Three-List Preview: Virginia Football Versus Georgia Tech

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Joe Reed and the Virginia football offense need to put points on the board. ~ Photo by Michael Ingalls

Georgia Tech (4-3, 3-2 in the ACC) comes into Scott Stadium on Nov. 4 for a 3 p.m. showdown with the Virginia Cavaliers football squad, which sits at 5-3 overall and 2-2 in the ACC but has really struggled the past two weeks in losses to Boston College and Pittsburgh.

Just two weeks ago, Virginia entered Scott Stadium with a 5-1 record. The mood was good and Cavalier nation was thinking about its team becoming bowl eligibility with a likely win over Boston College. What happened was the Eagles, who are proving to be a pretty good team, decimated the Hoos, 41-10.

Virginia took to the road last Saturday to face an average Pittsburgh team. The Hoos fell behind 21-0 in the first half and ultimately succumbed to the Panthers, 31-14, leaving many plays on the field in a frustrating afternoon.

Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall felt the pounding his team took against BC may have contributed to the effort against Pittsburgh.

“The reality of where we currently are is the Boston College loss was I think a surprise in the way the game played out,” Mendenhall said. “I think it hurt our team more than what I anticipated. I thought our team played sluggish and uninspired after watching [the Pitt game]. We were right by assignment a lot of the time on Saturday, but not right by mindset and edge and emotion and passion. There were some lingering effects as I see it on film, met with my team. I didn’t see it in practice during the week as much.”

Can the Cavaliers regroup? We’ll find out if that’s the case Saturday, when the Yellow Jackets and their triple option attack enter Scott Stadium. UVA played well at Georgia Tech last season. Big plays really hurt the Cavaliers, who for the most part held the Tech offense in check. Led by quarterback Matt Johns, Virginia had possession down only seven late in the fourth quarter before an interception return for a touchdown sealed a 31-17 victory for Paul Johnson’s group.

Georgia Tech has yet to win away from home this year. However, two of those losses (Tennessee in OT and Miami) were by 1-point and the other came last week during a rain-soaked affair against a Clemson team that sits No. 4 in the College Football Playoff rankings.

Tech features the nation’s No. 3 rushing attack, averaging 347.9 yards per game, and a defense that is No. 10 in the nation in 3rd down conversion percentage (27.9% allowed), No. 25 in total defense (330.1 yards allowed per game), and No. 39 in points allowed (21.3 points per game). This is the first of four November games for Virginia, which is entering the most challenging part of its 2017 schedule for sure.

Virginia Football Essentials

Three Big Trends

1. Slow starts hurting the Hoos. Virginia fell behind 24-0 against Boston College and 21-0 against Pittsburgh. Offense, defense, special teams … all three phases need to be sharp from the get-go. Kurt Benkert mentioned this in his October 30 media appearance, so we’ll see if it translates to the field on Saturday. Falling behind obviously hurts on the scoreboard, but it’s also a serious test to the resolve of a Cavalier team on its heels.

2. Virginia isn’t just starting slowly in the first quarter. It’s happening in the third quarter, too. Virginia scored a touchdown late in the first half against Boston College to close the deficit to 24-7. Against Pitt, the Cavaliers closed to within 21-7 with a late first-half score. In both cases the momentum didn’t continue into the third quarter, and with better starts to the second-half Virginia could have potentially been in those games at the end. Instead, the Hoos were outscored 10-0 by the Eagles and 7-0 by the Panthers in the third quarter. And in a win over UNC on October 21, Virginia yielded two scores to fall behind 14-10 in the third.

Meanwhile, Georgia Tech seems to excel after the half, outscoring its opponents 70-19 in the third.

3. Third down offense trending downward for the Hoos. Virginia converted around 50% of its third downs the first four games of 2017. Since then, however, the Cavaliers are converting at only a 37.3% clip, including a 6-of-17 effort against Pitt last week. Virginia also went 1-for-5 on fourth down against the Panthers. The offense has to stay on the field or else risk a thin defense getting worn down.

Three Big Questions

1. Can Virginia’s defense get its swagger back? The Cavalier defense was confident and playing at a high level before getting blitzed by Boston College. Coach Mendenhall mentioned on Monday that the unit played relatively well assignment-wise against Pitt, but the fire wasn’t there. Micah Kiser mentioned something similar, adding that the players weren’t having fun on the field. Perhaps the players simply hadn’t recovered from the jolt that was the BC game. Recapturing the energy could help this defensive unit find the form it exhibited earlier this year.

2. Can Virginia’s defense prevent big plays? Last season, Virginia’s defense was pretty successful against Georgia Tech, allowing only 321 yards of offense including 199 yards rushing. The Hoos surrendered 181 of those on three plays – a Marcus Marshall 67-yard run, a Qua Searcy 60-yard run, and a Justin Thomas 54-yard touchdown pass to Clinton Lynch. All three Georgia Tech offensive touchdowns came on big plays. Virginia had success against the Tech triple option last year. Hopefully this year the D can have the same success while not surrendering the huge plays.

3. Can Virginia’s offense put points on the scoreboard? Eight drives inside Pitt territory last week result in 14 points. Fourteen. Virginia had only 10 points the week before against Boston College, 20 against UNC and 21 against Duke. Quite simply, UVA has to score points, especially early to get off to a positive start against the Yellow Jackets.

Three Big Foes

1.Quarterback TaQuon Marshall. The orchestrater of Tech’s triple-option has rushed for over 100 yards in each of Georgia Tech’s three ACC wins, including a 163-yard effort versus Wake Forest on October 21. He has 41 yards on 31 rushes in loss at Clemson and Miami. Marshall’s passing has been very shaky in the ACC road losses, as he has totaled only 11 completions in 32 attempts for 155 yards. Still, Georgia Tech always poses a threat in the play-action, which has hurt Virginia recently. Marshall has accounted for 17 of Tech’s touchdowns this season – 12 on the ground and 5 through the air.

2. Running back KirVonte Benson. Benson, who lines up directly behind the quarterback, leads the Yellow Jackets in rushing with 781 yards while averaging 5.9 yards per carry. The sophomore has rushed for over 100 yards in five games, including the last two contests versus Wake Forest (136) and Clemson (129). Benson is a tough runner with good balance and vision. He doesn’t look like a blazer, but he has two runs of over 60 yards this season.

3. Defensive end Antonio Simmons. Simmons leads all of Georgia Tech’s defensive linemen in tackles (22, including 19 solo) and leads the team in both tackles for loss (6.5) and sacks (4.5). The senior will be one to watch against a Virginia offensive line that has surrendered 10 sacks the past three games and will be without starting senior left tackle Jack English.

Hey Remember When …

Alvin Pearman raced into the end zone as Virginia edged Georgia Tech, 39-38, in Scott Stadium in 2001. The infamous hook-and-ladder play!

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1 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Juan Thornhill… that’s been the key the past 2 weeks. If he plays we win, if he doesn’t we lose. I think it’s really that simple

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