Georgia Tech has not won a game at Virginia since 1990, and the No. 11 Yellow Jackets have rarely arrived at Scott Stadium with more on the line.
Riding a four-game winning streak and coming off an impressive victory against No. 15 Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech (6-1, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) is ranked higher than at any point since 2001. To keep rolling, it has to end its skid against the Cavaliers (3-3, 2-0).
Coach Paul Johnson pulled out all stops this week, reminding his team that Virginia “smacked us in the mouth” last year and challenging them to exact their revenge Saturday.
“He reminded us we have a chance to make history,” linebacker Cedric Griffin said. “It has been 19 years. Some of these kids were not born when Georgia Tech got its last win there.
“We really want to go up there and have a good showing.”
The Cavaliers, though, appear to be a team on the rise, too. After starting 0-3, they have won three straight and are the only team still unbeaten in the ACC’s Coastal Division.
Even if their league wins came against the struggling programs at North Carolina and Maryland, Johnson thinks it would be foolish to discount Virginia’s improving credentials.
“They were a turnover a minute earlier in the year,” Johnson said. “They weren’t giving themselves a chance to play, but the last three games they have created turnovers. They’ve taken care of the ball and that’s the difference between winning and losing.”
The Yellow Jackets need think back only to this matchup last year to understand.
Helped by three takeaways and a defense that limited the triple option to 156 rushing yards, the Cavaliers won 24-17, handing the 21st-ranked Yellow Jackets their second loss.
Virginia, which also has won five of the last six overall in the series, has shown signs during its resurgence that its defense is coming around. The Cavaliers have allowed just 19 points during their winning streak, and think they have a solid plan for this week.
“It’s just assignment football,” defensive end Nate Collins said of stopping the option runs, pitches and misdirectional plays. “If everyone does their job on the defense like they’re supposed to, than this offense won’t work and we’ll force them to do other things.”
Also key, Collins said, is being ever mindful that while the Yellow Jackets often seem relentless in their desire to run the ball with quarterback Josh Nesbitt and reigning ACC offensive player of the year Jonathan Dwyer, Nesbitt also is dangerous throwing the ball.
He’s completed a pass of at least 33 yards in each game this season, and has six completions that have covered 50 or more yards. Three of those went for touchdowns.
“He does his job in that offense great and he’s one of those quarterbacks you can’t sleep on because I feel like they’ll lull you to sleep with this triple option and then, all of a sudden, … he’ll step back and he’ll throw a bomb for 60 or 70 yards,” Collins said.
Virginia will be without Matt Conrath, it 6-foot-7 defensive end for the game, but quarterback Jameel Sewell is probable after twisting his ankle last week at Maryland.
The game marks the first stiff challenge for Virginia – and the first opportunity for the Cavaliers to prove thay are a contender – in a difficult finishing slate that includes visits to No. 8 Miami and Clemson and home games against Boston College and No. 15 Virginia Tech.
History has shown the Tellow Jackets that, in their case, Virginia is always a threat.
“We have to play as well as we can play and see if we’re good enough,” Johnson said. “I tell our guys that all the time, go play your game and see if you’re good enough. The best way to win the game is not to lose it, don’t give them away and make them beat you.”