Georgia Tech vs. Vanderbilt
When: 7:30 p.m., Saturday
Where: Nashville, Tenn.
TV, radio: CSS, 1240-AM
Web site: www.ramblinwreck.com
ATLANTA — Georgia Tech is making a run at the ACC championship by holding the ball longer than any team in the nation.
Coach Paul Johnson’s spread option attack has quick-strike potential with five scoring plays longer than 50 yards this season. But lately the No. 11 Yellow Jackets have been wearing down defenses with long, clock-draining possessions.
Georgia Tech’s knockout punch in its 34-9 win at Virginia last week was its 18-play, 82-yard TD drive in the third quarter. The drive lasted almost 11 minutes.
Tech held the ball more than 42 minutes against both Virginia and North Carolina, two of the team’s top three totals in the last 20 years. It leads the nation with its average time of possession of 34 minutes, 50 seconds.
The Yellow Jackets also had touchdown drives that covered 10 and 11 plays against Virginia. After the game Virginia players said they were sapped mentally and physically by the possessions.
“It’s tough to see an opponent marching down the field, and time of possession is critical, especially in the second half,” Virginia linebacker Denzel Burrell said. “That made it tough for the offense to put drives together and get down the field to score. It also taxes the defense both mentally and physically.”
Georgia Tech’s 42:43 time of possession against Virginia was its high mark in at least 20 years. It held the ball 42:06 in a 24-7 win over North Carolina on Sept. 6, the first of five straight wins for the Yellow Jackets.
Georgia Tech’s first win at Virginia since 1990 left the Yellow Jackets (7-1, 5-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) in first place in the Coastal Division. They will take a break from their ACC schedule when they play at Vanderbilt on Saturday night.
Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said Georgia Tech’s long drives can drain an opposing defense while also pressuring other offenses. He said the challenge for his offense is to put together its own long drives before Georgia Tech can take control.
“I don’t think I’ve seen as many big plays by an offense in a year that I’ve seen from them,” Johnson said. “It’s been very impressive. Offensively, we’ve got to control the ball and keep it away from them.”
That could be a tough challenge for Vanderbilt, which ranks last in the Southeastern Conference and 117th in the nation in time of possession (26:42).
Georgia Tech’s impressive string of ball-control offense also included a 28-23 win at then-No. 4 Virginia Tech on Oct. 17. The Yellow Jackets held the ball more than 38 minutes and limited the Hokies to 45 offensive plays.
Virginia coach Al Groh said the long drives are due to the play of Georgia Tech’s three offensive leaders — quarterback Josh Nesbitt, running back Jonathan Dwyer and receiver Demaryius Thomas.
“That’s been the story of every team that’s played them,” Groh said. “Last week (Virginia Tech) had the ball for just 22 minutes. It’s those three players — Thomas, Dwyer and Nesbitt — who have done a remarkable job of making that the case.”
Paul Johnson said the long drives force other coaches to change game plans.
“I think it puts a little urgency on the guy calling plays on the other side,” he said. “I think anytime you’re used to having 14 or 15 possessions in a game and you’re looking at eight, it will change the way you call a game.
“(Virginia) had the ball three times in the second half. ... That puts a real onus on those possessions to try to score. If you look at them, they pretty much abandoned the run. Once we got up two scores, I don’t even know if they tried to run it again.”
After Anthony Allen’s 1-yard run capped the 18-play touchdown drive in the third quarter gave Georgia Tech a 20-6 lead, the Cavaliers’ only run was a scramble by quarterback Jameel Sewell.
Johnson said the threat of Georgia Tech holding the ball for mammoth drives can even change the strategy of opposing coaches at the start of a game.
“I think you saw a little bit of that Saturday in that you saw Virginia take the ball first,” Johnson said. “... People want to try to get ahead. They don’t want to let us score first or whatever because they feel like they’ll get behind the eight-ball.”