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Virginia’s Success against Georgia Tech depends on early downs

UVA will need to execute on first and second down to defeat the Yellow Jackets

NCAA Football: Virginia at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

This week the Virginia Cavaliers take on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, which brings a unique set of challenges. The Rambling Wreck employ a triple-option offense, which has led them to to the fourth-best rushing attack in the country at 347 yards on the ground per game. Not to be overlooked, but the Georgia Tech defense presents challenges for UVA as well, since they are ranked in the top 40 in points allowed, yards allowed, and 3rd down percentage. What can the Hoos do to pull off the victory?

When looking at S&P+ ratings, Georgia Tech has been more successful on both sides of the ball on 1st downs which leads to success on 3rd downs. Here is a chart showing this advantage:

Virginia vs. Georgia Tech: By Downs

Down UVA Offensive Rank UVA Defensive Rank GT Offensive Rank GT Defensive Rank Difference when UVA has the ball Difference when UVA is on Defense
Down UVA Offensive Rank UVA Defensive Rank GT Offensive Rank GT Defensive Rank Difference when UVA has the ball Difference when UVA is on Defense
1st Down S&P+ 81 116 57 23 -58 -59
2nd Down S&P+ 117 24 6 106 -11 -18
3rd Down S&P+ 70 82 48 11 -59 -34

When UVA has the ball, they have been able to move the ball down the field using the passing game, especially in early downs. The Cavaliers are ranked 46th in passing yardage and passing S&P+ ratings. Virginia’s success rate through the air is 37 spots higher than Georgia Tech’s defense. However, the Hoos ranked 106 spots worse when looking at their explosiveness in the passing game, especially in standard downs. This means UVA should be able to complete a high number of passes, but the Yellow Jackets have excelled in limiting these passes to short gains that do not result in first downs or touchdowns. Georgia Tech’s defense is ranked tenth in the country at only allowing 27.9% of third downs to be converted. If Virginia is going to put points on the board, they will need to execute in the long passing game, especially on early downs to avoid long 3rd downs.

When the Hoos are on defense, Virginia will have to force the Yellow Jackets into 3rd and long or passing situations. Georgia Tech is fourth in rushing yards, but 128th in passing which is the opposite of UVA’s strength, which is their 18th ranked passing defense. The Yellow Jackets rushing attack has a huge advantage in some of the advanced rushing statistics below:

Virginia vs. Georgia Tech: By Rushing

Category UVA Defensive Rank GT Offensive Rank UVA's Disadvantage
Category UVA Defensive Rank GT Offensive Rank UVA's Disadvantage
Rushing S&P+ Rating 64 26 -38
Rushing Success Rate 40 9 -31
Rushing Explosiveness 85 38 -47
Power Rushing Success Rate 25 12 -13
Rushing Stuff Rate 90 9 -81

Virginia’s defense will need to limit Georgia Tech in the early downs to avoid 3rd and short situations. The Yellow Jackets have converted 46.6% of their 3rd downs, good for 17th best in the country, due to their successful ground game in early downs. If Georgia Tech has to rely on their passing game, the Hoos defense has the advantage in sack rate and passing success rate.

In order to pick up that elusive sixth win, UVA will need to execute on early downs on both sides of the ball to increase their chances of success in third down.