ATLANTA – Georgia Tech has struggled to put two solid halves together in the same game and Sunday's ACC opener at Virginia Tech doesn't look like a great place for the Yellow Jackets to try and get it done.
The Yellow Jackets are one of 23 Division I teams that are 3-0, but the Hokies (2-1) have beaten them four straight times. Last year Virginia Tech's 17-10 win in Atlanta over 3-0 Georgia Tech started the Yellow Jackets on a three-game losing streak.
As much as any team in the ACC, the Hokies and defensive coordinator Bud Foster appear to have solved Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson's option offense. The Yellow Jackets mustered a regular-season low 129 rushing yards against Virginia Tech last season — well below the Jackets' 299.3-yard average.
"We've got a huge challenge going into Blacksburg, (Virginia)," Johnson said. "They're always good on defense; this is no exception .... We're really anxious to have another shot at them. They've had our number the last couple of years."
At least the Yellow Jackets are coming off a last-minute win rather than a last-minute loss, like the Hokies. One week after winning at Ohio State, they lost 28-21 last Saturday at home to East Carolina.
Plus, the Yellow Jackets and Hokies have traded Thomases at quarterback.
Sophomore Justin Thomas has been dazzling at times for Georgia Tech already, and the Yellow Jackets won't miss Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas.
Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer runs the Virginia Tech offense now.
Last season, Logan Thomas completed 19-of-25 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown and rushed 16 times for 58 yards and a score in the Hokies' win.
"Logan Thomas was a tremendous athlete, and he probably through the years hurt us as much running as he did throwing," Johnson said. "He was a big, physical guy. Brewer is more of a typical, pro-style quarterback . . . they won't have a lot of designed runs for him.
Brewer set a Virginia Tech record for pass attempts (56) against ECU, completing 30 for 298 yards and three touchdowns as the Hokies rallied from a 21-0 deficit to tie before falling.
Georgia Tech will have plenty of runs for Justin Thomas.
He rushed for a career-high 137 yards last week against Georgia Southern, and passed for 188. His 13-yard pass to Deon Hill with 23 seconds left in the game provided the winning points.
The cat-quick third-year sophomore leads the Yellow Jackets with 278 rushing yards and a 6.5-yard average. He's also completed 53.2 percent of his passes for 485 yards and six touchdowns with just one interception.
Thomas is averaging 19.4 yards per completion, and 10.3 yards per attempt. Senior wide receiver DeAndre Smelter is averaging 26.4 yards on a team-high nine receptions with three scores, and has two 100-plus-yard receiving games.
Georgia Tech has abandoned some odd formations and plays that Johnson tried last season with quarterback Vad Lee, who has transferred to James Madison.
The Yellow Jackets' quarterback is "the leading rusher . . . fast guy," said Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer, who is 19-3 in conference home openers. "They . . . get you sucked up playing the run and all of a sudden (their wide receivers are) running by you. Georgia Tech is just different from anyone else."
Georgia Tech will seek to do things differently.
In wins over Wofford and Tulane, the Yellow Jackets struggled in the first halves before storming to victory. Last week, they lead GSU 35-10 at halftime, fell behind 38-35 in the fourth quarter, and won on the late Thomas-to-Hill pass.
Players and coaches have said focus shouldn't be an issue against Virginia Tech.
"Now that we've got Virginia Tech in our future, I think we're comfortable (with) where we're at in terms of game planning," said reserve quarterback Tim Byerly who has rushed for three touchdowns in short-yardage situations.
"I think that's the biggest thing, getting the guys confident enough to go in a place like Blacksburg and play with some confidence."