Georgia Tech has a glamorous look and a cool nickname for its hard-hitting defense, but while the Yellow Jackets were standing around admiring themselves today, gentlemanly old Virginia stole all the glamor.
While Georgia Tech was still posing for its fans, tailback Barry Word broke off tackle for a 79-yard touchdown on the Cavaliers' second play from scrimmage and picked up 52 yards on the next series to set up Don Majkowski's three-yard touchdown run. Majkowski added a 15-yard scoring pass to tight end Geno Zimmerlink and Kenny Stadlin kicked a 35-yard field goal as the Cavaliers opened their Atlantic Coast Conference football season by dominating the Yellow Jackets, 24-13, at Grant Field.
Because all of this occurred in a frantic 37-point first half, the crowd of 38,291 was expecting more of the same. But quite simply, that was all there was. The second half was scoreless, giving the game a bizarre mix of all offense in one half and all defense in the second.
Georgia Tech's "Black Watch" defense finally awoke to stop Virginia cold, but the Yellow Jackets couldn't add anything to John Dewberry's five-yard touchdown pass to Tim Manion in the first quarter and Thomas Palmer's two field goals in the first half.
"I don't know which half I liked better," said Virginia Coach George Welsh. "I think both defenses were down in the first half. Maybe it was a mental or emotional thing."
It should be noted that Georgia Tech (1-1 in ACC and overall) is indeed tough, and almost as cool as Coach Bill Curry's mirrored sunglasses. The Black Watch, returning 10 starters, limited Virginia to 148 yards in the second half, most of it gained in the late minutes of the fourth quarter. The Cavaliers had only 26 yards of offense in the third period after gaining 297 in the first half. They did not gain a second-half first down until 8:08 remained in the game.
"We finally took care of business like we were supposed to," said Georgia Tech defensive end Pat Swilling. "We hit hard, we played with enthusiasm. It was just all a half late."
The Cavaliers (1-0 in ACC, 2-0 overall) didn't give Georgia Tech any opportunities, thanks to the punting of John Walker, who averaged 47.6 yards on seven attempts, and a defense that played beyond its years and stole the Black Watch's thunder. A unit that returned only four starters held the Yellow Jackets to 96 yards offense in the second half after allowing 249 in the first, and intercepted three of Dewberry's passes.
Junior free safety Kevin Gould had two of the interceptions, the second one stopping Tech's final drive on the Yellow Jacket 44 with 4:10 remaining. Chris Warren had the other, on a long pass attempt at the close of the first half. Gould had six tackles and sophomore defensive end Sean Scott had a game-high eight tackles, two of them sacks of Dewberry for minus-20 yards.
"They hit well," said Dewberry, last year's all-ACC quarterback, who completed 15 of 28 passes for 190 yards. "VMI scored 15 points and we scored 13, so their defense can't have a lot of problems, can it?"
Neither defense was in evidence in the first half. Virginia punted just once, and that didn't come until 1:52 remained. The Cavaliers scored on every other possession.
Tech drove 48 yards in nine plays on its first possession to score on Palmer's 47-yard field goal.
But on Virginia's second play from scrimmage, Word stunned the crowd with his 79-yard scoring run. It was a simple off-tackle play designed to go right that he cut back to the left, taking advantage of a superb block by offensive tackle Jim Dombrowski.
"I just ran," Word said. "It opened up. The linebackers were going with the flow and I cut it back, made a defensive back miss, Jim Dombrowski wiped his guy out, and there was no one there."
Georgia Tech responded by driving 79 yards in nine plays, culminating in a touchdown pass from Dewberry, under pressure on a rollout, to Manion. But 20 seconds later, Word broke around end again, this time from the other side, and ran 52 yards until being run out of bounds at the Tech 28 by defensive back Anthony Harrison.
"I had to sit down after that one," said Word, who alternates at fullback with Howard Petty. "It felt like I had played a whole game."
"The early long runs were shocking," Curry said. "We went into a sort of comatose state defensively after that."
Word had gained 131 yards in only two carries and finished with 188 on 17 attempts. The 79-yarder was the third-longest scoring run in Virginia history and the longest of his career.
Stadlin added a 35-yard field goal at the start of the second quarter, and the Cavaliers scored their final touchdown on the next drive, which went 48 yards on six plays. They took advantage of Warren's 35-yard punt return that set them up at their 48.
Majkowski, who completed 10 of 16 passes for 150 yards, found split end Willie Snead for 17 yards, and almost had a touchdown on the next play when he hit Word in the end zone, but defensive back Willis Crockett knocked the ball loose. Two plays later, however, Majkowski found tight end Zimmerlink, who beat Crockett.
"I'm sure everybody could describe what we just saw as well as I could," Curry said. "We got beat by a team that was better coached, by a team that outhustled us, and a team that outhit us. I thought that this would be an even game. It was not an even game."
The game was the second ACC contest in a crucial string of four for Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets meet Clemson next week and North Carolina the week after.