Whose decision was it to play Georgia Tech for homecoming? I don't know how far in advance these things are determined, but it wasn't a stretch to assume that we'd be heavy underdogs for this game. They could've made homecoming against Idaho, a game in which we were favored by 17 points. We all know how that turned out, but that couldn't have been predicted. If you are inviting all your alumni back to visit and attend a football game, shouldn't you pick a game we are likely to win? Aren't the rich alumni more likely to donate money if they are happy after seeing us win?
As it turns out, we are only 8 point underdogs, which seems low to me. Georgia Tech is #12 in the nation, and sits at 6-0. We are 3-2 and haven't looked good in a month. Last year, in Atlanta, the Yellow Jackets beat us by 12, 33-21. Two years ago, Georgia Tech beat us 34-9 in a monsoon. That game was not as close as the score indicates, as the Jackets dominated the ball for nearly ¾ of the game.
This game also marks Al Groh's return to Charlottesville as the defensive coordinator of Georgia Tech. Does this give us an advantage? I'm curious how the fans will react to Al. Will they boo him? Probably. I, for one, think indifference is the right option. Groh is gone, the program has moved on. The fans should too.
The Hoos come off a bye. The Jackets come off a closer-than-it-should-have-been game at home against Maryland. Who will come out on top this week? Check back..
Virginia on Offense
The Virginia offense isn't bad. I know that sounds crazy to most Virginia fans, but it's true. At least on paper. We are 41st in the nation in rushing offense, 38th in passing offense and 39th in total offense. That puts us solidly in the top third of the nation offensively. Coupled with a half-decent defense, that would be enough to win football games.
The problem is that while having success, the offense simply isn't putting points on the board. Those top 40 rankings, you can throw them out the window. Yards don't win football games, points do. And we are 69th in the nation in scoring. Turnovers, penalties, missed opportunities in the red zone and poor game management are killing this offense.
Some of these problems are typical of a young team with a young quarterback. But some of them aren't. Some of them are problems being made by veteran players. Some of them are problems being made by the coaching staff. Some of it is just bad luck.
The Yellow Jackets defense will be familiar to anybody who watched Virginia over the past decade. It is the same 3-4 defense that we ran when Al Groh was our head coach. Mike London was our defensive coordinator for part of that time, so he should be intimately familiar with it.
If you look back at Virginia's most successful defenses under Al Groh, they all had a dominating presence at DE. This GT defense does not have that. It does have two veteran DEs, senior Jason Peters and junior Izaan Cross. Peters is the more disruptive player, accounting for 2 sacks so far this season after the two combined for just 4 all of last year.
The other DL is senior DT Logan Walls, who reminds me some of Andrew Hoffman, in style. He's undersized, but he keeps the motor running and continues to fight his way into the backfield. He isn't going to make a lot of plays on his own, but he'll be consistently around the ball.
The LBs are really the strength of this defense, led by junior ILB Julian Burnett. Burnett led the team in tackles last year, and he is repeating that this year. Burnett is a little undersized, but he is fast and he is strong. He can be blocked in line, but he is very good at going sideline to sideline and making plays in space. The other ILB is sophomore Daniel Drummond. Drummond is bigger, but nowhere as athletic. The matchup between these two LBs and the interior of our OL could well determine the game. I expect to see us run the ball inside as much as possible, letting bigger backs like Kevin Parks and Clifton Richardson run in the A gap between Austin Pasztor and Anthony Mihota.
The OLBs are senior Steven Sylvester and sophomore Jeremiah Attaochu. Attaochu is the pass rusher of the group, with sacks on the season already. Sylvester is a veteran who has been around forever, and has a knack for making plays. The two OLBs are another reason why I expect to see us run the ball up the middle. I feel like there is more room for success there.
The Georgia Tech secondary had to be rebuilt from scratch after losing all 4 starters from last year. Still, there is talent there. The CBs are junior Rod Sweeting and sophomore Louis Young. Sweeting is a playmaker, and has 2 interceptions this year. Young is in his first year of extended playing time on defense, but has played well. The safeties are sophomore Isaiah Johnson and senior Rashaad Reid. Johnson is the star of the secondary, with 3 interceptions and 5 passes defended so far. Reid has played both S and CB and is a good cover guy, but struggles somewhat in run support.
Georgia Tech's is ranked in the top 20 in passing defense and passing efficiency defense. Those are impressive considering they've been ahead by large margins in most of their games. Conversely, they are ranked 73rd in rushing defense. This is partly because teams want to run the ball to keep the clock moving and the Yellow Jacket's offense off the field. But it also because their run defense simply isn't that good.
For both of those reasons, I expect to see us run the ball a lot. There is a third reason why I expect this. We are pretty good at it. If our OL plays up their capabilities, we should be able to open holes for all of the running backs, but especially the bigger guys I already mentioned. I could see Kevin Parks having a huge game. Perry Jones will be used as well, but probably more as a receiver. Screen passes could be big against a GT defense that aggressively goes after the QB.
