By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
Tempting as it might be to look in the past to help predict the future, Georgia Tech will try to avoid that today at Virginia.
There can be something of an exception, though, and the Yellow Jackets (4-3, 3-2 ACC) need only go back in time one week to see something they want to change against the Cavaliers (5-3, 2-2) in Scott Stadium.
Last weekend’s trip to Clemson was frustrating, chiefly because the Jackets were rather out of sorts to begin with in falling behind 21-3 by halftime and then fairly composed in the second half only to fall 24-10.
The lesson: come ready to play.
“We came out with a little more intensity [in the second half], fire in our bellies trying to make some plays,” junior linebacker Victor Alexander said this week. “In this game, you have to start strong and finish strong…We plan on coming out with a bang as well.”
Virginia is a tough team to figure out in the second season under head coach Bronco Mendenhall. The Cavs won four consecutive games to move to 5-1, a far cry from their 2-10 mark in the coach’s first season, then got trounced in back-to-back games 41-10 by Boston College and 31-14 at Pitt.
A few things are predictable.
At their best, the Cavs like to throw the ball around.
Senior quarterback Kurt Benkert has been slowed somewhat of late, but the Jackets ought to be mindful that he passed for a school-record 455 yards in a win over Connecticut on Sept. 16, breaking his mark of 421 yards set last season. He passed 66 times a week earlier in a loss to Indiana.
Benkert didn’t play against the Jackets last season, when Tech eked out a 31-17 win in Bobby Dodd Stadium despite mustering just eight first downs against Virginia’s 3-4 defense.
His favorite target may be wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus, who’s already caught 57 passes and four of Benkert’s 17 touchdown throws.
On the other side, the Jackets will be mindful of senior defensive end Andrew Brown, whom head coach Paul Johnson said, “stayed in our backfield all day,” in last year’s meeting, and senior free safety Quin Blanding, who is among the ACC’s top defenders and tacklers.
The Cavs are allowing 333.5 yards per game in ACC contests, better than every team but Virginia Tech (257.8). Perhaps it should be noted that they’re stronger against the pass than the run, which is of course Tech’s preference.
“I think they’re second in defense and you can see it. When you look at them, they’re good,” Johnson said. “It was two-fold last year; we had a hard time getting them off the field and we never really got anything consistently going [on offense]. I think we ran 44 plays on offense . . . we hit some big plays.
“We scored on defense, and we didn’t give up a lot of points, but between the 20s they moved the ball pretty good.”
The Jackets really had only one big play at Clemson, a long run by B-back KirVonte Benson in the first half, yet they believe themselves capable of pulling off several like they did last year against the Cavs.
Marcus Marshall scored on a 67-yard option, Clinton Lynch scored on a 54-yard pass off play action, and Qua Searcy ripped off a 60-yard toss run to score before Lance Austin closed Tech’s scoring with a 24-yard interception return.
It will be better to reference those plays.
“We’ve got to flush it,” junior quarterback TaQuon Marshall said of Tech’s most recent game. “I’ll try to get the guys together and rally the guys because we’ve still got some things ahead of us that we’re trying to accomplish. We can’t get down.”
On that Johnson agrees. The ACC Coastal crown is still within the Jackets’ reach, and they would win a tiebreaker if they ended up deadlocked with Miami and Virginia Tech although they’ll need some help.
“It’s still in front of us . . . as long as there’s that many conference games left,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to win at Virginia. What happens if Virginia Tech goes and wins at Miami and we win at Virginia? Virginia Tech is coming in here next week and Miami is one loss away from being tied with whoever wins that game.
“Now, that’s a lot of ifs, but it’s not dead, so we don’t change our goals. It’ll all be dead if we don’t beat Virginia.”