To make his point about how effective Georgia Tech’s counter run plays can be, Virginia defensive coordinator Jim Reid sprung out of his chair in the defensive meeting room at McCue Center late last week and queued up the overhead digital film projector to the Yellow Jackets’ first play from scrimmage during a 66-24 win Sept. 17 over Kansas.
When the play begins, Georgia Tech appears to be running a toss sweep to the left, but quarterback Tevin Washington fakes the toss, pulls the ball back down and hands it off to A-back Orwin Smith, who then ran to his right and ended up sprinting 95 yards for a touchdown.
“That’s what you call a counter play,” Reid said. “So that’s what we’re working on.”
He chuckled nervously.
Georgia Tech, as you may have heard, is really, really good at running the football. And the Virginia defense is untested this season against really, really good opposing rushing offenses.
Indiana averaged 3.6 yards per carry and gained 148 rushing yards against the Cavaliers. North Carolina averaged 5.4 yards per carry and gained 222 rushing yards. Indiana ranks No. 92 in the nation in rushing offense; North Carolina ranks No. 52.
Southern Mississippi – which ranks No. 22 in the nation in rushing offense – averaged 1.7 yards per carry and gained 61 yards against Virginia. But still, the Eagles’ run game is nowhere near the caliber or complexity as that of Georgia Tech.
The Yellow Jackets posted 477 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns against Virginia last season. Georgia Tech is averaging 360.5 rushing yards per game this season.
Reid said the Cavaliers began preparing to face Georgia Tech’s triple-option schemes during spring practice. They spent portions of training camp in August working on defending the triple option, as well. Reid said he was grateful to have the bye week immediately precede the Georgia Tech game this year.
“The only reason why I’m happy right now is this [last Thursday] was our second work day practice,” Reid said. “I wouldn’t even have given you this interview if I had seen what I’d seen on tape just prior to now because there would be a lot of work to do if there would have been one more practice before we played [Georgia Tech].
“Because regardless of the plan you put in place, there’s a lot of new reads, a lot of different techniques that you have with the triple option and all the plays they have off of it. Practice went okay yesterday. It just went okay today.
“If we had to play on Saturday, I’d be – even though we worked it in the spring and we worked it during training camp, there’s a sense of urgency you need, and we practiced hard today, but the assignments really weren’t down as well as we need them to be. It’s a hard offense to duplicate, you know?”
Preparing for Georgia Tech is an even more difficult challenge for the defense, Reid said, considering the Virginia offense does not run any counter plays. That means the team’s defense doesn’t see those looks during the parts of practice when it isn’t facing the scout team.
“We didn’t stop a counter play all of 2010,” Reid said. “A couple, but we really got hurt by it.”
On Tuesday, Reid said in a teleconference that even though the Cavaliers have six senior starters and a number of other veterans on defense – players who have faced Georgia Tech’s unique style of offense several times in their careers – that doesn’t necessarily make gearing up to face the Yellow Jackets any easier.
“It’s very, very difficult when you face [the triple option] just once a year,” Reid said. “The recall is very limited. . . . It’s a whole new learning experience. It’s a very good offense, very detailed. They can attack you in so many ways. We’ve got to be able to adjust and improvise as the game goes on.”