High-flying Yellow Jackets visit rested Virginia
Virginia used to love when Georgia Tech came to town.
From 1992 until 2009, the Cavaliers and Yellow Jackets had some stirring, nail-biter games at Scott Stadium, but one thing remained a constant: the home team always came out on top.
Georgia Tech ended that string with a 34-9 victory in 2009, and when the teams meet on Virginia's field on Saturday, the 12th-ranked Yellow Jackets are favored to prevail again behind an offense that's among the most explosive in the country, averaging 554 yards and 46.5 points.
Still, the Yellow Jackets' production has dwindled in the last three weeks, and quarterback Tevin Washington is eager to put last week's sloppy 21-16 win over Maryland behind him.
''It's frustrating,'' Washington said. ''We got off to some fast starts early on in the year. We've hit kind of a stumbling block the last two games, but I think it's just us executing.
''If we do things right, I don't think we should have any problem.''
Washington and his offensive mates surely did that in the first three weeks, averaging 675 yards, and doing it both ways. In a 63-21 victory against Western Carolina, 365 of the 662 yards came via the passing game. In a 66-24 victory over Kansas, 604 of their 768 yards came on the ground.
One key to the production has been A-back Orwin Smith. He's averaged 14.5 yards per carry with eight touchdowns in just 32 attempts. He also has a receiving touchdown.
He, too, thinks it's all about getting back to execution.
''It's getting tougher, but that's something we expect,'' he said. ''As we get into conference play, the competition is going to get better and better and better each week.''
Virginia (3-2, 0-1) hopes to prove him right. The Cavaliers are coming off a bye week that gave them extra time allow some nicks and bruises to heal, and to prepare to finally slow down the triple option and erase a recent history of being manhandled by the Yellow Jackets.
Last year, Georgia Tech rushed for 477 yards in a 33-21 victory against the Cavaliers. The year before, it ran for 362 yards in ending that eight-game losing streak at Scott Stadium.
The extra week to prepare for the unorthodox offense might give Virginia a better chance to improve on those numbers, defensive end Billy Schautz said, and after three consecutive lackluster performances on defense, practices since have been marked by a sense of urgency.
''This is a very big week for us,'' he said. ''We came out of the gate playing pretty well in our first two games, and I felt we may have lost an edge. These past two weeks, as far as defensively, we've started to really fight back and really get after each other.''
The Cavaliers drills leading up to Saturday were particularly hard on the scout team, which mimics the opposing offense. Instead of using a ball, the defense was instructed to tackle every player that could wind up with it on every play to get the unit to be ready for anything.
''You never know whose going to get the football against this offense,'' Schautz said.
It also doesn't hurt that the Yellow Jackets are bringing a familiar face to town.
The game marks the return to Charlottesville of Al Groh, the coach of the Cavaliers from 2001-09 and now the Yellow Jackets' defensive coordinator. He has Georgia Tech employing the same 3-4 scheme Virginia uses - Cavaliers coach Mike London for a time was Groh's defensive coordinator.
''There's always a couple of different wrinkles, a couple of different things he does,'' London said, and that makes preparations for the Yellow Jackets difficult all around.
''It's a different world from both sides,'' he said. ''But we'll try to do the best we can.''