It’s been a long time coming — since 2011 to be exact — but the Virginia Cavaliers are going bowling. It was a wet, cold, back and forth afternoon in Charlottesville as the Hoos outlasted the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, 40-36, to notch their sixth win on the year to go 6-3 overall and 3-2 in the ACC. Tip your hat to the players as they never gave up despite trailing 28-13 just two plays into the second half. Not only that, but they drove for the game-winning score going 90 yards on nine plays in just under two minutes, then came up with a huge stop to deny the visitors the ballgame. Earlier in the week, we laid out what to watch, and here’s how it played out.
- Get Georgia Tech off the Field - Georgia Tech came into this game one of the best on the country at sustaining drives. But Virginia’s defense was prepared. Led by Andrew Brown on the defensive line, the Yellow Jackets never got into the rhythm of their offense. After converting 46.6% of their third downs for the year, Virginia held the Yellow Jackets to just 6 of 17, good for only 35%. The key to that as Danny Neckel projected going into the week was winning first and second down. Virginia forced Georgia Tech into an average of 7.3 yards to gain on their 17 third down tries, allowing the Hoos to limit Georgia Tech to 220 rushing yards, their third lowest total of the season.
- Get ahead - While Virginia didn’t play from ahead, they did control most of the game, and if it weren’t for a couple big plays (have you heard that before?), the Cavaliers could have won this one going away. Even though Georgia Tech wasn’t trailing by a large margin, the Hoos did force the Yellow Jackets into throwing the ball more than they’d normally like. Georgia Tech quarterback TaQuon Marshall dropped back 29 times, easily a season high on the season. Here’s another gem from Danny on that note
Georgia Tech has only attempted 20 passes or more twice in their past 28 games. Both times were in losses to #UVA.— Danny Neckel (@DNeckel19) November 5, 2017
Some of that was while Georgia Tech was playing catch up on two late drives in the fourth quarter, but this one belongs to the Cavalier defense who, as noted above, pressured Georgia Tech out of their normal game plan by forcing third and long and making Marshall more of a passer than he is capable of being.
3. Discipline Outside - The Virginia secondary found mixed success in Saturday’s busier-than-normal outing. Having bottled up much of the Yellow Jackets’ running game, the Cavaliers could have put this one away early were it not for several big plays that kept the Georgia Tech offense humming. The first came in the first quarter with Virginia clinging to a 3-0 as Marshall found Jalen Camp across the middle for a 49 yard gain setting up Georgia Tech’s first touchdown. Then, with Virginia leading 33-28 late in the fourth quarter, Marshall found a wide open Ricky Jeune for a 33 yard touchdown and a 36-33 lead (after the two point conversion). But still, those couple of plays not withstanding, the secondary was actually very solid. While the defensive line and linebackers get all the credit for forcing third and long, the secondary deserves the kudos for getting Virginia’s offense back on the field. The unit didn’t yield a single third down conversion when the Yellow Jackets turned to the pass. Marshall was 0-8 with two sacks on his ten drop backs on third down. Virginia’s two interceptions were crucial to the big win. The first by Quin Blanding came early in the third quarter and with the Hoos coming off a touchdown, the pick set up a second touchdown in a one and half minute span and pull even with Georgia Tech. The second by Brenton Nelson held Virginia cling to a 31-28 and served to keep the potent Yellow Jacket offense off the field.
The journey is far from over as Virginia continues its brutal November stretch next week at Louisville. The Cardinals don’t appear to be the world beater they were coming into the season, but they still have the reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. Kickoff from Louisville is 3:30 and the game will be televised ESPNU.