Senior Day against Liberty was a success. Now Virginia (7-3, 4-2) will be on the road for the remainder of the season. First up is a trip to Atlanta to face off against Georgia Tech (6-4, 4-3) and their formidable triple option offense. The Yellow Jackets present a unique challenge to opponents. What are the keys to unlocking a win for the Hoos?
One of the oddities of playing in Atlanta is that Georgia Tech typically wears white at home. So the Hoos will be in their home blue this weekend.
Go In The Lab
During his Monday press conference this week, Bronco was asked about his experience against triple option teams during his coaching career. While offering his answer, Coach Mendenhall spoke about the challenge and stress of defending option football. It allows teams and individuals to grow.
And while that's all well and good (no, seriously), no one wants to get steamrolled either. See the Military Bowl 2017.
While the systems at Navy and Georgia Tech are not identical, you can bet that Paul Johnson poured over that Military Bowl film until the digital files were on the verge of corrupting. He's got a plan and he knows about UVA's current vulnerabilities on defense.
In order to avoid being roadkill on Interstate 85 in Atlanta, Bronco and the defensive staff need to get into the lab and devise a strategy on defense especially for this game. Coming to town with one veteran, proven defensive lineman begs for creativity and adaptability.
I don't see how the Hoos win this game challenging Georgia Tech at the point of attack. The Yellow Jackets can likely make quick work of the Hoos running dives and their QB off tackle for four quarters. The path to an easy win and 400 yards of rushing is paved orange and blue through the middle of the UVA defense.
How best to combat that? Find a way to convince Georgia Tech that the path to least resistance is actually on the flanks. Deception and illusion may be the order of the day. A steady diet of sweeps, bootlegs, and toss outs plays to the Hoos' strengths at linebacker and allows the secondary to crash down in run support on the edge.
Easier said than done? Of course. But no more difficult than stopping the run away freight train hitting the gaps between GT's center and guards all afternoon long.
At this point in the season, stifling Georgia Tech's offense will be a total team affair. Both the UVA offense and special teams units will have a role to play in preventing the Yellow Jackets from stacking points on the scoreboard.
First, the offense. Quite simply, Georgia Tech can't score if they don't have the ball. The last time UVA was faced with a potent offense directed by an offensive guru, the Hoos defeated Duke while allowing only 14 points. One key to that performance was UVA's dominance in time of possession. The Hoos held the ball for 36:38 compared to only 23:22 for the Blue Devils.
It's no surprise that Georgia Tech leads the ACC in time of possession. But as Jamie Oakes pointed out on Wahoos 247 Friday, the Hoos are actually second, keeping the ball just less than two minutes per game fewer than the Yellow Jackets. Bronco Mendenhall is well aware of its importance. It was a topic of conversation during his Monday press conference, specifically that time of possession is one of two components important in winning against an option team (the other being scoring points, obviously).
Lester Coleman and the UVA punt unit have a major role to play in a possible UVA win. If you recall the game against Liberty last week, Coleman and the punt coverage unit pinned Liberty inside their own ten yard line twice during the third quarter. Those successes came during a period of the game in which UVA was asserting its dominance over the Flames and when the Hoos' defense was solidifying after a rough first half.
If you doubt the impact a punter can have in a big win, look no further than UVA's famous victory over Florida State in 1995. Punter Will Brice continually flipped the field on Florida State, leaving them with long fields to march in order to score points. Despite a roster full of stars and all time Hoos, UVA does not win that game without Brice's contribution. Lester Coleman can make an equally large contribution to UVA's defense in Atlanta by turning in a similar performance.
Charles Snowden had a day against Louisville this year. The sophomore linebacker posted a crazy stat line against the Cards: 8 tackles, 1 sack, 1.5 tackles for loss, 1 fumble recovery, 1 interception with a return of 23 yards, 2 pass break ups, and 1 QB hurry. Even with all we know about Louisville now, Snowden's performance is still a big deal. His efforts on defense that day nearly won the game by itself.
Fast forward to UVA's win under the lights against Miami. The entire defense balled out in the 16 to 13 win, but Juan Thornhill's play really shined. He was the clear leader that night. He chipped in 6 tackles. But it was his 2 interceptions with 83 return yards that set up the offense to score critical points in a 3 point win.
Before the Miami game, I argued that a hero needed to emerge on defense if UVA was going to upset the Canes. Thornhill rose to the challenge. Faced with large question marks on defense due to injury, the Hoos need a player or two to rise to the occasion like Snowden and Thornhill if the defense is going to get enough stops for a UVA win.
Be Ready To Win It With Offense
There's nothing wrong with winning a shootout. Because, at the end of the day all that counts is the W. And there's not a UVA fan alive that wouldn't be thrilled to pocket win number 8 this weekend in Atlanta.
|GT||Run D||Pass D||Total D||DEFF|
It's that last rank that should stand out for Hoo fans. GT's defensive stats will naturally be inflated a bit due to their offensive system. But their defensive efficiency rank offers a better picture of the Yellow Jackets' D. They're an average unit that can be scored on. In fact, they give up 27.5 PPG which is good for 68th in the country. And those stats are partially padded due to a shutout of Alcorn State to start the season.
The Hoos should be capable of scoring enough to win. In games not played in monsoons (Indiana) or quagmires (Pitt), UVA is averaging 31.88 PPG. Throw in the usual caveats about offensive line, sticking with the run, minimizing drops, throwing the ball away before taking a sack, and whatever your pet peeve is with UVA's offense, of course. But UVA's offense is capable of winning this game.
The good news is that Saturday's forecast in Atlanta is mostly sunny with a high of 63 and no precipitation.
Don't believe the hype that a win in Atlanta is a bridge too far. Yes, there's a chance that Georgia Tech rolls over the Hoos and posts a three touchdown win. But that feels just about as likely as the UVA defense pitching a shutout.
Still, that doesn't mean one should overlook the current issues on defense for UVA. They're very real. Any path to victory includes a sound plan from the coaching staff. There's really no other way.
Unfortunately, Atlanta has not been kind to the Hoos lately. The Hoos are sitting on a four game losing streak on GT's home field. The last win came in 2008. And I think they'll be waiting another two years to break that streak.
UVA loses 24 to 21.