Big Game Preview: UVA faces Georgia Tech in key ACC Coastal showdown

uva georgia techYou’d love, as a UVA football fan, to have seen your ‘Hoos face Georgia Tech a few weeks back, when the Yellow Jackets were struggling, under .500.

Bad news: you’re getting the good Georgia Tech.

The Jackets (6-4, 4-3 ACC) have won three straight, most recently knocking off Miami, but, yeah, who doesn’t do that these days.

(Preseason first. Told ya here back then, the ‘Canes were overrated. But then also: I thought Virginia Tech would be good.)

One thing you hear me say a lot about Georgia Tech is that it’s tough to get yourself ready for Georgia Tech Week, because they do what they do 52 weeks a year, and you only defend their throwback triple option one week a year.

And then: the caveat to that is, ACC coaches at least have the institutional knowledge that comes from having coached against the Paul Johnson option attack from over the years.

Yeah, a lotta good that did for Bud Foster at Virginia Tech, though, right? Georgia Tech gashed the Hokies for 465 yards, all on the ground, only throwing the ball one time, incomplete.

And, oh, did I mention, that was all with the backup quarterback, Tobias Oliver, who ran for 215 yards in that 49-28 win in Blacksburg?

Starter Taquan Marshall is back under center for Johnson, who despite having this nice late-season run has to be on the hot seat.

I mean, and I didn’t realize this until just looking it up, but he’s just 81-58 in 10+ seasons in Atlanta, with more sub-.500 seasons (three) than 10-win seasons (two) in his tenure, and just a 23-23 record since the start of the 2015 season.

Tech loses to Virginia, then loses its regular-season finale to Georgia, and Johnson is 6-6, and that’s five years in 11 full campaigns with six or fewer regular-season wins.

If that doesn’t get you fired, nothing does.

Virginia (7-3, 4-2 ACC), on its side of the ball, is guaranteed its first winning season since 2011, in Year 3 of the Bronco Mendenhall rebuild, which is clearly at least a year ahead of schedule.

But, this team clearly has some goals out there to still be achieved. For example, the first over-.500 season in ACC play since 2011, with a win in either of its final two. Win out, and it would be the best UVA regular season since the 2007 team finished 9-3 overall and 6-2 in the ACC, before the decline that began under Al Groh and then deepened in the Mike London era.

UVA, memorably, defeated Georgia Tech in 2017, in Charlottesville, 40-36, in an odd game, that saw the ‘Hoos rally from a 15-point second-half deficit, then the Jackets rallied themselves to steal the lead back with three minutes left, before Virginia scored the game-winner on a Kurt Benkert-to-Andre Levrone TD pass with 1:22 to go.

Odder still was that Georgia Tech threw the ball 22 times that night, as the UVA D did a fair job bottling up the Tech running game, limiting the Yellow Jackets to 220 yards on 52 carries.

The skinny: UVA vs. Georgia Tech

UVA at Georgia Tech, 3:30 p.m., RSN, 81, 81, 81
Series: Georgia Tech leads series, 20-19-1
Last meeting: UVA, 40-36 (2017)
RSN: Wes Durham, James Bates, Rebecca Kaple
Line: Georgia Tech -6.5

Matchups: UVA defense vs. Georgia Tech offense

Foreboding is the word that comes to mind with what Liberty was able to do in terms of running the ball in its 45-24 loss at Virginia this past weekend.

The Flames ground out 205 yards against the ‘Hoos, and, get this, they’re not even that good at running the ball.

Georgia Tech, you know this already, but it bears repeating, is good at running the ball, averaging 362.4 yards per game on the ground, more than 100 yards a game better than anybody else in the ACC.

It seems easy: a coach will tell you all you have to do is focus on your assignments, one guy has the quarterback, one guy has the dive guy, one guy has the pitch guy, etc.

And you watch Johnson, and he calls plays from the sidelines without a play sheet. He just sends a kid in as a sub with the call, and there aren’t a lot of calls, because it’s not about a thick playbook with tons of complexity.

It’s about execution: blocking up front, on the edges, and just wearing you down over time.

And, again, they do what they do 52 weeks a year, and you have a week to get ready for it.

Matchups: UVA offense vs. Georgia Tech defense

I noted in a post-Liberty game column that the UVA offense has been stagnant of late, and the numbers check me out on that.

And actually, season-long, UVA is just 12th in the ACC in total offense, at 376.4 yards per game, way back in the pack with the likes of the anemic Miamis, Florida States and Louisvilles of the dregs of the earth.

(Who ever thought I’d be writing such a sentence unironically?)

First-year starting quarterback Bryce Perkins is the key, which is understating things by quite a bit. The offensive game plan each week is basically, Hey, Bryce, Do Something.

Perkins is third in the ACC in pass efficiency (143.4), completing 63.9 percent of his passes, for 1,996 yards, 18 touchdowns and 9 interceptions.

Perkins is also an important part of the rushing attack, ranking 15th in the ACC in yards per game on the ground (65.7). Featured back Jordan Ellis is sixth in rushing in the conference, averaging 83.4 yards per game.

I’m mad that senior wideout Olamide Zaccheaus was left off the list of Biletnikoff Award semifinalists (I’m a Biletnikoff voter), but, whatever, he’s good (67 catches, 807 yards, 6 TDs).

How this one plays out

I’m not bullish on Virginia heading into the weekend. I mean, I’m going to root my ass off, but I just envision this one being death by a thousand paper cuts, in the form of four yards here, six yards there, eight yards, break a big one, repeat.

The UVA defense has been gashed against the run the past two weeks, and neither of those teams was Georgia Tech.

It could be a long afternoon, or conversely, a short afternoon, because Georgia Tech games tend to run short, because the clock is always ticking when the Jackets have the ball.

I usually use this space to lay out how I think Virginia attacks its opponent in terms of game plan. Offensively, ball control will be key. The defense can’t afford the offense to have a run of three-and-outs. The more the offense gets first downs, the less the D is exposed to getting gashed, basically.

I’d imagine a prescription of Perkins, Ellis, short passes that are basically long handoffs to Zaccheaus and Joe Reed.

You might be clamoring for more fireworks from your Barcalounger, but chuck and duck will get us killed.

Defensively, I like the speed and gang-tackling mentality that we’ve seen out of this group this season. Look at last year’s game tape, and you see that these guys did a good job with their assignments.

Johnson so rarely dials up 22 pass plays in a game. There’s a reason for that.

So, I say all that, and now I have myself worked up into thinking upset.

What the hell, right? Georgia Tech sucks.

Final: UVA 34, Georgia Tech 27

Preview by Chris Graham

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