Oct. 24, 2013
By Matt Winkeljohn
– Regardless of how Georgia Tech and Virginia are playing, Charlottesville has been a tough place for the Yellow Jackets.
The Cavs (2-5, 0-3 ACC) are scuffling, with losses to Ball State and Duke, and yet the Jackets (4-3, 3-2) ought to be wary of Saturday’s game.
Since the deliriously joyful 41-38 win over the No. 1-ranked Cavs in 1990, which propelled the Jackets to a share of the national championhip, Tech has won once there. That came in 2009, when Jonathan Dwyer trucked a few Cavs and the visitors rolled 34-9 in Paul Johnson’s first visit as Tech’s head coach.
A return trip went the other way. Two years ago, the Cavs out-muscled the Jackets in alarming fashion. All-time Tech is just 3-10-1 in Charlottesville so the place qualifies as a house of horrors.
“We are getting ready to go up to Charlottesville to play a Virginia team that has its back against the wall,” Johnson said. “I think they’ve played a really tough schedule and I know they have some quality athletes. The last time we went Charlottesville we were 6-0 and ranked [No. 12] and we . . . got beat 24-21.”
Virginia struggles on both sides of the ball, although the defense of former Tech coordinator Jon Tenuta excels in some special situations. They’ve been good on third downs, where they’ve allowed a modest conversion rate of 26.6 percent, best in the nation.
The trick is, the Cavs haven’t forced enough third downs, and they’ve given up more big plays than many teams on first and second downs.
Tenuta will, as always, have some tricks.
“They’re like any defense that Jon Tenuta coaches,” Johnson said. “They’re aggressive and they blitz a lot, maybe not as much in the last two or three games . . . We will try to run our scheme and try to get a numbers advantage or an angle advantage. That’s pretty much what we’ll do.”
The scheme has been simplified recently, and quarterbacks Vad Lee and Justin Thomas ran the offense more effectively in a 56-0 win over Syracuse than in a month. That likely was the best the Jackets have run their offense all season when taking into consideration the strength of opposition.
Tech did not commit a single penalty on either side of the ball.
Hey, how about more of the same?
“The effort and concentration levels were much better,” the coach said. “We tried to put an emphasis on penalties, turnovers and all of the things that get you beat and I thought our guys did a good job handling that in the game.
“We probably ran four or five plays, but they all fed off of each other. They all looked the same, but they were a little bit different blocking and a little bit different in who had the ball.
“We will go in with some formation packages that we have four or five plays off of each one. We just rep the fool out of them in practice and you may not ever run that formation in a game if they’re not giving you what you want.”
On the other side, all five Virginia starting offensive linemen are 6-foot-5 or 6-6 and four of them weigh 300 pounds or more. That gives junior running back Kevin Parks (5-8, 205) some cover.
He’s third in the ACC in rushing with 560 yards (80 per game), and has scored nine times.
The Cavs, however, are ranked 13th in the 14-team ACC in scoring offense (22.3), last in passing efficiency (99.9), last in yards per offensive play (4.5), and 10th in total offense (373.7).
“Like most really good backs, he’s got great balance and he breaks tackles,” Johnson said of Parks. “I don’t know that he’s a burner, but he’s fast enough. He’s got a big offensive line and he kind of gets lost behind them.
“I have a strong belief that if you look at the stats on Sunday of all of the games, a high percentage of the teams who run for more yards than their opponent are the ones who win. Now there will be some exceptions, but if you can run the ball and stop the run you’re going to be in pretty good shape.”
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