After hosting Duke, Virginia stays in Charlottesville for a home game against the visiting Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. GT was picked to finish sixth in the Coastal in the preseason ACC poll, but they did get four votes for first place. Let’s take a look back at their 2020 season and at what we can expect from GT this season.
It was not a great season for the Wramblin’ Wreck, as they finished 3-7 (3-6 ACC). There is no shame in losing to Clemson these days, but losing 73-7 is a bit much. They were also blown out by UCF, Boston College, and Notre Dame.
About the only thing they did well was run the football. They were 43rd in the nation, averaging 190 yards per game. In their wins, they gained almost six yards per carry. In their losses, however, that was just 4.1 yards per carry.
Jeff Sims started every game during the pandemic season as a true freshman. He wasn’t great, completing under 55% of his passes and throwing 13 interceptions (against 13 touchdowns). He did rush for a team leading 492 yards and six touchdowns and showed a lot of skill and tremendous upside.
RB Jordan Mason, the leading rusher in 2019, missed four games and rushed for just 352 yards. But freshman Jahmyr Gibbs picked up the slack and rushed for 460 yards at over five yards per carry. He was also the second leading receiver with 24 catches for 303 yards and a team-leading seven touchdowns.
Leading receiver Jalen Camp had just 29 grabs, but did average over 15 yards per catch. As a team, they averaged over 13 yards per completion, which is pretty good (45th nationally). There just weren’t enough catches, and they struggled badly in the red zone.
As much as the offense struggled, the defense was worse. Their rush defense ranked 90th, while their pass defense was 111th. Neither of those are good, but the pass defense problems were a bigger reason why they ranked 109th in both total defense and scoring defense. They were second nationally in fumbles recovered, but managed just six interceptions on the season. They ranked 108th on third down stops, as they just couldn’t get off the field in key situations.
Key Returners: QB Jeff Sims, RB Jordan Mason, RB Jahmyr Gibbs, WR Malachi Carter, LB Quez Jackson, S Juanyeh Thomas, CB Wesley Walker,
Key Departures: QB James Graham (Georgia Southern), WR Jalen Camp (NFL), LB David Curry (NFL),
Key New Faces: OT Devin Cochran (Vanderbilt), DE Keion White, Jr (Old Dominion), LB Ayinde Eley (Maryland)
Sims returns and that is the most important thing, especially with James Graham moving on to Georgia Southern (where he is listed at WR). This is Sims’s team now and as he goes, the team will go.
Most of the rest of the skill position guys return as well, including the top five rushers and four of the top six pass catchers. Three of last year’s offensive linemen are gone, but Cochran is a big addition after sitting out last season due to the pandemic. Replacing some linemen might be a good thing, as the unit last year wasn’t particularly good.
Improving on balls in play, and generating some more pass rush (Keion White will help there) will improve the defense dramatically. The Jackets play a base nickel defense (4-2-5), and there’s a deep and talented secondary who tackled well but struggled to make plays on the ball. That should improve with more reps and experience. The pass rush will need to come from the DL, where White’s arrival will help.
Improvement on the field may not translate in the standings. It’s a tough schedule for the Jackets, with a couple of layups to open the season (Northern Illinois and Kennesaw State), followed by Clemson and UNC. They end the season with Miami, BC, Notre Dame and Georgia. Getting even four wins out of that schedule would be a very good year for Geoff Collins.
All-time Record vs. Georgia Tech: 20-21-1
Last meeting: 2019, Virginia win 33-28
Prior to last year, the Hoos and Jackets had played every year since 1982. During that time, the teams have been very even. All-time, the Jackets lead 21-20-1 after winning the first five.
Because of the off year, the Hoos get back to back home games in the series, which has been a big advantage through the years. The Hoos are 13-4-1 at home in the series, but haven’t won on the road since 2008.