ATLANTA — Virginia’s defense practiced the play every day this week. And each time, defensive coordinator Jim Reid would remind his unit that Georgia Tech used it to score a touchdown on the first play of the game at Middle Tennessee State last year.
It took 11 seconds Saturday for Reid to realize his warnings had fallen on deaf ears.
Georgia Tech quarterback Tevin Washington dropped back to pass on the Yellow Jackets’ first play from scrimmage and, with the Cavaliers focusing on stopping the run, found fullback Zach Laskey streaking down the sideline all alone on a wheel route for a 70-yard touchdown.
That was merely a sign of things to come as Virginia suffered a lopsided 56-20 loss to Georgia Tech.
It’s the most points Virginia has allowed since the MicronPC.com Bowl in 1999, and will go down as the Cavaliers’ worst defensive performance since Coach Mike London took over the program in 2010.
“It was embarrassing to me and I’m sure I embarrassed my players,” Reid said.
Georgia Tech’s unorthodox offense gained 594 yards and finished with eight plays of more than 20 yards — the same amount Virginia had given up in its first two games combined.
Washington led the charge for the Yellow Jackets, completing six of his eight passes for 125 yards while also rushing for 93 yards and three touchdowns. Running back Orwin Smith added 137 yards on the ground and averaged nearly 23 yards per carry thanks in large part to a number of missed tackles by the Cavaliers.
London called it “a humbling experience” for Virginia, which came to Bobby Dodd Stadium with an opportunity to start a season with three wins for the first time since 2005 and a defense brimming in confidence following a 17-16 win over Penn State last week.
Instead, the Cavaliers left with a wounded ego.
“We got handled today,” London said. “All the way around, we didn’t play well in all facets.”
Nothing went right from the start. Last season, Virginia jumped out to a 14-0 lead and held on for a 24-21 win over the Yellow Jackets. This time around, Virginia found itself trailing 14-0 before five minutes had run off the clock.
Following Washington’s pass to Laskey, Smith scampered 77 yards for a touchdown on Georgia Tech’s next drive.
That awoke Virginia’s offense briefly, and the Cavaliers responded with an eight-play, 71-yard drive that quarterback Michael Rocco capped off with a 19-yard touchdown strike to tight end Jake McGee. But no amount of aerial fireworks would matter because Virginia had no answer for Georgia Tech’s flexbone offense.
On the very next series, Washington broke free for a 60-yard run and at that point – after four offensive plays — the Yellow Jackets were averaging 52.5 yards per snap. Soon thereafter, Washington bulled his way into the end zone on fourth and goal to give Georgia Tech a 21-7 lead.
By the end of the first half, the Yellow Jackets had set a school record for total yards before halftime of an ACC game (385) and racked up 276 rushing yards, more than Virginia gave up in any game last year.
The only time the Cavaliers forced a Georgia Tech punt before halftime came after Washington ran into an official on a third-down quarterback draw, and the Yellow Jackets entered the second half leading by four touchdowns.
Rocco finished the day 15 of 25 for 143 yards, short-arming several throws in the first half with Virginia playing from behind. He also had interceptions on consecutive passes – one to Georgia Tech cornerback Louis Young (Good Counsel) at the end of the first half and another to linebacker Quayshawn Nealy to begin the third quarter. The Yellow Jackets converted both turnovers into touchdowns.
Phillip Sims relieved Rocco in the fourth quarter with the game well out of reach and hit wide receiver E.J. Scott for a 22-yard touchdown pass. He ended the game by throwing another scoring strike to fullback Zachary Swanson as the clock expired. Sims finished 6 of 8 for 56 yards.
Sophomore Kevin Parks paced the Cavaliers with 53 rushing yards, but Virginia once again struggled to convert in short-yardage situation.
But those issues mattered little with a defense that seemed lost all afternoon.
“They really wasn’t doing nothing we haven’t seen in practice,” cornerback Demetrious Nicholson said. “I guess the biggest shock was them jumping out that early and coming out with a pass and scoring on the first play. That’s stuff you don’t expect.”