Preview Capsule – Virginia
Virginia (2-2, 0-1 ACC) at Georgia Tech (3-2, 2-1)
Time: 3:30 p.m./Bobby Dodd Stadium, Atlanta
Last meeting: Georgia Tech won 34-9 last season
Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets may finally be settling in offensively, as they look to ride momentum from last week’s closing minutes against Wake Forest. After a struggling with inconsistency in the passing and running game, they hope to have found an offensive line unit that can work, with Jay Finch likely to take over the left offensive guard duties if starter Will Jackson’s injury keeps him hampered. Additionally, coming off a career-high-tying performance at Wake Forest, Joshua Nesbitt finally looks fully comfortable at quarterback, where he completed 11 passes last week. Tweaks in the receiving corps, as well as jolts of confidence being sent in the direction of Stephen Hill should get that unit playing consistently soon, as well. This game will be a good test to see if the offense has settled into itself, and can build momentum through the remainder of the season.
Virginia: Offense was a struggle for the Cavaliers last week against Florida State, as they scored just 14 points in a blowout losing effort at home. To Virginia’s credit, however, starting quarterback Marc Verica is among the ACC’s leaders, averaging 227 yards passing a game. He bested Seminoles Heisman hopeful Christian Ponder with a 211-yard passing performance last week. If Verica gets time to throw, it could be a repeat of the Russell Wilson Show at Georgia Tech. Two weeks ago at Bobby Dodd Stadium, Wilson threw for 359 yards in a North Carolina State win. Verica isn’t the only Virginia player the Yellow Jackets will have to be wary of, offensively. While Virginia has passed 144 times through the first four games, it has also rushed 133 times, signaling a balanced scheme.
EDGE: Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech: The defense received a shot in the arm last week after holding Wake Forest to 268 yards of total offense, including just 161 on the ground. These statistics came one week after the Yellow Jackets allowed Wilson’s Wolfpack to torch them for 527 yards of total offense. To the players, simplified play calls and better communication were the reason for success against the Demon Deacons and they are optimistic about keeping it all rolling into this week. With the offense struggling at times early, the defense felt it necessary to hold on as many drives at it could. The confidence in holding Wake Forest just long enough for the offense to seal a comeback late, should carry over this week.
Virginia: Like Georgia Tech, Virginia has undergone a bit of a defensive transformation this fall. With the firing of former Virginia head coach — now Georgia Tech defensive coordinator — Al Groh following last season, the Cavaliers have dropped Groh’s famed 3-4 scheme in favor of a 4-3 setup. While the 3-4 is still being implemented at Georgia Tech, Groh pulled no punches this week in saying the Cavaliers have an advantage because they know intricate details about the Yellow Jackets that they can expose. Georgia Tech on the other hand, played in a 4-3 scheme last year. Two players to watch defensively for the Cavaliers are Ras-I Dowling and Chase Minnifield. Dowling is a shutdown cornerback returning from injury and likely to be matched up with Hill. Minnifield, the son of a former NFL player, is the other cornerback, and he has three interceptions this season.
EDGE: Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech: Head coach Paul Johnson still isn’t pleased with either of his punting teams, nor is he too pleased with his kick return unit. What he can’t help but grin about, however, is his place-kicker, Scott Blair. The once-embattled Blair has been one of the Yellow Jackets’ most consistent players, booting home all seven of his field goal attempts this season. He hasn’t hit many cheap shots, either. Four of the seven have been from beyond 40 yards; a locale that once seemed to haunt him. In addition to Blair’s success, the Yellow Jackets seem optimistic that Jerrard Tarrant is finally getting a chance to produce in the punt return game. A 25-yard return last week — mostly by his improvisation — signals a potential turnaround for the returner who has been hampered by poor blocking and occasionally poor decision-making.
Virginia: The Cavaliers have been less crisp on special teams, with place-kickers going a paltry 2-for-6 on attempts this season. Two of those attempts were from beyond 50 yards. In the kick return game, Virginia has been reasonably better, with primary kick returner Raynard Horne returning seven for an average of 30.0 yards. He also has something this season the Yellow Jackets haven’t had in more than 11 years — a kick return touchdown.
EDGE: Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech: Johnson has been coaching for 31 years, including his now three-year stint with the Yellow Jackets. This season has been a unique one for him, as he has dealt with struggles and inconsistency in ways he has largely dodged throughout his career. His challenge for much of the rest of the season has been to keep his players on an even-keel and to keep them convinced that despite the raised expectations, nothing has made 2010 a lost year yet. If they can build momentum going into next week’s contest against Middle Tennessee State, the ACC race remains in their favor. But Saturday’s game against Virginia is one they need for the Coastal Division race for sure.
Virginia: Mike London hasn’t been coaching as long as Johnson, but has generated a positive buzz around Charlottesville, Va. after returning from a stint as head coach at Richmond. A former assistant under Groh, London has a particular relationship with the Georgia Tech defensive coordinator that starts and ends with Virginia. But to hear either one of them tell it this week, the past is the past. As Groh said, ‘it’s history.’ The only thing that matters for both is the present, and London is hopeful that his team will be up to the tall task of facing the Yellow Jackets on the road. That’s his only concern.
EDGE: Georgia Tech
Offense: Georgia Tech’s guards vs. Virginia defensive tackle Matt Conrath. One of the cornerstones of Groh’s former defense, Conrath is a 6-foot-7, 270-pound defensive tackle. While the junior is slated as an “or” at defensive tackle with senior John-Kevin Dolce, blocking a player of Conrath’s size will be integral to Georgia Tech’s interior rush success.
Defense: Mario Butler vs. Kris Burd. The Yellow Jackets cornerback likely will be pitted against the speedy wide out who leads the team with 22 catches for 378 yards. He also has four touchdown receptions.