5 things to know before Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech

Georgia Tech quarterback Jeff Sims (10) runs between Virginia defendersduring an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Charlottesville, Va. (Andrew Shurtleff/The Daily Progress via AP)

Credit: Andrew Shurtleff

Credit: Andrew Shurtleff

Georgia Tech quarterback Jeff Sims (10) runs between Virginia defendersduring an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Charlottesville, Va. (Andrew Shurtleff/The Daily Progress via AP)

After getting threshed on defense a week ago in a 48-40 loss at Virginia, Georgia Tech has a chance to return again to .500, this time against Virginia Tech at noon Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

In their homecoming game, the Yellow Jackets face a Hokies team that is likewise recovering from a 41-36 home loss to Syracuse and four losses in its past five games.

Georgia Tech (3-4, 2-3 ACC) is favored by four points over Virginia Tech (3-4, 1-2) in just the third league game in which the Jackets have been a favorite in coach Geoff Collins’ tenure.

Five things to know about the Jackets-Hokies game:

1. Jeff Sims making progress

He continues to struggle with interceptions, but Georgia Tech quarterback Jeff Sims has put up impressive numbers this season, especially since returning from injury.

His completion rate of 62.1% is seven points higher than last season, and his yards-per-attempt average is up from 7.3 to 8.8 yards. The latter compares favorably with the top quarterbacks in the ACC.

Offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude was delighted Monday when he said Sims told him that that he felt more comfortable in the scheme, better understood what defenses were doing and knew where to throw the ball.

“Now there’s a deeper understanding of not only what to do, but why to do it,” Patenaude said. “And it’s no coincidence that he’s throwing for 300 yards, because he knows where to go with the ball, and he’s making on-target throws.”

Sims showed growth in hitting his checkdown targets against Virginia, which hasn’t always been a part of his game. He does need to reduce interceptions. His attempts-per-interception rate (24.8) is better than 2020 (19.8) but needs to be significantly higher.

“There’s still things we have to work on, and we’ve talked about it a bunch, but he’s still a young guy,” Patenaude said. “He’s still technically a freshman. There’s a very bright future there.”

2. Dangerous freshman

A player to watch for Virginia Tech is running back Malachi Thomas, a freshman from Hart County High (the alma mater of Jackets guard William Lay). After carrying the ball 11 times in his first six games, Thomas ran 21 times for 151 yards with three touchdowns in the Hokies’ loss to Syracuse on Saturday.

It was the first 100-yard rushing game this season by a Virginia Tech player. Before the Syracuse game, in fact, the Hokies had averaged 128.7 rushing yards per game as a team this season before gaining 260 against the Orange.

It could be a significant development in the matchup, as the Jackets’ run defense gave up a season-high 240 rushing yards to Virginia and has given up an average of 206 rushing yards in the past three games.

“(Thomas’ performance) definitely gives us confidence,” Hokies center Brock Hoffman told media in Virginia this week.

Georgia Tech will need solutions Saturday after surrendering 636 yards to Virginia, a season high, while creating no turnovers. It wouldn’t be a surprise if defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker returned to the 4-2-5 alignment that has been the Jackets’ base defense from the 3-3-5 grouping that the team has used for the past five games.

3. Up, then down, then up

With a win Saturday, the Jackets will achieve a peculiar bit of school history by having not won or lost two games in a row for eight games.

Only the teams from 1933 (also Tech’s first season in the SEC as a founding member) and 1945 (Bobby Dodd’s first season as head coach) can make that claim, both having started their seasons going win-loss-win-loss-win-loss-win-loss before breaking the pattern with a loss in their ninth games.

In FBS, Boise State and Northwestern are the only other teams to have alternated wins and losses every game this season.

The Jackets’ pattern calls to mind the Braves’ 17-game streak in July and August in which they failed to win or lose consecutive games. Were Tech’s streak to continue through the end of the season, Jackets fans could celebrate an accomplishment that some might treasure even more than the Braves’ World Series berth. The final link of a 12-game loss-win chain would be an upset of No. 1 Georgia that also would clinch bowl eligibility.

4. Seeking retribution

Georgia Tech’s 45-0 home loss to Virginia Tech in 2019 is not a game any Yellow Jackets players would want to revisit. But it has been required viewing this week as they prepare for their first game against the Hokies since then.

“That’s definitely some of the film we watched,” defensive tackle Djimon Brooks said Wednesday. “Just setting the mentality of what’s coming up for this upcoming weekend. It should be some great competition out there.”

In the game, the Hokies outgained the Jackets 461-134. The farthest that Georgia Tech advanced into Virginia Tech territory was the Hokies’ 41-yard line, on its final possession of the game. It was the first time that Tech had been shut out since 1997, a streak of 283 games, and the first time that the Jackets had been held scoreless on Grant Field since 1957, a span of 382 games.

5. Brothers vs. brother

Beyond the ACC Coastal Division clash that Saturday’s game is, there’s something else at stake for three of the game’s participants – family bragging rights.

Jackets running back Jamious Griffin and defensive tackle Ja’Quon Griffin will be on the opposite sideline from their older brother Jaylen, a Hokies defensive end.

“They’ve been talking junk all week already,” the Griffins’ father, Tyrone Griffin, told the AJC.

The three brothers all shared Grant Field in the 2019 Jackets-Hokies game, a 45-0 win for Virginia Tech, in what may have been the first occasion in ACC history of three brothers playing in the same game with two brothers on one side and the third on the other. The two teams did not play last year as the league schedule was modified because of COVID-19. (Before college, the three brothers, and another brother, Ja’Kolbi, led Rome High to the 2016 Class AAAAA state title, and Ja’Quon and Jamious contributed to a second state championship in 2017.)

Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente “told Jaylen he owns the Griffin Bowl,” Tyrone said.

After the 2019 game, Jamious and Ja’Quon had to take Jaylen to dinner when they were all back home in Rome. (Tyrone thinks they went to a Longhorn Steakhouse.) As of Thursday, Tyrone didn’t know if the stakes had been set, but Jamious and Ja’Quon “want their payback,” he said. “They want the same deal.”

Tyrone expects as many as 70 family members and friends to attend Saturday, and had 80 jackets printed up for the occasion, customized with his sons’ names, jersey numbers and images.

“Just blessed,” he said. “Everybody doesn’t have the opportunity to have one playing at that level, but to have three, it’s a beautiful blessing. You know where blessings come from.”