Sept. 16, 2012
By Jon Cooper
The weekends of Oct. 15 and 22 were two of the darkest for Georgia Tech in 2011.
On those back-to-back weekends the Yellow Jackets fell first from the ranks of the unbeaten in Charlottesville against Virginia, losing 24-21, then dropped from the ranks of consideration as a serious top-20 team in Miami Gardens, suffering a 24-7 loss to Miami.
Even though the Jackets bounced back to beat Clemson, nearly knock off Virginia Tech, take care of Duke and nearly take care of Utah in its bowl game, the air of invincibility was certainly damaged those two weekends.
The 2012 schedule offered a unique opportunity for Tech to avenge both losses on their turf on back-to-back weeks.
The first week was Saturday and Tech’s mission got off to a great start, a rousing 56-20 rout of Virginia. The game wasn’t that close, as two cosmetic touchdowns, one of those on a short field following a Georgia Tech fumble, gave the appearance that Virginia’s offense showed up.
“We had revenge on our mind from last year,” said quarterback Tevin Washington, who backed up his claim with his second career three-touchdown game, seventh multi-touchdown game and second-straight game in which he both ran and passed for a score.
The touchdown pass came on Tech’s first play from scrimmage, when he hit B-Back Zach Laskey, who caught a short pass then broke away for a 70-yard score.
Tech was that explosive all day. The Jackets’ first four plays accounted for 210 yards and two touchdowns. They included Laskey’s catch and a 77-yard pass play from Washington to Orwin Smith, and a 60-yard run by Washington, as the Jackets raced to a 21-7 lead after one quarter and never really stopped scoring.
The 56-20 trampling of the Cavaliers made for a nice tribute to the 1952 National Championship team, which was honored at halftime.
It also was a nice bit of payback and legitimizes this year’s team, which scored 59 points last week against vastly under-manned Presbyterian. The Jackets wanted to be more physical and they did that to a Virginia team, which is young and was beat-up — points made following the game, not during the week, where the focus was moving to 2-0 after stealing a decision from Penn State.
Tech’s physicality was especially obvious on offense on the perimeter.
“Guys were playing with more intensity out there,” said Smith. “They’re playing faster. That was one of the main things that we were hesitant in trying to get out there with the corners and safeties. This week Coach put emphasis on guys playing faster.”
The defense also was physical and efficient. On Virginia’s first 10 possessions, the Jackets forced five punts, twice took over on downs and twice picked off passes. The first came by senior corner Louis Young at the end of the half and led to a touchdown that made it 35-7 at the half.
The Jackets also clamped down on Virginia’s running game. The decisive factor last year, Virginia managed 98 yards on the ground Saturday, gaining 3.5 per play. That’s 176 yards and 1.7 yards per rush less than last year. Virginia senior tailback Perry Jones managed only 15 yards on five carries — he ran free for 149 yards on 18 carries last year.
“It was a little bit better. If you can stop the running game you can play,” said Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson. “We limited their running game until the end when they got a few yards. For the most part the first team did a really good job against the running game. If you can’t run the football it’s hard to play most of the time.
Virginia had a real hard time.
Even though Georgia Tech didn’t win the time of possession battle as they’d wanted — the Cavaliers actually had a wider edge in the category (2:46) than last year — the Jackets were happy to trade off less time with the ball for the quick-strike ability they showed. Seven of Tech’s eight scoring drives used fewer than nine plays and seven of the eight drives took less than 5:00. The “long possession” drive required 5:10 and 11 plays.
The big-play attack looked reminiscent of the first six games of 2011 and the defense is much improved in 2012.
The Jackets look nothing like the team that walked into Scott Field and Sun Life Stadium for the stretch that began 6-0, flying high and ended 6-2, with confidence shaken.
Virginia can attest to the difference.
By next week at this time, Georgia Tech plans to have similarly familiarized Miami and be paid back in full.