The Virginia Cavaliers’ win over Georgia Tech last Saturday, becoming bowl eligible for the first time in six years, was despite a lackluster first half and a 28-13 deficit.
The comeback required not only scoring plenty of points in a hurry, but also shutting down a potent Yellow Jackets offense.
Overall, the offensive numbers aren’t good: only 357 total yards, with just 97 on the ground, and under four yards per carry. Kurt Benkert averaged just six yards per attempt, which is not good. There were far too many dropped passes, something that has plagued this team this season.
But there were positive signs, as well. Benkert wasn’t sacked. He threw three touchdown passes and averaged over 12 yards per completion, which is a pretty good number and well over his season average of 10.4 yards per completion (101st in the nation). Getting the downfield passing game working again was key, and was really what won the game.
In the second half, Benkert completed 14/24 for 182 yards. That’s 7.5 yards per attempt, which is solid and well above his 6.2 ypa for the season. That includes a dropped pass and a pick six, which, albeit a bad throw, was really the only bad decision he made in the second half.
Similarly, the defense wasn’t great, but was good enough when it needed to be. The Jackets’ offense is predicated on big plays. And they didn’t disappoint in that regard, with plays of 78 yards and 49 yards. But the majority of their damage is done on the ground, and aside from the 78 yard run from TaQuon Marshall, the longest rush of the game for the Wreck was 9 yards.
That’s about as good as a defense can do against the triple option. Keep in mind KirVonte Benson came into the game averaging over 6 yards per carry, and was held to under four per carry on Saturday. In fact, only Marshall averaged over 4 yards per carry. If you remove the 78 yard run, Marshall averaged just 2.3 yards per rush. The defense did an outstanding job of shutting down the triple option, turning GT into a passing team, which is a role they are not comfortable in.
Also, a couple of big plays from Ricky Jeune should not tarnish what was an outstanding game from the Virginia secondary. Two interceptions, against a team that hadn’t thrown a single interception all season. And 6/22 completions is pretty bad, even for a GT team that generally completed less than 50%.
Grade: A- (dinged for the big play by Marshall)
A unit that has hurt the Hoos all season, and in particular over the past few weeks, really helped out this week. Obviously, there was the kickoff return touchdown from Joe Reed. This play kept the Hoos in the game early on when the offense hadn’t shown up. But also A.J. Mejia was 3/3 on field goals and 3/3 on PATs.
Beyond that, there was the punt coverage unit, which was outstanding following some lackluster performances. On nine punts, there was only one return. Yes, that return went for 20 yards which is disheartening. But they also downed 4 punts inside the 20, including one at the 3 yard line which led directly to a safety. They also performed admirably on GT’s attempted onsides kick. It’s hard to be sure about what would’ve happened had the ball traveled 10 yards, but the UVA players were where they were supposed to be.
Grade: A- (dinged for another big punt return allowed)
This week, the highlight simply has to go to the defensive line. NT Eli Hanback had a career high 10 tackles and also notched his first full sack of the season. Andrew Brown was right behind him with 8 tackles, and had a half-sack.
Also, true freshman Mandy Alonso had his first career start. Even though he didn’t put up the same gaudy numbers that Hanback and Brown did, he had 3 tackles and played well against a touch offense.
Even more than the numbers was the way the DL set the tone. They simply didn’t let GT’s option get going. They shut down the dive, which is the first step. But, as we’ve seen, shutting down the dive play doesn’t mean you’ve won the battle. Aside from the big TaQuan Marshall run, the Wahoo defense completely bottled up the triple options. The DL was the main part of that.