Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
6-1 overall, 4-1 ACC
After handing the Hokies their first ACC loss last weekend in front of a capacity crowd at Bobby Dodd Stadium, the No. 12 Jackets look to keep their ACC championship hopes alive as they travel to Charlottesville to take on the Cavaliers. Saturday’s 28-23 win was the first time Tech defeated the Hokies at home since 1990, which was also the last year that the Jackets beat Virginia on the road.
The victory over Virginia Tech was big for the Jackets, establishing them as contenders for the ACC championship and perhaps a BCS bid. The defense played fairly well, surpassing expectations after lackluster showings against Mississippi State and Florida State the previous two weeks. Utilizing a simplified scheme and an effective pass rush, the Jackets forced four punts, grabbed two interceptions and contained Hokie quarterback Tyrod Taylor enough to come away with a win.
The offense had a strong performance against Virginia Tech. Junior quarterback Josh Nesbitt went just 1-for-7 through the air with an interception, but his one completion went for 51 yards. The ground game, Tech’s bread and butter, was increasingly effective as the game went on and powered the team to victory. Nesbitt led the rushing category again for the Jackets, racking up 122 yards and three touchdowns. Junior B-back Jonathan Dwyer was next with 82 rushing yards, followed by redshirt junior A-back Anthony Allen at 59 yards. Sophomore A-back Marcus Wright added a 13-yard touchdown run.
The biggest concern after last week’s game is the special teams unit. On kickoffs, the Hokies averaged 30 yards per return, while Tech’s return team only averaged 15.7 yards. The punting game was also mediocre, as the Jackets averaged just 34.5 yards per punt, but fortunately the Hokies only averaged 35 yards per punt. Still, Head Coach Paul Johnson highlighted special teams—particularly kick coverage—as an area that needs improvement.
As they vie for the top position in the Coastal Division, Saturday’s game will be crucial for the Jackets. The Cavaliers are 2-0 in the ACC and currently sit atop the division, while the Jackets (4-1 ACC) are tied for second with Miami and Virginia Tech. In order to oust Virginia, the Jackets will need to continue to play as they did last week, relying on the ground game and getting big stops from the defense. If those things happen, and the special teams perform better, the Jackets have a good chance to end their Charlottesville losing streak and improve to 7-1 overall on the season.
3-3 overall, 2-0 ACC
Virginia hosts the No. 12 Jackets on Saturday with a chance to upset a top-15 team and gain control of the ACC’s Coastal Division. The Cavaliers have only played two conference games, but they are the only team undefeated in ACC play to date, so they control their own destiny in the race for the Coastal Division title.
Last year, Virginia was the only team to beat Tech in Bobby Dodd Stadium. Cavalier quarterback Marc Verica threw for 270 yards and two touchdowns, and the Jackets had trouble stopping running back Cedric Peerman. The then-senior Peerman finished the game with 118 rushing yards and a touchdown on 25 carries.
Virginia enters Saturday’s game with momentum; the Cavaliers have rebounded from an 0-3 start to win three straight games. The Cavaliers lost their first three games by a combined score of 93-62, including a season-opening loss to FCS school William & Mary. Since then, though, the team has rebounded to win its last three by a combined 83-19. The Cavaliers took down North Carolina 16-3 on the road, rolled past Indiana 47-7 at home and topped Maryland 20-9 in College Park last weekend to reach .500 on the season.
Virginia is led by left-handed senior quarterback Jameel Sewell, who missed all of last season due to an academic suspension. Sewell showed signs of rust in his first two games, but he threw for 300-plus yards against Southern Miss and Indiana. Sewell is also a threat to run and has four rushing touchdowns this season. He left the game against Maryland with an ankle injury but should be ready for Saturday.
Senior running back Mikell Simpson has performed well as the new starter. When Simpson has done well, Virginia has done well; Simpson had a total of 64 yards in the three losses, but over his last two games he has rushed for 183 yards and five scores.
Even with Virginia’s offensive success this season, their greatest asset has been their defense. Virginia’s defense is third in the ACC with 18.7 points allowed per game and 293.8 total yards allowed per game, and the unit has held each of the team’s last three opponents to fewer than 10 points. The Cavaliers are led on defense by junior cornerback Ras-I Dowling. Dowling was a preseason All-ACC selection and has improved from week to week. He had nine tackles, a sack and an interception against Indiana, and he is third on the team in tackles with 31. Dowling also has a forced fumble and fumble recovery this season.