What to watch for: No. 1 Valdosta State hosts Florida Tech

Juston Lewis | The Valdosta Daily TimesValdosta State head coach Gary Goff prepares to congratulate players coming off the field during a Gulf South Conference game against Delta State Oct. 12 in Cleveland, Miss.

VALDOSTA –– No.1 Valdosta State (6-0) enters homecoming week with their eyes set on beating Florida Tech (3-3) for their 22nd straight win.

Like everybody else, Florida Tech will look to dethrone the Blazers and give them their first loss since 2017.

Here’s what to watch for in this Gulf South Conference matchup:

Miles Kelly and Company

What jumps off the page when looking at Florida Tech is their star wideout Miles Kelly. Kelly currently leads the GSC in receiving yards (447) and average yards per game (74.5).

 “You’ve got to be fundamentally sound on the back end,” said VSU Head Coach Gary Goff about containing Florida Tech’s receivers. “Our DB’s got to be locked in, hopefully we can get some pressure on the quarterback and create some bad throws on his part. Their freshman quarterback is a really good player, he’s had some really good games, and he’s got some talent all the way around him so they’re a dangerous offense.”

Freshman quarterback, Mike Diliello, is talented but his lack of experience is something the Black Swarm can take advantage of. Diliello has thrown five interceptions with his five touchdowns this season but he’s also their leading rusher. Not shy to take off and do it himself, Dilielo has nine rushing touchdowns this season so the Blazers will also need contain him on the ground while keeping Kelly covered.

Taking What’s Given to Them 

VSU has three of the top-six rushers in the GSC. The offense still thrives off passing the ball, but the run game is something that has opened up more and more for VSU this year.

“The air raid offense is really taking what they can give you,” Goff said earlier this year about the run game opening up. “If you’re going to continue to have people draw up and not let the receivers downfield then you’ve got to be patient and run the ball. Our backfield is very dynamic you look at both running backs and both quarterbacks, and those guys are able to get five yards and turn it into 75 yards. Yeah, we’re the air raid we like to throw the ball all over the place but at the same time we’re going to do whatever it takes to win a football game.”

Just last week against Delta State VSU had two rushers eclipse 100 yards, running back Seth McGill broke 100 yards for the first time this year and quarterback Rogan Wells racked up 104 yards on the ground. Running back Jamar Thompkins has also been a problem for opposing defenses this year.

Thompkins averages 100 yards a game, has seven touchdowns on the ground, and leads the GSC in rushing yards. With this three-headed rushing monster in Thompkins, Wells, and McGill the Blazers can have their way offensively because they still have the lethal receivers from last year in Lio’undre Gallimore, Brian Saunds, and David White.

Battle in the Trenches 

Leading up to this weekend, Florida Tech has tallied just six sacks this year. They’re also second to last in the GSC in rushing defense, allowing 205 yards per game. That’s a good sign if you’re Valdosta State.

After racking up 358 rushing yards against Delta State, one of the top rush defenses in the GSC, Valdosta State’s run game may continue putting up numbers against Florida Tech.

For VSU’s defense, they’ve collected 13 sacks on the season and have Thomas Incoom, the second leading sack master in the GSC with 5.5 sacks this season. 

VSU’s offensive line has allowed just six sacks this season and Florida Tech’s has given up 13. Look for who wins the push up front on the line of scrimmage and who protects their quarterback because there’s a lot to gain for both teams if one can contain the other. 

Kickoff has been moved in anticipation of inclement weather. The game will begin at 7 p.m. at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium.

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