Back at Bobby Dodd this week for Homecoming against a Virginia team coming off a tough loss to Atlantic division favorite FSU. After pulling out a gutsy win against Wake on the road last week, the Jackets will have to clean things up if they expect to win against a Cavalier team energized by new head coach Mike London. Much is being made of the "Al Groh" factor as our current defensive coordinator faces not only the school that dismissed him as head coach a year ago but also his alma mater. How much impact will Groh have on the game? Not as much as everyone thinks is my opinion. There's plenty of tape on both teams and I expect little if any new information has come to light for either team, particularly as they know each other pretty well. Who has the advantage? I'm not sure, but my guess is it's pretty even as to which team knows the other better. It will come down to execution for both sides on Saturday, as it always does. On to the breakdown:
Keith Payne is a load at tailback for UVA.....
Mike London hired veteran NFL coach Bill Lazor to run the UVA offense & Lazor has installed a traditional "21" pro style offense for the Cavs this year (two backs, one TE). Lazor stresses balance between running & throwing so expect an even split on Saturday. At quarterback, senior Marc Verica returns to the helm after spending much of last year as the #2 QB. While a pretty average ACC QB, Verica blistered Tech in his lone start against the Jackets in 2008, going 29-39 for 270 yards & 2 TD's. It's a pretty big question mark, even against our average defense, if Verica can repeat that type of performance on Saturday and I expect he'll mainly be asked to manage the game & limit turnovers, something of which he's capable.
The Cavs run a two-headed tailback monster in the classic NFL mode: one back a quicker, slashing type who gets the edge while the other is a between-the-tackles bruiser. For UVA, Perry Jones fills the former roll at 5'8" & 185 pounds while the latter is occupied by hulking senior Keith Payne, all 6'3" & 255 pounds of him. While Jones concerns me a bit catching the ball out of the backfield, thinking about Payne is causing me indigestion this week. Payne is an incredibly tough North-South runner adept at breaking tackles & chewing up yardage, something we've been troubled by this year.
Virginia has traditionally excelled on the offensive line & while not great, the UVA O-line has been serviceable this year. Mammoth guard Austin Pasztor (6'7", 320) paves the way up front for the Cavs. What UVA does have going up front is a pair of very good pass catching tight ends in Joe Torchia & Colter Phillips, who will both pose interesting match-ups for the Jacket defense.
Perhaps the biggest question mark coming in to the season for the UVA offense was at wide receiver, where no one, including the coaching staff, really knew what to expect. Both Dontrelle Inman & Kris Burd have played well for UVA, combining for 40 receptions & 632 yards through four games. Burd in particular has been explosive, averaging almost 100 yards per game (95 ypg) and 17 yards per catch.
So what will we see from UVA on offense Saturday? Probably something very similar to what we saw from UNC & John Shoop when we played them. Expect the Cavs to pound Payne up the middle on zone blocking/stretch plays while using Jones & fullback Max Millen as receivers out of the backfield. Expect a lot of High-Low routes with a WR running a deep route in order to clear out room for the TE's to work underneath. Verica will take some shots deep, particularly to Burd, but is much more comfortable working 10-20 yard routes. Watching for the tight ends on plenty of drags, hooks, & curls as a safety valve for Verica.
Ras-I Dowling.....what the hell is a Ras-I?
A defensive coach himself, London & new defensive coordinator Jim Reid have gone away from Groh's hallmark 3-4 and installed a 4-3 this season. Facing many of the same problems as Tech in transitioning to a new defense, UVA is making the best of the personnel they have in their new system. The Wahoos are pretty thin, both figuratively & literally, up front, particularly in the heart of their defense as both tackles go 250# & 275#, respectively. Before last week I would have said this was a big advantage for Tech but after watching Wake's 230 pound nose tackle destroy us last Saturday, I'm not so sure. At linebacker, Ausar Walcott has played well for the Cavs on a unit that has been just average so far this season.
The strength of UVA's defense is the secondary, where corners Ras-I Dowling & Chase Minnifield and safeties Corey Mosley and Rodney McLeod make up one of the ACC's best units. UVA has been very stingy against the pass this season and it's no surprise with this veteran unit. Expect either McLeod or Mosley to walk up into the box as the Cavs go to an essentially eight-man front in an effort to stop the run. DC Reid will lean heavily on Dowling & Minnifield to anchor the edge on Saturday & their success will be a telling point in the game. For those of you deeply into football, watch McLeod & Mosley. While Clemson's duo of McDaniel & Gilchrist get all the publicity, the Cavalier duo are just as good in my opinion.
It was pretty evident even to the non-discerning spectator how poorly Tech played on offense against Wake: poor execution & a couple of terrible turnovers simply stalled the offense out. While the last nine minutes were much better, the Jackets will have to execute at a higher level if they hope to beat UVA.
