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Hokies, trying to hold serve in Coastal race, go to Atlanta

Associated Press • Nov 16, 2019 at 10:30 AM

ATLANTA — Virginia Tech’s offense is enjoying a second-half surge that has the Hokies in control of their Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division hopes.

The Hokies (6-3, 3-2) shoot for their fourth straight ACC win when they visit Georgia Tech (2-7, 1-5) on Saturday for a 3:30 p.m. game. Virginia Tech is chasing Virginia in the Coastal Division; Georgia Tech is last in the division.

The Hokies can earn a spot in the ACC title game by winning their last three games. They play Pittsburgh and Virginia the next two weeks.

Common threads to Virginia Tech’s resurgence are an improved running game and the move to sophomore Hendon Hooker as the starting quarterback. The Hokies are 4-0 in games started by Hooker and they’ve rushed for at least 153 yards in each of his four starts.

Coach Justin Fuente said added experience for two freshman starters on the offensive line, center Bryan Hudson and right guard Doug Nester, has been a boost.

“We haven’t done anything really new schematically,” Fuente said. “I do believe our execution level has increased and our techniques have gotten better.”

Georgia Tech has lost back-to-back games, to Pitt and Virginia, by a combined 15 points following an overtime win at Miami. The young Yellow Jackets are rebuilding on offense around freshman quarterback James Graham and sophomore running back Jordan Mason.

After completing only 3 of 13 passes with an interception in the 20-10 loss to Pitt, Graham went 15-for-22 with career-best totals of 229 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s 33-28 loss at Virginia.

First-year coach Geoff Collins said Graham admitted he didn’t prepare properly the week before playing Pitt.

“He struggled a little bit, learned from it, which is a positive, and came back last week in the week getting ready to play Virginia with one of the top defenses in the country and prepared like you’re supposed to prepare,” Collins said.

The Yellow Jackets were expected to need time as players recruited for former coach Paul Johnson’s spread option attack adjusted to a pro-style offense.

“I just want a full game out of the offense, passing the ball around and running around, a complete game where there aren’t too many mistakes,” Mason said.

FOR BUD

The Hokies have pledged to send retiring defensive coordinator Bud Foster out in style, and they seemed to have moved closer to that goal with last week’s 36-17 victory against then-No. 22 Wake Forest. That win came with the emotions of Bud Foster Day before a sellout crowd at Lane Stadium. The different atmosphere at Georgia Tech may be a difficult challenge.

HELP FOR HOOKER

Hooker, who replaced mistake-prone Ryan Willis, provides a blend of passing and running, though he’s not a pure dual-threat player. Hooker has benefited from having wide receiver Damon Hazleton back. Hazleton missed two-plus games with arm injury but still leads the Hokies with 22 receptions, including six for touchdowns.

AIR JACKETS

Georgia Tech ranks last in the ACC with 150.8 yards passing per game. Hope for improvement is based on Graham and freshman wide receiver Ahmarean Brown, who has caught a TD pass in three straight games.

GROUNDED FOR SUCCESS

The recent upswing in Virginia Tech’s running attack is important. The Hokies, who rushed for 228 yards last week against Wake, are 15-3 under Fuente when netting at least 200 yards on the ground. They are 25-6 when rushing for at least 150 yards under Fuente.

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