets have big shoes to fill at linebacker with the departure of David Curry. Curry was a two-time All-ACC honorable mention and led the team in tackles the last two years.
Eley fell back in the rotation last year, but played well in 2019 with 79 tackles, four tackles for loss, an interception and three pass breakups.
The headliner of the transfers could be Old Dominion defensive end Keion White, who opted out after signing before the 2020 season. He had 19 tackles for loss in 2019 including a pair of them in a 31-17 loss to Virginia Tech.
Lingering questions: Georgia Tech has gone through a youth movement since Collins took over.
The downside to that has been a general lack of execution through his first two seasons. That will need to change if the program wants to get back over .500, but that doesn’t just happen overnight.
It starts with Tech’s performance in the red zone.
The Yellow Jackets have only come through with points on 63.7% of their trips inside the 20-yard line the last two years. They ranked dead last in the country (No. 130) in 2019 with a conversion rate of only 60.7%.
That combined with 45 turnovers over the last two years has put the offense at a significant disadvantage.
Tech’s inability to stop teams on third down has hurt the defense during that same stretch. Opposing offenses have converted more than 45% of their third down attempts each of the past two years.
Last fall, the Yellow Jackets had the added issue of being one of the most penalized teams in the country.
Mistakes like that have a way of quickly adding up.
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