UVa Upsets No. 12 Georgia Tech

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Mike London’s Cavaliers dealt No. 12 Georgia Tech its first loss of 2011.

Virginia coach Mike London said during the week that an upset of No. 12 Georgia Tech could be a signature program-boosting type of win. The way fans encircled the team and celebrated on the field Saturday, he may be right. So while the long-term impact remains to be seen, the second-year Cavalier coach reiterated that thought Saturday after the Hoos shocked the previously unbeaten Yellow Jackets 24-21 at Scott Stadium.

“I told them I was proud of them. I loved the effort,” London said. “This is one of those wins that can change the perception of what you think about yourself. Last second play against Indiana. Last second play against Idaho. Overtime. This is one of those wins against a good team with a lot of accomplishments that you can try to turn the corner on about how you think about yourself, and how people view your program. There’s a long season yet to play, but it’s a great start to the second half of the season.”

The secret to the victory proved to be running the football and smothering the Georgia Tech option offense. And boy did the Hoos do those things.

Looking first at the offense, UVa churned out 272 rushing yards on 47 carries, a solid 5.8 yards per carry. That’s the most rushing yards by a Cavalier team since 2004 when the Hoos piled up 348 yards in a win against Duke. The total is the most against GT’s defense this season. Virginia had 172 yards on the ground by halftime when it led 24-14.

“There are so many ways to remember it,” offensive tackle Oday Aboushi said. “From the way the defense played, our offense stepped up, the special teams came in and boosted this win. As a whole, this is the reason why they call it a team. This is why we work really hard every day for it.”

Beyond the big boys up front like Aboushi, the running success started immediately. The hosts used seven run plays of differing styles to open the game with a 12-play, 73-yard drive. They called two runs with a pulling guard as the lead blocker, a misdirection play, and a lead toss to the left as part of those rushing plays. Kevin Parks scored on the lead toss to make it 7-0. Parks matched the school’s freshman record for rushing touchdowns in a season with that run (tied with Howard Petty-1983 and Marcus Wilson-1987).

While the second touchdown drive was a play-action passing bomb to Tim Smith (37 yards), the third scoring march mirrored the first. The Hoos orchestrated a 10-play, 72-yard drive to take a 21-14 lead with 4:00 to go in the opening half. This time UVa called eight rushing plays of varying styles and gobbled up yards. True freshman Clifton Richardson took the spotlight this time with 3 carries for 26 yards, including a 22-yard scoring play around the right side. It marked Richardson’s career-long carry to date; he finished with 32 yards on 5 carries.

“You’ve got Perry [Jones], Clifton Richardson , Kevin Parks , Khalek Shepherd – they’re all talented and all itching to get the ball,” London said. “Clifton’s touchdown was an outstanding run. Those guys are hungry and that’s the way we have to play. We have to play hungry. We have to play like we’ve got a lot to prove and we do. We haven’t done anything yet, but hopefully we’re moving it in the right direction.”

Then when the Cavaliers needed it most, they ended the game with a spirit-crushing drive of runs. Leading 24-21 with 5:58 to go after squandering the previous drive with a failed fourth down conversion, Virginia ran out the clock with a 14-play drive featuring 10 running plays (the final two snaps were kneel-downs to end the game). “We have a motto and break down [our offensive line huddles] on ‘dominate’ so to just impose our will on the last drive like we did, we start to believe in ourselves and just try to keep it going,” Aboushi said.

Perry Jones posted a new career-high in rushing yards for the second straight game.

Jones and Parks starred on the drive. Jones posted 31 yards on 4 carries (and 1 reception for 18 yards) on the sealing possession, while Parks added 32 yards on 6 carries. Jones, showing patience in his hole selection throughout the day, finished the game with 149 rushing yards on 18 carries, an incredible average of 8.3 yards. That’s the best showing by a Cavalier since Cedric Peerman rushed for 173 yards against East Carolina in 2008 and the most allowed by GT’s defense this year to a single back. It’s the second straight outing where Jones set a new career-high rushing total and he added 3 catches for 37 yards too.

“I would say that’s more just trusting my linemen and waiting for them to get on their blocks with the type of defense they run,” Jones said of his patient runs on the day. “Sometimes you have to be patient and sometimes you have to hit it without hesitation.”

