Wiley Ballard is the host of Tech’s pregame show, the team’s sideline reporter and the voice of Yellow Jackets baseball. He is a very talented announcer and a big part of Tech’s athletic program. He is one of the bright stars in the business and on the campus on the Flats, and one of my favorite buddies in the business. We greatly appreciate his insights into Saturday’s game.
What has been the key to the turnaround in the season for the Yellow Jackets?
After starting 1-3 and 0-2 in the ACC, things looked pretty grim for Tech. Since then they’ve won six of their last seven and a turnaround of that magnitude requires multiple keys.
Firstly, the turnover margin has drastically boosted Tech’s performance. After a minus-2 margin through the season’s first four games, Tech is plus-10 over this seven-game stretch. The defense deserves the lion’s share of the credit for this reversal of fortune thanks to their 17 takeaways since Week 4 (and in the last two victories Tech has created three turnovers on special teams).
Secondly, the offense has benefited from more decisive play at quarterback. TaQuon Marshall has a naturally commanding persona off-the-field, and in the season’s second half his reads and decisions have mirrored that demeanor. Coach Johnson suggested early in the season he was trying to be too perfect and now he’s having more fun. Furthermore, the Tobias Oliver revelation has given Georgia Tech a “change-up” under center that features a more physical, downhill running style.
Lastly, two seniors have transformed the way opposing quarterbacks prepare to face first-year defensive coordinator Nate Woody’s 3-4 front. Defensive end Anree Saint-Amour has recorded 33 tackles (8.5 for loss including four sacks) and two interceptions during Tech’s 6-1 run. His play has earned him recognition by both the ACC media and NFL evaluators. Meanwhile, redshirt-senior Jalen Johnson has embraced his switch from defensive back to linebacker in the new defense, and the last three games have been the finest of his career. He’s amassed 27 tackles including 5.5 for loss this month, while generating pressure in the pocket forcing hurried throws.
On the whole, this turnaround has been eerily similar to what the Yellow Jackets pulled off in 2016 in which they won their final four games.
The win at Louisville was particularly satisfying for Paul Johnson, the Jackets have VT’s number in Blacksburg, what has that been the team’s best performance this season?
Taking into account the opponent, location, emotions and results, it’s hard to pick a game other than Virginia Tech thus far. The Yellow Jackets were 3-4 and 1-3 in the ACC entering one of the most hostile environments in the conference – a nationally televised night game at Lane Stadium. Furthermore, it was going to be the first career start for Tobias Oliver, with quarterback TaQuon Marshall out with injury.
Oliver led the offense to 49 points, 465 rushing yards and a school-record 35 first downs. Individually, Oliver toted the rock 40 times accruing 215 yards – he was 0-for-1 through the air. Defensively, Tech held the Hokies scoreless for 36 minutes – early second quarter to late fourth. Since then Tech has won four straight and averaged 36 points per game.
Having won two straight times in Athens, what would a third consecutive victory in Sanford Stadium mean?
It’s no secret that Tech enjoys beating Georgia, but in my humble opinion, I’m not sure Tech fans care where the game is played. If it were on the moon I’m sure at least a few of our fans would make the trip!
From the players and coaches’ perspective a win inside one of college football’s most hostile environments provides even more validation. Internally the Yellow Jackets have been adamant in their belief that the team that lost at South Florida and Pittsburgh in September is long gone.
What does Tech have to do to win?
Play their best game of the season. I think that’s the case for most teams that take on a Top 10 team though.
One number that stands out to me in this matchup is each defense’s inability to create negative plays. The Yellow Jackets and Bulldogs rank 125th and 126th respectively in tackles for loss (out of 130 FBS teams). If I had to select one key beyond the cliché categories (turnovers, red zone efficiency, special teams, etc.), I’d argue that if Tech can create negative plays on defense and avoid them on offense, they’ll have their best opportunity to possess the football and keep the game close entering the fourth quarter.
What is your take on Georgia?
To be honest, I haven’t had a chance to see a lot of Georgia in live action. Given my role at Georgia Tech, my Saturdays are pretty booked. With that said, it seems like business as usual in Athens: world-class running game and a defense that refuses to give up big plays. No team in the country has allowed fewer plays over 20 yards than the Bulldogs. On the other hand, Georgia Tech leads the nation in rushes over 20 yards. What’s that “something’s gotta give” saying again?
I think what particularly shocks me is their success at home the last two years. Undefeated and their smallest margin of victory is 14 points (South Carolina in 2017). That is stunning.
What are some of the changes you’d like to see in college football/athletics?
I’d really like to see conference scheduling change. In the era of the super Power-5 conferences, I think it’s a shame that schools like Tech and Georgia face conference foes like Florida State, NC State, Alabama and Ole Miss once every six years or so. Thankfully, rivalries like Clemson and Auburn are preserved through the permanent crossover games, but I would advocate for a nine-game conference schedule. I’m sure many coaching staffs with a permanent Power-5 state rival would object, but the more ACC (and SEC) football match-ups in a calendar year, the better the product! The season flies by so fast as it is, why not squeeze out another conference game?
What is your score prediction?
We’ve got a pretty strict policy amidst our on-air broadcast crew about picking the game. With that said, I’ll say the final score will be around 31-28. But, you’ll have to wait until Saturday night for the winner!