Virginia emphasizes assignment defense while preparing for Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense

Typically, the Virginia football players have Mondays off. But since fall break is underway and class isn’t in session – and because the Cavaliers will try to contain undefeated Georgia Tech on Saturday – the players assembled for practice at 2 p.m. today.

“We’ll take all the time we can get,” London said.

Indeed, Virginia took advantage of its bye last week with practices that focused – defensively, at least – on trying to figure out the most prudent way to combat Georgia Tech’s unique triple-option offense. The Cavaliers spent time working on its defensive game plan against the Yellow Jackets in spring practice and training camp, as well.

Last season, Virginia dropped a 33-21 decision at Georgia Tech in which the Yellow Jackets gained 477 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns.

While the Cavaliers have not been nearly as porous against the run this season (116.4 ypg allowed) as they were last year (203.7 ypg allowed), Virginia did allow the lone ACC foe it has faced thus far to do considerable damage on the ground. North Carolina tallied 222 rushing yards en route to a 28-17 win Sept. 17 over the Cavaliers.

Georgia Tech currently ranks No. 4 in the nation in rushing offense (360.5 yards per game) and total offense (553.5 ypg) and ranks No. 6 in the country in points per game (46.5). The Yellow Jackets are coming off a 21-16 win over Maryland in which Georgia Tech quarterback Tevin Washington carried the ball 32 times for 120 yards and two touchdowns.

The Terrapins … um … held (?) the Yellow Jackets to 272 rushing yards, and London said he thinks that may have been at least partially due to Maryland’s defensive approach.

“It looked like Maryland was more inclined to allow the quarterback to try to run the ball more,” London said. “I think the quarterback had 32 rushes, so there might be some scheme built into it. If anybody’s going to beat you, let the quarterback beat you.”

But, London noted, there are many different components of the triple- option that opposing teams have to prepare for aside from the quarterback. The Yellow Jackets run options of dives and traps. Five Georgia Tech players have gained more than 200 rushing yards through six games; three – including Washington – have gained more than 300 rushing yards.

Georgia Tech junior A-back Orwin Smith, the team’s leading rusher, is averaging 14.5 yards per carry. He has scored eight touchdowns and racked up 464 rushing yards. Redshirt sophomore fullback David Sims has tallied 432 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Washington has gained 309 yards and six touchdowns.

For comparison’s sake, three Virginia players have rushed for more than 200 yards thus far; only junior tailback Perry Jones (365) has tallied more than 300 rushing yards.

“You just have to choose how you’re going to defend this thing,” London said. “A couple times they ran a trap option where the fullback could have still kept on running. So if you allocate all your defenders to that guy, then you’d be one light on the quarterback. But if you say the corner has to defend the pitch with a blocker on him, their running backs have done a good job of catching the pitch and creating extra yardage.”

Senior Jacob Hodges, the team’s 5-foot-11, 190-pound holder, has been simulating Washington in practice for the Cavaliers. While it might come as a surprise that a player who joined the Cavaliers last season after serving as a team manager would be asked to serve such a crucial role, London pointed out that Hodges operated a style of offense similar to the triple option as the quarterback at Mountain View High School in Stafford, Va.

So even though, as redshirt junior defensive end Billy Schautz noted Monday, Hodges doesn’t quite possess the same speed and quickness as Washington, he does understand – and more importantly, is able to simulate – the timing, technique and footwork of the triple-option.

Schautz said typically the defense meets more as an entire unit, but last week the defensive players held more meetings than usual as individual position groups. Also, Schautz said, the scout team offense hasn’t been using a football when going through its plays during practice against the first- and second-team defenses. Each defender is assigned a particular offensive player to be responsible for, and he is to tackle said scout team player on each play regardless of what the offense executed.

“You never know who’s going to get the football in this offense, so we want to tackle every option and bring them to the ground,” Schautz said. “It makes you really focus on what your responsibility is for that play.”

The Cavaliers also have had their offensive linemen cut block defenders in anticipation of a blocking technique for which the Yellow Jackets have become known during Coach Paul Johnson’s tenure. In a cut block, an offensive linemen will attempt to block an opposing defender low so that the defender is worried about protecting his legs instead of pursuing the ball-carrier.

“There’s so many different things, so you do try to take it and go part-part-part-whole and put it all together,” London said. “You try to give as many looks as you can because those are the reads that you have to go off of” during games.

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