Although much improved over last season, Tech is still short of the success they achieved on third-down in 2014, when they won the Orange Bowl and played in the ACC Championship. In 2014, Tech led all of college football with a third-down conversion percentage of 57.9.
Despite the improvement in numbers on third-down, quarterbacks and b-backs coach Bryan Cook knows low conversion rates don’t always mean the Jackets struggle under the pressure of a third-down play.
“I get upset when it’s second-and-six and we lose 15 yards and then we’re at third-and-20, so (not converting on third-down) is not the fault of third-and-20, that’s the fault of second-and-five or six,” Cook said. “So third-down, I think with what we do, or what offenses in general do on third-down, I think managing pass protection needs to be better out of the fullbacks. I think we need to engage and block better, but I think (quarterback Justin Thomas) sees things down the field pretty well.”
In their first ACC game of the season against Boston College, the Yellow Jackets had 10 third-and-long situations with more than six yards to convert and finished the game 6-of-15 on third-down.
Although they lost to No. 17 North Carolina 48-20 on Saturday, the Yellow Jackets demonstrated improved efficiency on first and second downs by only putting themselves in four third-and-long situations. The Jackets finished Saturday’s game against North Carolina 8-of-14 on third-down.
Against No. 18 Virginia Tech (7-2, 5-1) on Saturday, the Jackets will face a physical defense that has allowed opponents to convert 27 percent of third downs this season.
“They’re really athletic on defense,” coach Paul Johnson said. “They’re very talented on defense, they’ve got a couple of probable NFL prospects at linebacker and they’re usually pretty good in the secondary.”
When the two teams last met in November of 2015, the Hokies forced three turnovers and allowed Tech to convert 5-of-12 on third-down in Virginia Tech’s 23-21 win.