Georgia Tech didn’t squeeze six turnovers out of Virginia, like it had done last week against Pittsburgh. Nor did the Yellow Jackets incinerate the Cavaliers with 600 yards of total offense, which they had against North Carolina and the Panthers in the past two weeks.
However, on a raw afternoon at Bobby Dodd Stadium, Tech may have accomplished something more significant. The Jackets probably have played their best overall game of the season, receiving contributions from both offense and defense in their 35-10 homecoming win over the Cavaliers.
“They’re a very good football team,” Virginia coach Mike London said. “They have their formula for success.”
While the Tech offense lost some rhythm after charging to touchdowns on its first three drives, the Jackets defense won the day. A week of tweaks in personnel and scheme found success against a Virginia offense that, while hardly the picture of brilliance, was not 11 men running into each other, either.
Tech set season bests for points, total defense (284 yards), yards per play (5.0) and third-down conversion rate (3-for-12). Defensive coordinator Ted Roof moved backup tackle Patrick Gamble to defensive end, authorized tighter coverage on Virginia’s wide receivers and dared the Cavaliers to throw the ball on a windy afternoon by loading the box with defenders.
The stunning result – Virginia finished the afternoon with 22 rushing yards on 16 carries. Last week, Pittsburgh surpassed that total on its third carry on its way to 198 rushing yards. Two weeks ago, North Carolina eclipsed 22 yards on its fifth carry before totaling 189 yards. Duke needed four carries and eventually crushed Tech’s defense for 250 rushing yards.
“I think our defensive coaches had a good game plan, and we stacked the box pretty good, but the bottom line is we beat some blocks and tackled better,” coach Paul Johnson said.
The third-down rate was an incomparable improvement upon its 52.13 percent performance through eight games, fourth highest in FBS. The 22-yard total was merely an 88 percent reduction from Tech’s season average of 189.13 rushing yards per game, 94th in the country going into the game. Virginia entered the game averaging 170.1 rushing yards per game. Running back Kevin Parks had 100-yard rushing efforts in two of his past three games before being held to 13 yards, the career low in a 46-game career for a player who began the day as the ACC’s active rushing leader.
“Comparing this game to some of the other games, the effort was much better, the will to play was much better, ” defensive end KeShun Freeman said. “Just as a whole, we played as one.”
“It’s not where we want to be, but it’s the best we’ve done all season,” safety Jamal Golden said. “We stopped the run pretty much. We did a good job of stopping the run and that’s really what helped the passing game. We got a lot of pressure on the quarterback when he put the ball in the air.”
Tech was not quite the precision operation offensively it had been against North Carolina and Pittsburgh, when it racked up 600-plus yards against both, but the Jackets did more than enough, scoring touchdowns on their first three possessions, adding a fourth on the opening drive of the second half and a fifth in the fourth quarter to close out the Cavaliers. In his second start at B-back in place of the injured Zach Laskey, Synjyn Days powered his way to his second consecutive 100-yard rushing day, a career-best 147-yard effort.
Days showed vision and tackle-breaking strength, collecting runs of 31 and 33 yards along the way. He also put the game beyond reach with his 17-yard touchdown reception to convert a third-and-14 with 7:01 to play in the game.
With the win, Tech (7-2 overall, 4-2 ACC) kept pace with Coastal Division-leading Duke, which escaped Pittsburgh in overtime earlier Saturday in double overtime to improve to 3-1 in the ACC. The Jackets also secured their 20th consecutive season with a conference record of .500 or better, the nation’s longest such active streak.
Virginia (4-5, 2-3) dropped its third game in a row and was defeated by its largest margin of the season as the heat on London, in his fifth season as the successor to Al Groh, continues to increase.
“We left some out there offensively, but I think you have to give Virginia some credit,” said Johnson, who earned his 100th career FBS victory against 83 losses. “They have a pretty good defensive football team. “Happy to get out of here 35-10.”