No one in orange and blue is surprised by Jones’ ability.

“After the game people who don’t know us were asking ‘Who is No. 33?’ but that’s how Perry plays all the time,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. “We don’t get surprised because Perry Jones does that every day in practice. That’s the key and I think more and more of our guys are understanding it and buying in. If you do it every day in practice, that’s how you’ll do it in the game. … No one on our team is surprised when he plays like that.”

All of the running success helped the defense post its best performance yet under London and defensive coordinator Jim Reid. The Yellow Jackets entered the game leading the ACC in total offense at 553.5 yards per game; they ranked fourth nationally in rushing yards at 360.5 yards per game and sixth nationally in scoring at 46.5 points per game.

Virginia shut down the vaunted triple option attack, though. The defense held GT to a season-low 296 total yards; that included 272 rushing yards, which matched the visitors’ season low set last week against Maryland. The Yellow Jackets had a season-low 17 first downs too. That’s a far cry from the game in Atlanta last season when Georgia Tech scorched UVa for 536 total yards, 477 rushing yards, and 26 first downs in a 33-21 win.

Tech’s offense also produced just 14 points; the other 7 came when cornerback Rod Sweeting intercepted Michael Rocco and returned it 32 yards for the score in the second quarter. The visitors did not score in the first or fourth quarter; entering the contest, they had just two scoreless quarters in the first 24 quarters (six games) of the season combined.

Steve Greer led Virginia with 10 tackles on the day.

The Hoos, like the Terps last week in a 21-16 loss, appeared to want the ball in quarterback Tevin Washington’s hands more than anyone else. The defense enticed Washington, who had 32 carries last week, to keep the ball 26 times in this one. He finished with 115 yards, an average of 4.4 yards per carry. Big play threats like Orwin Smith (5 carries, 24 yards) and Roddy Jones (4 carries, 28 yards) didn’t have many chances to break off big runs; Smith entered the contest averaging 77.3 yards per game and 14.5 yards per carry, while Jones brought averages of 37.7 yards per game and 9.8 yards per carry into the day. Washington averaged 51.5 yards per game and 3.3 yards per carry before Saturday.

“[The coaches] had us very confident and understanding that we need to stop the quarterback and put it in his hands and everything is going to fall like dominoes so that’s what we decided to do,” UVa linebacker LaRoy Reynolds said. “You’ve got guys on the outside averaging 14 yards a carry and the quarterback averaging 3 yards a carry so our job was to leave it in the quarterback’s hands and understand we can stop this guy.”

“We talked about that before the game, even after watching the Maryland game. Coach said we want to make him beat us. So that was kind of the game plan, make him keep the ball and make him beat us,” linebacker Steve Greer said. “He had some nice runs – with 26 runs he’s bound to have some pretty nice runs, but the defense did a great job.”

Greer led the team with 10 tackles, while Matt Conrath added 9. Reynolds finished with 8 tackles and Rodney McLeod , Nick Jenkins , and Jake Snyder all added 7. As a team, Virginia had nine players with at least 5 tackles each – 48 of the team’s tackles were assisted. All of which speaks to the fact that the Hoos needed to play assignment-oriented defense. They accomplished that goal with flying colors.

“Everybody played assignment football and I tell you what we made some plays that they had blocked very well that we shouldn’t have made and that’s because guys understood the offense and the game plan,” Cavalier defensive coordinator Jim Reid said. “What really helped us was our scout team. On Thursday, they ran 86 plays against us in practice. They run, they hustle back, they run again, they hustle back. All told, I think there’s 15 of them. … They just kept running and not complaining at all.”

The combination of the sterling defensive performance and the dominant ground game gave Virginia the 24-21 upset of No. 12 Georgia Tech. GT is the highest ranked opponent UVa has defeated since taking down then-No. 4 Florida State 26-21, which coincidentally came six years ago to the day. The Hoos hope the gap between significant wins isn’t nearly as long the next time around.

“It’s definitely exciting. I’m just happy for my teammates. They worked hard all week and I’m happy for them,” Jones said. “It’s definitely the biggest win of my career, but I’m hoping to have bigger wins than this.”

Final Stats

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