ATLANTA – If Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson has nightmares, two demons dressed in harvest maroon and orange must routinely haunt them.
Their names are Logan Thomas and Bud Foster. On Thursday night they came wearing stone hats.
Thomas is a young quarterback whose play isn’t worth a second look against almost anybody except Georgia Tech. Foster is an old defensive coordinator who stops the triple option like nobody else.
Again the two Virginia Tech characters conspired to ruin any happy dreams that were building up on The Flats.
The Hokies – who survived two scoreless overtimes to beat Marshall five days ago – pushed the Ramblin’ Wreck from its Coastal Division perch with a 17-10 victory at historic Grant Field. Thomas took care of all the offense the Hokies needed while Foster took care of the Jackets’ triple option.
Bookies would call this outcome an upset (Georgia Tech was a seven-point favorite) but it was just another in a series of routine setbacks for the Atlanta chapter in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s annual Tech-Tech rivalry.
Jackets players, coaches and fans will scratch their heads wondering what happened to them against a fading dynasty.
Thomas remains a riddle the Jackets never solved. For all the struggles he has week in and week out against everyone else, he becomes Logan Football every time he faces Georgia Tech. In two previous starts, Thomas was 28 of 51 passing for 439 yards – with five touchdown passes and zero interceptions. He also rushed for 110 yards and two touchdowns.
Thursday night was no different. Thomas was 19-of-25 for 221 yards and one touchdown while rushing for 58 yards and another score.
“He’s a great player and he was on tonight,” said Georgia Tech linebacker Brandon Watts, from Washington County. “We tried to stop him. He tricked us a couple of times.”
As much as the 6-foot-6, 254-pound Thomas befuddles the Jackets, however, it’s Foster whose growing dominance in the series truly hurts Johnson and the Jackets where it counts most. And unlike the senior quarterback, Foster isn’t going away next year.
The Virginia Tech defensive coordinator groused earlier this week about the daunting task of trying to prepare for Georgia Tech’s unique triple-option on a short week.
“I think it’s totally absurd, ludicrous,” Foster said of the Thursday night matchup that was the third in 12 days for each of the programs. “I’m not saying we should always have seven or eight days to prepare for Georgia Tech. I don’t care who it is. It’s not fair for Georgia Tech to turn around and play us. I don’t think it’s right, especially if we’re playing on the road, which is crazy.”
Methinks Foster doth protested too much. Nobody has better figured out how to handle the Jackets defensively since last losing to Georgia Tech in 2009 – a result that ultimately delivered the Coastal Division and ACC title to Georgia Tech.
After watching that same Yellow Jackets team get shut down by Iowa in the Orange Bowl, Foster went to Iowa City to pick the brains of coach Kirk Ferentz and his staff about stopping the option.
The result was a scheme to place more athletic players and tacklers nearer to line of scrimmage to disrupt Georgia Tech’s plans before they get started.
Foster’s mission has gradually been accomplished as Virginia Tech has won four straight in the battle of the only programs to ever win the Coastal Division. The Hokies yielded 346 rushing yards to the Jackets in 2010 – the most ever by a Foster-coached defense. The number went down to 243 yards in 2011. It hit 192 yards last season.
On Thursday night, Georgia Tech finished with just 129 rushing yards on 42 attempts – a paltry 3.1 yard average. The total was barely more than a third of the 345 rushing average the Yellow Jackets had in the first three games.
Johnson blame the Jackets as much as the Hokies, but the Hokies had a lot to do with it.
“I’ve told you all along we’re not very good with the option,” Johnson said of his signature offense. “We’re terrible, in fact, and it showed. We’re not going to throw the ball 25 to 30 times and win very many games. That’s not us. We’ve got to be able to run the ball to hit play action ... and we didn’t do it.”
In the tone-setting first half, the Yellow Jackets rushed for a mere 62 yards as the Hokies opened a 14-3 lead. Georgia Tech seemed jumpy against the Virginia Tech defensive front – committing six false starts (five in the first half), one illegal motion and a delay of game penalty on the night.
The Jackets also committed two turnovers – matching its cumulative total from the first three games – on its first two possessions, setting up a 27-yard opening touchdown drive for the Hokies and snuffing out a deep counter drive of their own. They’re lucky it didn’t hit three when Vad Lee fumbled on first down at the Virginia Tech 2 in the third quarter and the Hokies’ Brandon Facyson somehow lost the handle on his chance at a takeaway hat trick.
“They probably coached better than we did,” Johnson said. “I’ve never seen so many mistakes. It seemed like every series that we had the ball on offense we either jumped offside or had some sort of penalty. We had a hard time picking up the blitz. It was a comedy of errors.”
It all added up to another disastrous performance for the Yellow Jackets against the Hokies. Instead of taking an unbeaten record and three-game division winning streak to No. 15 Miami next week for a showdown that would establish the front-runner for the Coastal Division title, the Jackets have to regroup or find themselves woefully behind.
That’s a recurring bad dream for Johnson that won’t go away until they figure out how to turn the Tech tables.