Coach Mike London’s team drops to 2-3 on the season.
The Cavaliers were outmatched in Atlanta on Saturday, falling 33-21 to Georgia Tech in the team’s second ACC contest of the 2010 season. The Yellow Jackets put up staggering numbers on offense, while former UVa head coach Al Groh’s defense did just enough to keep the Cavaliers under control. Virginia went wholesale to stop one aspect of Georgia Tech’s tricky triple-option offense, but the Jackets were able to answer the challenge and made the Virginia defense pay. Once again, UVa’s offense showed signs of life in the fourth quarter, but like against Florida State, the efforts came far too late. Coach Mike London’ team has yet to get its first ACC victory, and falls to 0-2 in conference play.
UVa defensive coordinator Jim Reid’s defense just didn’t have an answer to Paul Johnson’s triple option. The Yellow Jackets put up 536 yards of total offense, 477 of those on the ground. Quarterback Josh Nesbitt ran for 109 yards and one touchdown; he only threw the ball six times, completing three passes for 59 yards. Reid’s defense frequently left a large gap in the middle of the field, which Georgia Tech readily exploited, particularly in the second half. The open space directly in front of the center allowed B-back Anthony Allen to find running room numerous times. Former ACC Player of the Year Jonathan Dwyer’s heir had a career day of 195 yards and three touchdowns, all of which came as a result of running right up the middle. It’s the second season in a row that Allen had a big game against Virginia; last season, he put up 103 yards and 2 TDs in Charlottesville while filling the edge rusher role.
“They do a nice job of getting big splits between the center and guards. We tried to change some things up, and their tackles veer inside in the A gap,” Coach London said. “They’re so adept at running their offense. Our linebackers have to step up and make tackles on that. They executed their offense, and we didn’t execute our plan against them defensively, and that’s why they rushed for what they rushed.”
The Yellow Jackets controlled the game and the clock through their offensive production. However, they weren’t perfect on the offensive side of the ball. On one of their many option pitches, Virginia linebacker Darnell Carter swatted the ball into the air and came down with it for his first career interception. Carter was also lined up as a fullback and led the way for Keith Payne ‘s first rushing touchdown.
Georgia Tech put the ball on the ground four times, mostly as a result of bad snaps or miscued pitches, but the Hoos (thanks to linebacker Cam Johnson) were only able to recover one of them. Cavalier defenders LaRoy Reynolds (11), Aaron Taliaferro (7), and John-Kevin Dolce (10) all set new career marks in tackles, while ends Johnson and Zane Parr chipped in 10 and 9 stops respectively. Those efforts simply weren’t enough to contain Georgia Tech’s high-octane running attack, though.
On offense, the phrase “too little too late” sums up Virginia’s plan of attack. The first Cavalier series from scrimmage featured three straight Perry Jones rushes, and Virginia went three and out. Quarterback Marc Verica was unable to find a rhythm all afternoon, and the pro-style offense faltered against Al Groh’s 3-4 defense. Verica completed 18 of 31 passes for 239 yards, many of those on a meaningless drive late, and no interceptions; he was sacked four times. Junior fullback Max Milien ignited the Wahoo faithful with a 37-yard rushing touchdown on Virginia’s first offensive possession in the second quarter, but the team was held to just seven points until midway through the third quarter.
Marc Verica was unable to lead the offense to enough production on Saturday.
Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor seemed to favor a more conservative strain of play-calling on Saturday; the Cavaliers waited until late in the game to start making plays downfield, and stayed with passing underneath and trying to establish a running game. When trying to make a late comeback, Virginia failed to capitalize on a possible game-changing trip to the red zone with 10:58 remaining the fourth quarter. An incomplete pass on 4th-and-goal ended that threat.
The Cavalier offense, playing in “hurry up” mode was its most effective late in the fourth quarter, leading many fans to believe that the Hoos should play with a hurry up mindset all the time. Overall, the Yellow Jackets seemed to make it a priority to limit the production of Virginia’s big playmakers, something that Groh succeeded in accomplishing at times as UVa’s head coach as well, the oft-noted game being against Larry Fitzgerald in a bowl. The dynamic receiving duo of Kris Burd and Dontrelle Inman combined for 74 receiving yards on the day, while former walk-on Matt Snyder shined late in the fourth quarter with a pair of 39- and 40-yard receptions to set up Keith Payne ‘s second rushing touchdown of the day and a redemption score for the Virginia offense.
Prior to Saturday’s contest, Burd had recorded more than 100 yards in three of the Cavaliers’ first four games; he had scored in all four as well. Payne finished the day with 56 yards and 2 touchdowns. Sophomore Perry Jones had 54 yards on 7 carries, including a 42-yard run to set up Payne’s first rushing touchdown in the third quarter.
“I think what they did was bring a safety down and say `you’re not going to run the ball,’ then they roll some coverage and do some things to minimize one of our playmakers,” London said of the low numbers put up by Burd. “It was a good game plan for them, and again, we’ve got to do a better job on third down, and give ourselves a chance to win against a good team. They’re the reigning ACC champs right now, so you can’t come in and not do those things and think you’re going to play well. We need to go back to the drawing board again.”