Tech hit the road this past weekend to take on Virginia, and they returned home from Charlottesville with a win for the first time since 1990. The Jackets cruised to a 34-9 victory, and in the process gave the Cavaliers their first ACC loss of the season.
The Jackets’ offense compiled 362 yards rushing as the option offense had a strong day against Virginia’s 3-4 defensive front. Two of Tech’s running backs crossed the century mark on the day, with junior B-back Jonathan Dwyer carrying for 125 rushing yards and redshirt junior A-back Anthony Allen picking up 103 yards of his own. Allen also provided two of Tech’s four touchdowns, with the other two coming from junior quarterback Josh Nesbitt. Nesbitt, who did not lead the team in rushing for the first time in two weeks, gained 84 yards on the ground and went 4-for-8 for 85 yards passing.
Although the final game statistics look favorable, the offense started out slowly. The Jackets’ first points came on a first quarter field goal by junior kicker Scott Blair, but they did not score again until the second, where they added just ten points and headed into halftime leading just 13-6.
The Cavaliers won the coin toss at the beginning of the game and elected to receive the ball. Tech’s defense quickly forced a three-and-out, but the Jackets’ offense struggled on their first possession. They gained only 14 yards on five plays and were victimized by two false start penalties, one of which prevented them from trying to convert on fourth-and-two and forced a punt.
When Virginia returner Chase Minnifield did not call for a fair catch, Tech redshirt freshman linebacker Malcolm Munroe hit him hard and forced a fumble. Tarrant recovered to give Tech the ball at Virginia’s 11-yard line.
Tech appeared to score on a Nesbitt keeper, but an illegal block penalty negated the score and pushed them back 15 yards. The Jackets picked up a field goal and took an early 3-0 lead.
Head Coach Paul Johnson highlighted the penalties as a key reason for the early trouble.
“For the second week in a row, it’s a little bit of a concern that we started out with penalties on offense, hurting ourselves and stopping drives,” Johnson said.
Tech had a fourth-and-seven situation on its next possession and lined up to punt, but attempted a fake to reach the first down. Redshirt junior linebacker A.T. Barnes could not reach the marker, and the Jackets turned over the ball on downs.
Virginia moved into field goal range and picked up three points to tie the score.
Nesbitt fumbled on Tech’s next possession, giving Virginia great field position again on the opposing 25-yard line. The Cavaliers closed in on a touchdown, but Tech’s defense tightened up in the red zone and forced Virginia to take a short field goal.
On Tech’s first possession of the second quarter, the Jackets finally sustained a lengthy drive, moving the ball 60 yards on 10 plays. The Jackets picked up three first downs on their way to the end zone and got long runs from Dwyer and Allen to take the lead again at 10-6.
After two brief drives, Virginia moved into field goal range but missed the attempt. Tech got the ball with just over three minutes left, and a 52-yard completion from Nesbitt to junior receiver Demaryius Thomas setting the team up for a second Blair field goal. The kick sailed through the uprights as the first half ended, and Tech took a 13-6 lead into the half.
Despite the slow start, the Jackets made adjustments and were much more effective in the second half. They opened up the third quarter with an 18 play, 82-yard drive that lasted nearly 11 minutes. Only two plays did not result in positive yardage, and Allen scored from one yard out to put Tech ahead 20-6.
Following Tech’s long drive, Virginia had a respectable 56-yard drive that ended in a field goal, closing the gap to 20-9.
Those were the last points the Cavaliers put up. Virginia had two more drives following the field goal, but they were only able to pick up a combined 20 yards and one first down.
Tech went on to add two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter, giving them 34 total points and sealing the victory.
Over the course of the game, the Jackets held the ball for an astounding 42 minutes, tiring out the Cavalier defense and keeping Tech’s defense on the sidelines. When they did come in to face Virginia’s offensive attack, the Jacket defenders fared quite well, giving up just 30 yards on the ground and 168 yards in the air.
Sophomore linebacker Steven Sylvester and junior linebacker Brad Jefferson led the way for the Jackets’ defense, each recording six tackles in the game. Jefferson also had a team-high two tackles for loss.
The defense forced four punts from the Cavaliers, giving the offense more chances to score. Even when Virginia was able to get into the red zone, Tech’s defense held them to field goals.
“Defensively, I thought we did a good job…holding them in the red zone and making them have to kick some field goals and keeping them out of the end zone,” said Head Coach Paul Johnson.
“If you can do that…you usually have a pretty good chance to win the game.”
Tech’s win on Saturday, coupled with Miami’s loss to Clemson, gave the Jackets control of their destiny in the ACC. The Jackets are currently in a three-way tie atop the Coastal Division with Virginia and Virginia Tech, but Tech has beaten both teams and holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over each.
If the Jackets can come away with wins in their final two ACC games against Wake Forest and Duke, they will clinch the division and secure a spot in the ACC Championship Game.