Virginia Coach Mike London could enter into some uncharted waters this weekend. The Cavaliers haven’t started a season with three-straight wins since 2005, which is also the last time Virginia has won a bowl game.
But that could all change in Atlanta on Saturday when Virginia faces Georgia Tech in its first road game of the season. So what factors will decide this one? We’ve got you covered below.
And don’t forget kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 and the game will be televised on ESPNU.
Virginia’s injury report indicates the Cavaliers could be without several key starters. Guard Cody Wallace has already been ruled out for Saturday, and wide receiver Tim Smith is listed as doubtful. Defensive end Bill Schautz, meanwhile, is questionable with a lower leg injury.
The question is whether their replacements are ready for Georgia Tech.
Virginia’s offensive line struggled at times last week against Penn State, and guards Sean Cascarano and Conner Davis will be responsible for slowing down massive Yellow Jackets defensive tackle T.J. Barnes (6 feet 7, 345 pounds). Smith’s injury will thrust wide receiver Dominique Terrell into the spotlight, and perhaps provide sophomore E.J. Scott with some additional playing time. Senior Ausar Walcott and freshman Eli Harold will also be pivotal, because defensive ends are often counted on to stop the run against option-based offenses like Georgia Tech’s flexbone.
Georgia Tech will be without linebacker Daniel Drummond, safety Fred Holton and running back Charles Perkins because of injury.
Get the run game going again
Speaking of that unorthodox Georgia Tech offense, slowing it down again will be a challenge for a Virginia defense that has an inexperienced secondary and several new faces along the defensive line. Maybe the most important factor in how Virginia defends Georgia Tech will be whether its running game gets back on track.
The best defense against Johnson is often a ball-control offense, but the Cavaliers mustered just 32 yards on the ground against Penn State. That must change in Atlanta, because Georgia Tech can wear down defenses when it controls the time-of-possession battle.
“We are looking to being able to get back to run the ball with authority because we have backs that can do that, and that’s a point of emphasis that has to be made this week,” said London, who should also have sophomore tailback Clifton Richardson available now that he has recovered from a hamstring injury. “They have a game that can stay out there forever and eat the clock up.
The Al Groh Factor
This is the third time Virginia has faced former Coach Al Groh, now Georgia Tech’s defensive coordinator, since his tenure in Charlottesville ended and there is nobody better suited to match wits with him than London. After all, he was a defensive coordinator for Groh at Virginia.
This year, Groh has adapted his 3-4 scheme by using linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu as a fourth defensive lineman at times. It proved to be a successful wrinkle when Georgia Tech stymied Virginia Tech’s offense for the most part two weeks ago, and London is preparing for more surprises this week.
“Coach has always been really good at game-planning and scheming the blitz of the month before the game,” London said. “He’s been really good at seeing what you do now and coming up with something that maybe he has not shown in the last two games.”
Watching Georgia Tech in person two weeks ago in Blacksburg, I came away impressed with Groh’s defense. And the loss of so many veterans from a defense that held Georgia Tech less than 300 yards rushing when Virginia beat the Yellow Jackets a year ago is a concern – although linebackers Steve Greer and LaRoy Reynolds remain a strength on this year’s unit. The Cavaliers also don’t have an extra week to prepare like a year ago.
For those reasons, and the additional advantage of Georgia Tech playing a home game, I’m picking the Yellow Jackets.
My prediction: Georgia Tech 31, Virginia 23.
But what do you think? Can Virginia beat Georgia Tech for a second consecutive year, this time at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Or do the Yellow Jackets get a leg up on the Cavaliers in the ACC’s Coastal Division standings. Vote in our poll and let me know how you think this one plays out in the comments section.