Nov. 16, 2004
Georgia Tech (6-3, 4-3) hosts No. 18 Virginia (7-2, 4-2) in its Atlantic Coast Conference finale this Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. in Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field. The game will be regionally televised at 1 p.m. on ABC (WSB-TV in Atlanta).
The Yellow Jackets enter Saturday’s game on a two-game winning streak and became bowl eligible for the eighth consecutive season after a 30-10 victory over Connecticut last Saturday afternoon. Tech has won four of its last five games.
The 18th-ranked Cavaliers remain in the ACC hunt with a 4-2 conference mark. If UVa can win out, the Wahoos will gain at least a share of the league title.
“They are good,” said head coach Chan Gailey. “You don’t get to be 7-2 if you aren’t good. They can run the football and stop the run. They do a good job overall. [Marques] Hagans is the leading percentage passer in the conference. If you look at statistics, they do a lot of things very, very well and that’s why they are a good football team.”
A key ingredient for Virginia’s success this season is a lack of turnovers. The Cavaliers have committed just eight turnovers, fifth fewest in the nation, that have resulted in 10 points for their opponents. In contrast, UVa’s athletic defense has forced 19 turnovers (12 fumbles and seven interceptions) and ranks 42nd in the country in turnover margin (0.33).
Virginia’s defense ranks in the upper echelon in the ACC in most categories. The Wahoos are 11th in the nation in total defense (293.7 yards allowed per game), 13th in scoring defense (15.6 ppg), 15th in rush defense (107.5 ypg) and 22nd in pass defense (186.2 ypg).
“They play a 3-4 defense,” said Gailey. “They are one of the few that are still playing a three-man front and using a pure 3-4 defense. They have big strong physical guys. They do a good job of stopping the run with their front seven. It allows them to play umbrella coverage in the back. That’s why they are so good defensively. They double receivers almost every time.”
Linebacker Ahmad Brooks, one of three finalists for the Butkus Award, leads UVa with 74 tackles (37 solo) and two interceptions this season. Fellow linebacker Darryl Blackstock leads the team with 10 tackles for a loss (10-57) and seven quarterback sacks (7-37).
“In the 3-4 you have the luxury of having a guy that plays up and back to be the fourth blitzer to either side,” said Gailey. “When it’s a big strong guy coming at you, like [Darryl] Blackstock or somebody like [Ahmad] Brooks, those are some big guys coming at you.”
The Cavaliers sit atop the ACC in total offense, averaging 442.4 yards per game. The dynamic reason for success has been a vaunted running attack that averages 251 yards per game, tops in the league. Tailback Wali Lundy, a finalist for the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back, has 15 rushing touchdowns this season, fifth in the country.
First-year starting quarterback Marques Hagans is completing 63 percent of his passes on the season and has seven touchdown passes. One of his favorite targets is tight end Heath Miller. Miller is a finalist for the Mackey Award given to the nation’s top tight end and leads UVa in receiving yards per game (44.8) and holds the school record in career catches, yards and touchdowns at his position.
“This guy [Heath Miller] is unique,” said Gailey. “He would get my vote for All-ACC tight end.”
Another big reason for UVa success on offense is a solid offensive line. Guard Elton Brown and center Zac Yarbrough are both up for awards at their respective positions and are a big reason the Wahoos rank in the Top 10 in the NCAA in rushing offense.
“I don’t think they are drastically different from as far as schemes go than any team we have played,” said Gailey. “The biggest thing is their offensive line is massive.”
Tech’s freshman wide out Calvin Johnson continues to shine for the Yellow Jackets, earning ACC Rookie of the Week for the third time this week after catching six passes for 131 yards against the Huskies last weekend. Johnson is second in the ACC with six touchdown catches and has already set a Tech record for freshman in receiving yards. He needs 10 more grabs to break the freshman mark for receptions.
True freshman Djay Jones was a force to be reckoned with for the Jackets on special teams last Saturday versus UConn. The St. Mary’s, Ga., native scooped up a blocked punt at the five-yard line and ran it in for a touchdown and later blocked a punt of his own that led to a Tech touchdown. Jones is one of seven true freshmen contributing for the Jackets on special teams.
Sophomore quarterback Reggie Ball is coming off his best performance as a Yellow Jacket last week against Connecticut. Ball finished 22 of 38 for a career-high 288 yards and two touchdowns.
The Rambling Wreck defense continued to be stingy, not allowing an UConn touchdown until after 60 minutes of play. The Huskies were the recipients of two pass interference calls and finally scored their first touchdown of the game with no time on the clock. Tech has held its opponents to just one offensive touchdown and 195.3 total yards of offense in its last four wins.
Freshman place kicker Travis Bell broke the school record with his 12th consecutive field goal last Saturday against Connecticut. Bell missed his opening field goal of the season and has since made 12 straight. He is 12-for-13, with a long of 47 yards, and is a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award given to the top place kicker in the nation.