The Washington Post

Evaluating Virginia’s defensive performance against Georgia Tech

The Virginia defense allowed then-No. 12 Georgia Tech to tally eight rushes of 10 or more yards Saturday during the Cavaliers’ 24-21 upset victory.

To put that in perspective, during Virginia’s 33-21 loss at Georgia Tech, the Yellow Jackets had recorded 11 rushes of 10 or more yards by halftime. They ended up with 14 on the day.

Suffice to say, the Cavaliers demonstrated considerable progress during Saturday’s performance. Sure, Virginia allowed Georgia Tech to gain 272 rushing yards, but that was 88 yards below the Yellow Jackets’ season average entering the game. The Cavaliers were the first opponent to hold Georgia Tech under 300 total yards (296) this season.

“It was the same game plan as last year,” defensive coordinator Jim Reid said Saturday night in a telephone interview. “Exact same. The players did what they were supposed to do. They executed and understood it, wanted to do it. And I just think they matured. They’re maturing every week.”

Virginia did not record a sack, but the Cavaliers didn’t have much opportunity to do so. Georgia Tech attempted just eight passes and gained just 24 passing yards.

Two of those pass attempts ended in interceptions on consecutive Georgia Tech possessions in the second quarter.

With just less than three minutes to play in the first half and the Yellow Jackets down by seven, Georgia Tech quarterback Tevin Washington lofted a deep pass that senior cornerback Chase Minnifield turned into his twelfth career interception. The pick moved Minnifield into a tie with Bryan Shumock (1977-80), Joe Crocker (1992-95) and Anthony Poindexter (1995-98) for the No. 6 spot on the program’s all-time interceptions list.

Virginia capitalized by driving 41 yards in eight plays and converting a field goal. Georgia Tech got the ball back with 14 seconds remaining in the first half, and Washington heaved a deep pass that easily was picked off by true freshman cornerback Demetrious Nicholson. It was Nicholson’s second interception of the season.

One of Reid’s goals for the Cavaliers defense is to record at least three three-and-outs each game, and while Virginia did not meet that objective, the two three-and-outs it did force came at crucial points in the game.

After the Cavaliers drove the ball 73 yards in 12 plays and scored a touchdown on their first possession, the Virginia defense made a statement of its own by forcing Georgia Tech to go three-and-out on its first offensive series. The Yellow Jackets were penalized twice and managed negative-two yards on that drive.

Georgia Tech turned in a 10-play drive, an 11-play drive and a 19-play drive, but when the Yellow Jackets most needed to sustain a long possession, the Virginia defense held steady. Georgia Tech’s final three drives netted a combined 42 yards, and each ended with punts.

Trailing by three, the Yellow Jackets took over at their own 42-yard line with just less than eight minutes remaining in the game. It would turn out to be Georgia Tech’s final possession of the game. Junior linebacker Steve Greer made a critical stop after Washington scrambled out of the pocket on third and 14 and gained just two yards. The Cavaliers forced a three-and-out.

Speaking of third downs, Georgia Tech entered the game leading the nation in third down conversion percentage (62.2 percent). But on Saturday, the Yellow Jackets converted on 6 of 14 percent (42.9 percent).

Reid has said he would prefer his defense hold an opposing offense to around 35 percent on third down conversions, but against Georgia Tech’s prolific offense, 6 of 14 isn’t bad at all.

Here’s a rundown of how the Cavaliers fared against Georgia Tech, based on some of the goals Reid has said they try to meet each game:

Rushing yards allowed

Goal – 105

Georgia Tech – 272

Passing yards allowed

Goal – 225

Georgia Tech – 24

Total yards allowed

Goal – 330

Georgia Tech – 296

Three-and-outs forced

Goal – at least 3

Georgia Tech – 2


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