Virginia fans know that mobile QBs tended to give Al Groh's defense trouble. So, if David Watford is going to get extended reps, I would really like to see him get out of the pocket and make some plays with his legs. That could be a big weapon in this game.
Virginia on Defense
By now, everybody knows that Georgia Tech runs the triple option. It is a highly efficient offense that relies heavily on the ground game. They do a lot of misdirection, but they are also somewhat predictable because they will be in the same formation on almost every play. They are 4th in the nation in total offense, and in rushing offense. Last year they were 1st in rushing offense, but just 34th in total offense. They ranked similarly in 2009.
This year, they are actually throwing the ball more that they have in the past. They are 95th in passing offense after being next to last a year ago. The reason for this is new QB Tevin Washington. Not to take anything away from Josh Nesbitt, who ran the offense for the past few years and was a great option QB, but Washington is a better passer and still a very good runner. Washington has rushed for 309 yards and 6 TDs to go along with 1052 yards passing and 10 TDs. That is already nearly as many passing yards as the team had last year, and it is more TDs.
The first thing you will notice about the triple option is the two wing-backs who line up offset from the OTs, about a yard off their outside shoulders. These are called the A-backs. The starters at A-back are senior Roddy Jones and junior Orwin Smith. Senior Embry Peeples will get carries there as well. The two starters have combined for nearly 700 yards and 10 TDs already this year. Smith is the leading rusher thus far this year.
The offense also features a third back, who lines up behind the QB in a more traditional spot. This is called the B-back and historically has been the best RB on the team. This year, coach Paul Johnson hasn't really settled on a single B-back, but sophomore David Sims has been starting and has rushed for 432 yards and 3 TDs.
The premise of the triple option is that the QB will read the defense at the snap and decide whether or not to hand the ball off to the B-back crashing the middle. If he decides not to, he will roll out to either direction, with the option of pitching the ball to the A-back or keeping it himself. All these options make the offense difficult to defend, but also difficult to run.
Obviously, there are tons of different wrinkles they can put in. One favorite is to loop one of the A-backs around behind the B-back, and use him as the pitch man, with the other A-back acting as a blocker. Another is simply to run the B-back out to one side as the pitch man. Again, this just makes it harder to defend.
For a team that throws the ball roughly 10 times per game, Georgia Tech has had little trouble recruiting top notch WRs. They aren't deep there, but they do have a few playmakers. Junior Stephen Hill is by far the top receiver on the team. He has 17 catches for 552 yards and 4 TDs already. That is impressive since the team has completed just 41 passes on the year. It is also more catches than anybody on the team had last year. Only one other WR has a catch this year, and that is senior Tyler Melton, with 5 catches for 105 yards. The other receptions are all from the running backs. Hill, at 6'5", is going to be a tough matchup for either Chase Minnifield or Demetrious Nicholson. If they can get Hill matched up man-to-man with Nicholson, look for them to throw it deep. With safeties Rodney McLeod and Corey Mosley spending a lot of time near the line of scrimmage, focused on the ground game, this is a huge concern.
The key to stopping this offense is to disrupt its timing. That means getting into the backfield and forcing Washington to make decisions before he wants to. Of course, Georgia Tech knows this. Their OL isn't big, but they are quick, and they are adept at cut blocking. They will block low and try to take out the defenders legs, preventing them from getting penetration. The center is sophomore Jay Finch, and he has played well for the most part. But he can be beaten by quicker DTs. If Will Hill can get off the snap well and get into the backfield, he could be seriously disruptive.
By and large, the big plays from this offense come on the perimeter. This means that there will be a lot of pressure on our OLBs to stay in their lanes and not allow the pitchman to get outside them. LaRoy Reynolds, Aaron Taliaferro and Ausar Walcott could really determine what kind of day our defense has. They need to stay wide, and force the play back inside. And, of course, they need to make tackles when they get the chance. Missed tackles will kill us in this game.
Let's be honest. We aren't going to stop Georgia Tech's offense. The important thing is making them work for everything. They will make mistakes and they will turn the ball over. Capitalizing on those turnovers is the only chance we've got.
After a promising beginning to the season, I have begun to sour on this team. Too many mistakes are being made, too many little things are going wrong, and too many chances are being wasted. That said, there is talent on this team, and I think we are headed in the right direction.
But this game is a rough matchup. Our defense struggles against misdirection and mobile QBs. And GT's offense is predicated on those two things. Our secondary has trouble with bigger receivers, and GT has a 6'5" dynamic WR. Our offense is prone to turnovers, and GT has one of the top turnover margins in the country.
On top of all of that, GT is simply more talented and more disciplined than we are. I have a feeling this could get ugly.
Prediction: Jackets 48, Hoos 20