When Virginia defensive coordinator Jim Reid looks back on the success he had slowing down Georgia Tech last year, he doesn’t point to the fact that the Cavaliers held the Yellow Jackets to less than 300 yards rushing for the first time all season or the hot start Virginia’s offense got off to, scoring touchdowns on two of its first three drives of the game.
Instead, Reid marvels at how crucial it was to have a bye week ahead of the Georgia Tech game. Though Yellow Jackets Coach Paul Johnson plays down the significance of extra preparation time for his flexbone offense, Reid calls it “a terrific advantage.”
So with the Cavaliers preparing to play Georgia Tech on normal rest Saturday, with a green secondary and several new faces on the defensive line, Reid went to new lengths to ensure Virginia is ready. He has quietly been preparing for the Yellow Jackets since spring practice, throwing in Georgia Tech preparation during certain portions of practices as the Cavaliers got ready for the regular season.
Outside of all the pre-snap motion, there are three options in Johnson’s run game – the dive, the pitch and the quarterback keeper. Virginia linebacker Steve Greer calls the dive Georgia Tech’s “go-to play,” but Reid was adamant that focusing on one aspect of the offense would only spell trouble for a defense.
It also appears the Yellow Jackets have a B-back (their version of a fullback) this year with some speed. Sophomore Zach Laskey is averaging 7.58 yards per carry through two games. Add in quarterback Tevin Washington, who currently ranks second in the ACC with 160 rushing yards, and it’s no wonder Coach Mike London says this game will be “assignment-oriented football.”
“If you cheat in any one of the three areas, you put yourself at great risk in the other two areas,” Reid explained.
Cornerback Demetrious Nicholson also noted that Georgia Tech runs the ball so much, “they try to lull you to sleep and I know they can just take a shot on you and go deep.”
Whether Virginia’s defensive strategy will work this time around remains to be seen, because as London put it, Johnson “always has answers for what we think are answers.” The Cavaliers do have the same scout-team quarterback for a third year in a row. Holder Jacob Hodges ran a triple-option offense in high school and has assumed the role of Washington in practice again this week.
Virginia Tech held he Yellow Jackets were to 192 rushing yards in a season-opening win, but Georgia Tech rebounded with a 59-3 win over Presbyterian last week. In the Yellow Jackets’ loss to the Hokies, Virginia Tech’s defensive tackles got constant push up the middle and negated Georgia Tech’s dive play.
But perhaps the biggest factor in beating Georgia Tech is what Virginia’s offense can do. At Georgia Tech, Johnson is 23-1 when the Yellow Jackets score more than 30 points and they’re 29-6 when leading or tied at halftime. If Georgia Tech is trailing at halftime, such as last year’s loss to Virginia, Johnson is 5-15.
That, though, isn’t why losing to the Cavaliers still eats at Johnson.
The Yellow Jackets came to Charlottesville last October with an undefeated record and a No. 12 ranking and got sent home with a 24-21 Cavaliers victory. From there, the two teams went in opposite directions. After a loss to North Carolina State the next week, Virginia reeled off four straight wins and leapfrogged the Yellow Jackets in the ACC’s Coastal Division. Georgia Tech finished the year 2-5 after its undefeated start.
“Last year they beat us up up there. I give them credit. They got after us, so that’s going to be our challenge,” Johnson said Wednesday on the ACC’s weekly teleconference. “We’ve got to see if we can stand in there toe-to-toe with them and do a little better job than we did a year ago.
“We were feeling awfully good about ourselves up there a year ago when we went in there 6-0. So we need to buckle our chin straps and be ready to play on Saturday.”
Added Greer: “It’s going to be kinda an us against you mentality where we kinda know what they’re going to do and they’re going to have a good idea of what we’re going to do, so its going to just have to be guys beating blocks and making plays, and I think that’s the mentality of our defense.”