ATLANTA -- Last week was a step toward turning the season around for Georgia Tech. There were no penalties, no turnovers and no problems on offense or defense. The result was a decisive win over Syracuse, the end of a three-game losing streak and renewed enthusiasm throughout the program.
But the next step in this turnaround must take place Saturday on the road against Virginia. A similar effort likely will yield similar results against the downtrodden Cavaliers. A stumble, however, quickly would wipe out the good feelings created by last weeks impressive win.
I was proud of our team last week, Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson said. The effort and concentration levels were much better. We tried to put an emphasis on penalties, turnovers and all of the things that get you beat, and I thought our guys did a good job handling that in the game.
Having said that, its like I say every week that ones over with now so you move on, and we are getting ready to go up to Charlottesville to play a Virginia team that has its back against the wall.
The game features two promising young quarterbacks: Virginias David Watford and Georgia Techs Vad Lee, a pair of sophomores with big-play ability.
Watford (6-foot-2, 200 pounds) appeared as a reserve in 10 games as a true freshman in 2011 and was redshirted for 2012. Watford is a two-way threat but more is more dangerous as a passer. He has rushed for 138 yards and two touchdowns and has completed 58.5 percent of his throws for 1,339 yards and five touchdowns, with eight interceptions. Watford has thrown for 263 yards in each of the past two games.
Lee has rushed for 354 yards and six touchdowns and completed 44.4 percent of his passes for 846 yards and eight touchdowns, with five interceptions. He threw only three times a week ago, completing all of them. One of the passes went for a touchdown, breaking a three-game run without a scoring pass.
The plan remains for backup Justin Thomas to play a relief role at quarterback. He played one three-and-out series in the first half last week, and he was effective in the second half when given a chance once the game got out of hand. Johnson said both quarterbacks did well with their game management roles last week.
Georgia Tech will also need to slow down Virginia back Kevin Parks, who has rushed for 560 yards and eight touchdowns and caught 25 passes for 270 yards and one touchdown. Parks ran for 63 yards and caught three passes for 34 yards against Georgia Tech last year.
Like most really good backs, hes got great balance, and he breaks tackles, Johnson said. I dont know that hes a burner, but hes fast enough. Hes played against us the last three or four years, and weve got a lot of respect for him.
Virginia also will benefit from having game-breaking freshman Taquan Mizzell back at full speed. Mizzell missed two games and was limited last week because of a badly sprained ankle. Before the season he was touted as potentially having the same impact as Duke Johnson did his freshman year at Miami.
Both teams prefer to run the ball. Georgia Tech has run the ball 404 times and Virginia has run it 306 times, ranking them No. 1 and No. 2 in the ACC. Georgia Techs results have been better. The Yellow Jackets average 304.4 yards on the ground, compared to 176.1 yards for the Cavaliers.
We really need to limit them running the football, Johnson said. If we can do that and maybe get a couple of turnovers, thats always a positive.
Virginia ranks at the bottom of the conference in turnover margin at minus-5. The Cavaliers have turned the ball over 15 times and forced 10 turnovers. Georgia Tech is in the middle of the pack with a plus-1 margin.
One of the things weve taken a look at is theyre No. 2 in the country in time of possession and theyre scoring 36 points a game, Virginia head coach Mike London said. On the other side, were No. 5 in time of possession, but were scoring like 22 points a game. If were going to hang onto the ball, we need to score points ourselves and put ourselves in an opportunity to be competitive in the game.