Jay Finch moves from #2 center to starting left guard this week
Believe it or not, we have at times come very close to being pretty good offensively this year. While 3rd down conversions have been noticeably down this year, we have on multiple occasions been one block away from breaking a big play. "If my aunt had ball's she'd be my uncle," Hash........I get it, they don't give awards for coming "close". But we're not too far away from being decent offensively if we can clean a few things up. On Saturday, as almost every Saturday, offensive line play will be key. Thankfully, CPJ has decided to get the best five out there & thus Jay Finch will start for the injured Will Jackson. This makes us much more formidable up the middle leaving the big question mark the play of our offensive tackles. As anyone who watched the game last week saw, our offensive tackles had a rough go of it against Wake. They will need to not only play better at the point-of-attack but get to the second level & take care of the linebackers & safeties if we expect a big offensive night. With the trio of Finch-Bedford-Uzzi I expect we'll get better push up the middle so look for CPJ to try & get Allen going & use Nesbitt on the midline. Both Orwin Smith & BJ Bostic have run the ball well, particularly with Roddy leading the way & I expect we'll see an attempt to really get Bostic the ball in space. It will be interesting to see if Corey Earls can build on last week's solid performance. We used plenty of unbalanced & loaded line formations last week in an effort to create numbers & I expect more of the same against UVA.
Julian Burnett will get his first start at Jack LB this Saturday
Last week was certainly better for the Jackets but UVA is a step up in class from Wake Forest's one-dimensional attack. One thing that hasn't been noted is that we tackled well last week, certainly better than in previous games. This will be very important, particularly in stopping Payne. It's tough to bring the big man down so it will be critical the Jackets swarm to the ball & gang tackle. One other huge defensive key for Tech is play recognition. At times this year we have been slow to see what's coming at us, particularly with tight ends & backs out of the backfield on passing routes. We'll need to diagnose routes quickly & adjust if we're to stop the Cavalier offense. But the biggest thing I see on Saturday is we'll need to gamble. While many might not agree & it's not pleasant to hear, I simply don't think we have the manpower to line up & beat UVA man-on-man. We certainly have struggled against good teams to this point when faced with such scenarios as zone blocking & rushing the passer. So that leaves us in the position of having to gamble, albeit it strategically, to stop the Cavs. We'll need to run blitz & even load the box in order to stop the UVA run game. The same applies to pressuring Verica: we'll need to be creative in bringing pressure from all over in an attempt to bother the UVA signal caller. I think Groh will have something special in store for his former team & have to hope that's the case; if we sit back & play vanilla we'll be in for a long afternoon. I'd rather gamble & hope to make a play than sit back & get picked apart.
Scott Blair deserves a picture, because no one appreciates a kicker until they don't have one
Well, the good news is we have Scott Blair & they have nothing. Really, UVA is 2-6 in kicking field goals & there's little confidence in the Wahoo kicking game (now watch these clowns go 4-4 with 50+ yard field goals.....) Tech has to clean up the punt game if we hope to win, so far we've been well below average this year with costly mistakes. One thing to note: UVA coach Mike London isn't above some trickery. Watch out for some shenanigans on Saturday as he already tried one great looking fake against USC (which the refs stupidly nullified on a bogus penalty.)
One last note: we're killing ourselves with penalties. It was a different story last year when our offense was clicking on all cylinders & we could recover from our mistakes. That's not the case this year & we must be more disciplined & avoid penalties if we want to win.
Three Keys for UVA
1) Pound the Rock: use Keith Payne & zone blocking to physically manhandle Tech. This plays into their strength & our weakness as well as keeping the ball away from us, which often is the best defense against our offense.
2) Red Zone Efficiency: UVA needs touchdowns & not field goals if they want to win Saturday. If they have to settle for kicks Tech will be in a commanding position.
3) Play Stout up the Middle: force Tech into the strength of their defense on the edge. Play the dive well & force Tech outside.
Three Keys for Tech
1) Gamble on Defense: bring the house against the pass & run. Play Cover Zero & get to Verica before he can release the ball. Load the line of scrimmage to stop Payne.
2) Offensive Tackle Play: we'll struggle if these guys don't improve. We need to block the point-of-attack as well as the second level.
3) Punt Teams: the common denominator in the games we've struggled? Poor play both kicking & returning punts. This will go a long way toward a Tech victory.
How it Plays Out
I expect a scenario similar to the UNC game. UVA will come out strong but we'll adjust & begin to limit what they do offensively. The Tech offensive line with the infusion of Finch plays much better & crisper execution leads to a couple early scores. Scott Blair continues to be a difference maker with a couple long field goals. A late UVA turnover seals it as the Jackets kill the clock.
Georgia Tech 33 Virginia 27