Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Bobby Dodd Stadium, Atlanta
On TV: ESPN2
BLACKSBURG, Va. — Quarterbacks Tyrod Taylor of No. 4 Virginia Tech and Josh Nesbitt of No. 19 Georgia Tech are as likely to tuck the ball and run by defenders as they are to burn teams with their arms.
While their results have been the same this season, their differing styles will be showcased in a pivotal Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division matchup on Saturday.
Both teams are 5-1 and the winner gains a big advantage in the divisional race.
Taylor, the Hokies’ fulltime quarterback this season after two years of sharing the job with Sean Glennon, has changed his style significantly. Once criticized for being too quick to pull the ball down and run, some of his highlights have been allowing pass plays to develop.
And Nesbitt, who has ACC offensive player of the year Jonathan Dwyer in the backfield with him, has become a more prolific runner because of the attention Dwyer draws.
The dual skills of Taylor and Nesbitt make everything else possible for their respective teams.
Taylor’s 81-yard pass to Danny Coale in the closing minutes against Nebraska came after a defensive back went for pump fake. His game-winning, 11-yard touchdown pass three plays later came at the end of a 9-second scramble.
Last week against Boston College, Taylor again held the ball for several seconds before hitting Coale with a 24-yard touchdown pass.
And in between, Taylor had a career passing day against Duke when he was 17 for 22 for 327 yards and two touchdowns.
“He is in complete control,” Hokies coach Frank Beamer said of his junior quarterback.
Early on, it looked like Taylor’s reluctance to run was driven purely by his need to stay healthy as the Hokies don’t have an experienced backup. Now, with eight TD passes and just one interception, his success has only enhanced the danger he poses to opponents.
He threw just two touchdown passes last season in 173 attempts; his eight scoring throws this year have come in 104 tries, and have him 10th in the country in passing efficiency.
“If you sit here and watch us throw the ball around in practice, we are much better than we were a year ago,” Beamer said. “He knows exactly what he is doing. He knows when it needs to go and where it needs to go. I think he is an exceptional quarterback right now.”
Knowing what to do and when, Taylor said, comes from his innate sense of danger.
“I feel them,” he said of pass rushers. “I think that’s a gift I have. I don’t see them sometimes, but I feel them in the pocket and I know when I have to get rid of the ball.”
Those decisions aren’t as frequent for Nesbitt, who is best known for his running skills, but that, too, could be changing. He has been increasingly efficient as a passer, throwing for four touchdowns this season with only two interceptions, none in the past four games.
Still, it’s his running — and its frequency — that stands out.
“He’s a warrior,” tackle Austin Barrick said. “It really makes you want to sell out for a quarterback when you see him take as many carries as he does. ... It makes you want to do the best you can and give up your body for him because you know he’s going to do the same.”
Nesbitt had a career high 32 rushes for 97 yards and two touchdowns against North Carolina, and is averaging more than 27 carries over the last three games, all victories.
He also set a career best with 266 yards passing two weeks ago at Mississippi State, going 11 for 14 with a touchdown pass while also carrying the ball 23 times for 53 yards.
When the Hokies defenders were finished shaking their heads at his resilience, they said they approach him more like a rugged running back than a fragile, exposed quarterback. It doesn’t hurt that Nesbitt baffled them to the tune of 151 yards on 28 attempts in 2008.
“It’s hard to hit a guy like that in the mouth because he’s so elusive,” defensive tackle John Graves said. “We’re just trying to get him on the ground ... any way we can.”
In the Hokies’ 20-17 victory last season, Nesbitt also threw one interception, fumbled the ball away twice and was sacked for the only time in the game on his final play with 2:15 to play, allowing the Hokies to just hang on in a dazzling battle between the quarterbacks.
Taylor ran 2 yards for a touchdown just before halftime when the Hokies were out of timeouts, ignoring orders to throw the ball away if the designed pass play wasn’t open.
On Saturday, the quarterbacks will again take center stage with big stakes on the line, and with Nesbitt hoping to atone for his mistakes of a year ago with an even better showing.
“We felt like we should have won but we hurt ourselves too much with the little things,” he said. “This time around we’ll get a second chance and we’ll try to make up for it.”