Virginia opens conference play at Tech Saturday with a chance to rise to 3-0 overall and take the lead in the race for the ACC Coastal Division title. The Cavaliers and the Hokies are the only two teams currently undefeated in the division.
Last week, Virginia narrowly defeated Penn State 17-16, primarily because of the Nittany Lions missing four of their five field goal attempts. The Cavaliers will need to rely on more than just luck if they hope to defeat the Jackets at home. Last year Virginia struggled to capitalize on long drives, ranking fourth in the ACC for yards gained, but only ninth for points scored. To stand a chance against Tech, the Cavaliers must sustain longer drives and convert them into points.
The Cavaliers lost a significant number of starters from last season, particularly on the defense. Three of last year’s starters on the defensive line did not return, and in order to defeat the Jackets, the Cavaliers will need to stop the Jackets on the ground. Tech is No. 5 in the country in rushing offense this season, but has historically had limited success against ACC competition with the passing game.
Junior quarterback Michael Rocco and senior running back Perry Jones lead the Virginia offense behind an experienced offensive line. Last year, Rocco struggled at times, throwing almost an equal number of touchdowns and interceptions. With a year of experience under his belt, Rocco has averaged 284.5 passing yards per game with three touchdown passes. To be successful against the Jackets, who have the No. 23 pass defense in the country to date, the Cavaliers will need to continue to show a balanced offense.
After falling to the Hokies to begin the season, Tech looks to earn its first victory in ACC play. The Jackets gained momentum against Presbyterian last week and will try to follow through with a victory over the Cavaliers this weekend in their first home conference game.
Although a handful key players from last season’s offense have departed, redshirt senior quarterback Tevin Washington remains the starter and the Jackets’ spread option attack remains a force to be reckoned with on the ground, averaging 5.9 yards per carry on 113 attempts this season.
Senior A-back Orwin Smith should see more action this week after sustaining an injury against Virginia Tech. Smith has averaged 9.7 yards per carry through his career.
The Jackets’ passing game has shown signs of improvement over last season despite the departure of veteran wide receiver Stephen Hill. In the 2011 season, Washington completed only 49.3 percent of his pass attempts, but his completion percentage is over 60 percent through the Jackets’ first two games.
The Jackets’ defense has been successful in pass defense, holding opponents to less than a 50 percent completion rate so far. On the ground, the Jackets have allowed rushers to gain an average of 3.7 yards per carry.
The Cavaliers mostly rely on their passing game but have shown they are capable of pushing defenders around in the running game. In order to defeat Virginia the defense needs to continue with their success covering receivers deep to disrupt the passing game. The Jackets should also focus on controlling the line of scrimmage to ensure that the Cavaliers are not able to establish any rhythm with their running game.