Georgia Tech outside linebacker Brandon Watts didn’t need any review of game video to recall last year’s loss to Virginia.
“They just beat us up front,” Watts said following Tech’s win over Presbyterian Saturday. “They beat us on the edges, on the perimeter, just ran the ball right down our throat.”
In case you don’t remember as well as Watts does, a refresher. Tech went to Charlottesville with a 6-0 record and No. 12 ranking. In defensive coordinator Al Groh’s first professional return to his alma mater since his firing after the 2009 season, the Cavaliers trampled the Yellow Jackets with 272 rushing yards in a 24-21 upset.
Virginia controlled the ball for 10:59 of the fourth quarter, including the final 5:58. In that final period, the Cavaliers running game was so commanding that their fans expressed their dismay (to put it gently) every time quarterback Michael Rocco dropped back to pass.
“Those tall guys, once they get a hold of you, it was pretty hard for you to get off,” defensive end Izaan Cross said that day.
That brings us to this week and an opportunity for Tech to reveal how far it has come. The Jackets looked considerably better against Virginia Tech, holding the Hokies to 17 points and 302 yards in regulation. For whatever it’s worth, they dominated Presbyterian. A cynic could discount the performance against the Hokies with the argument that they’re not a very good offensive team this season. Tech’s defensive effort against the Blue Hose was considerable, but it was a poor-to-average FCS team. One could also point out that Virginia may not actually be that good, requiring the aid of a remarkably errant placekicker to beat Penn State at home on Saturday.
All that to say, Saturday’s date with Virginia should reveal far more about the state of the Tech defense than we’ve learned to date. The Virginia offensive line has three returning starters from the unit that controlled the Tech defense with stretch plays and tosses last year. Running back Perry Jones is back, too. Tech should expect to face plenty of power football from coach Mike London’s bunch.
Said Watts, “I think we’re better prepared this year. We’ve got a whole lot better players. We’ll be better.”