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3 players, 2 matchups and 1 prediction for Virginia football vs Georgia Tech

Previewing Saturday’s matchup between the Cavaliers and the Yellow Jackets.

Virginia v Miami Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

Last week’s close loss most likely ends any chance the Virginia Cavaliers had at making a bowl game. At 2-6, the Hoos would need to win out in order to finish with 6 wins and that seems unlikely.

This week, the Wahoos return home to face a Georgia Tech team sitting at 4-4. The Jackets have alternated wins and losses all season. That includes home losses to Bowling Green and Boston College. They are coming off a 46-42 win over UNC in which they put up 635 yards of total offense.

This will be the first time this season that the Wahoos are favored against an FBS team, as they are giving 2 points to the Jackets.

Game Time: Saturday, November 4, 2PM Eastern
TV: The CW
Streaming: None

Three Players to Watch

QB Haynes King

A transfer from Texas A&M, where he spent three seasons. Though he saw action in all three seasons and started 6 games, he’s played more this season than he did in three years with the Aggies. He has thrown for 2100 yards and rushed for almost 500 more this season. That is 60% of his career totals.

King was a big recruit for the Aggies, as the third ranked dual threat QB in the nation in 2020 (Bryce Young was first.) Though King has been successful as a runner, it’s his arm that has caused him problems. Coming into this season, King had thrown 9 TDs and 9 INTs. In case you weren’t sure, that is not a good ratio. He was also under 7 ypa, which is also not great. This year, he is averaging 8.4 yards per attempt, which is 37th in the country. He has also thrown 21 TDs against 10 INTs. Still

As an aside, Anthony Colandrea is 18th in the country at 9 ypa. Tony Muskett may give Virginia a better chance to win right now, but Colandrea has a much higher ceiling at QB.

This is the final play against Miami, as the Yellow Jackets pulled off the miracle upset. (If you haven’t seen this, check it out. All time choke job from the Canes.)

King may still be a better runner than passer. He averages 6.7 yards per carry. He’s also been sacked just 7 times in 8 games. That is a testament to the offensive line, but also to King’s ability to get out of trouble.

King has unlocked what this offense could be. Last year, the Jackets ranked 114th in total offense. This year, they are 18th. King is the biggest reason for that.

RB Jamal Haynes…or Dontae Smith...or Trey Cooley

You just don’t know which Yellow Jacket RB is going to lead the way from week to week. In last week’s win over UNC, it was Dontae Smith with 22 carries for 178 yards. He had just 13 carries heading into the game. Trey Cooley had 145 yards over the first two games and has just 129 in six games since. All three RBs are listed as starters on the depth chart, as “OR”.

Redshirt freshman Jamal Haynes has been the most consistent, with 545 total yards at 5.6 yards per carry. As mentioned above, the team averages 5.5 yards per rush, so that’s above average for the team. But if you remove his big game against South Carolina State, he’s at just 4.8 yards per carry, below average. He was solid last week against UNC with 80 yards on 14 carries. The Jackets ran for 348 yards at over 7 yards per rush in their upset win over the Tar Heels.

This is quite the run. Haynes is very elusive. He’s also the smallest of the three.

Smith is the biggest and the fastest of the group, and he’s coming off a big game. So maybe he gets the first shot.

Whichever RB is in there, they are good. As a trio, they’ve rushed for over 1000 yards at over 5 yards per carry. They have also combined for 27 catches for 253 yards.

FS Clayton Powell-Lee

Powell-Lee started last season seeing time on special teams alone as a true freshman. The starter at FS got hurt in game 5 and Powell-Lee moved onto the first-team defense. He finished with 48 tackles and was honorable mention Freshman All-American and finished 3rd for ACC Rookie of the Year.

This year, he’s leading the team in tackles. The other two safeties are second and third. One of those other safeties is Jaylon King, who was the starter at FS last year prior to his injury.

This might be the worst defense Virginia has faced this season. Yes, including W&M. They rank 128th in total defense, 107th in scoring defense, and 129th in rush defense. To their credit, they are 70th in pass yards allowed and 83rd in defensive pass efficiency. Maybe you can guess what their strength is defensively. Yes, it’s the secondary.

But have they met Malik Washington? Washington is third in the nation in receptions and yards. For a team ranked 84th in total offense and 57th in passing offense. This isn’t the best secondary he’s faced this season, but it’s not bad.

Two Key Matchups

Virginia OL vs Georgia Tech Defensive Front

Nothing about this team has changed over the course of the season as much as the OL. It may not be a strength, but the improvement is notable.

On October 1st, Virginia was 126th in the nation in rush offense, averaging 75 yards per game and under 2 yards per carry. Now, they rank 103rd nationally, averaging 120 yards per game, and are all the way up to 3 yards per game. It’s not much, but it is certainly better.

There is much reason for optimism this week, as Georgia Tech has one of the worst run defenses in the nation. They allow 5.4 yards per carry and over 230 yards per game.

Running the football keeps the clock moving, keeping that Yellow Jacket offense off the field. Virginia has used time of possession as a weapon to help shorten games. Over the past two weeks, almost definitely their two best outings, the Hoos have averaged almost 36 minutes of possession, and almost 12 minutes MORE possession than their opponents. That is a huge advantage. It’s hard to score when you don’t have the ball. But, it’s not impossible, as Virginia learned the hard way on Saturday.

Virginia Run Defense vs Georgia Tech Running Game

The Jackets offense is very good. As mentioned, they are 18th in the nation. They’re 21st in rushing offense and 40th in passing offense. Their 5.5 yards per carry as a team rank 12th. But they are just 62nd in passing efficiency.

They’ve actually been pretty balanced, with 281 rush attempts against 260 pass attempts. Last week, even though they trailed 14-0 early, they had 48 rush attempts versus 30 pass attempts. Especially considering the struggles of Virginia’s run defense (94th nationally), the Jackets figure to run the ball. A lot.

Based on PFF grades, all of the top run defenders for the Wahoos are DBs. Kam Butler and Aaron Faumui are the only non DBs among the top ten Wahoo rush defenders. Similar to Georgia Tech’s run defense, if it’s led by your DBs, that’s a bad thing.

The Jackets are doing this despite injuries on the OL, a true freshman at LT and a former walk-on at LG. That former walk-on is Joe Fusile and he is very good.

If Virginia is going to slow down this Yellow Jacket offense, they’re going to have to play as well as they did against Miami. The Canes also came in with a strong ground game, and Virginia held them to just 113 yards on the ground at 4.3 yards per carry. The Canes probably should’ve run the ball more than they did. UNC definitely should’ve run the ball more than they did.

One Prediction

It feels a little weird to be favored in a game. It’s been a while. These are two teams that have had struggles all season, but have also improved as the season has progressed. Per PFF, the Wahoos rank 100th, Georgia Tech is 92. That is why Virginia is favored by 2 at home.

The Jackets offense is, by far, the best unit of these two teams. The Wahoo defense is improving and has looked good the past two weeks. But they’ve still largely struggled to stop run traditional running games. And the Jackets seem perfectly happy to run the ball over and over again. That is exactly what they did last week against the Tar Heels.

Virginia’s offense is going to score too. The Jackets defense hasn’t really stopped anybody, except they have forced 15 turnovers in 8 games. Virginia has been too turnover prone, and they won’t get enough stops defensively.

Prediction: Georgia Tech 45, Virginia 35