CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Virginia’s last game against a team running a ground attack like the one Georgia Tech employs could hardly have gone worse.
After taking an early 7-0 lead against Navy in last year’s Military Bowl, the Cavaliers gave up 452 rushing yards in a 49-7 defeat.
This year, as Virginia (7-3, 4-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) tries to enhance its bowl position and hang onto slim hopes for winning the ACC Coastal Division, the Cavaliers will have another chance to shut down — or at least slow down — the triple option when they play at Georgia Tech (6-4, 4-3) on Saturday. It’s a place where they haven’t won since 2008.
“It’s not scary. It’s another opportunity to get better,” said linebacker Jordan Mack, who was part of the defense last season when the Cavaliers limited to Yellow Jackets to 220 rushing yards in a 40-36 victory. “A lot of guys are eager and willing and want to improve and show that we can defend the triple option.”
Virginia became bowl eligible for the first time in six years with the victory last season and can match its highest victory total since 2007 with another one.
But the Yellow Jackets pose a unique challenge, especially with only one week to get ready and a defensive line that is young and dealing with injuries.
“I think I’m just going to have to make sure I lead the guys and play to the best of my ability,” junior lineman Eli Hanback said. But he added that he must “also help them out with any assignments and also make it imperative how important it is that they do their jobs and their assignments and their technique to the best of their ability.
“We need all 11 guys on the field more now than ever especially against triple option and all that requires.”
Besides Hanback, a three-year starter, Virginia will rely on freshmen Aaron Faumui and Jordan Redmond, redshirt freshman Tommy Christ and graduate transfer Dylan Thompson up front. That puts an onus on Mack and the linebacking corps to help implement coach Bronco Mendenhall’s defensive gameplan.
“I’m very comfortable,” Mack said. “They piece together a good formula year in and year out, so as players, it brings us confidence.”
Georgia Tech has used both TaQuon Marshall and Tobias Oliver at quarterback this season, and while Marshall is a better passer, he had a difficult day against the Cavaliers last season, completing just 6 of 22 passes for 179 yards with one touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran for 143 yards and two scores.
Coach Paul Johnson said both will likely play on Saturday. His team has won five of its last six games after starting with three losses in four games.
“This is a big game on Saturday,” Johnson said, “if we can clinch a winning season and get to seven and then you got two games left.”
The Cavaliers’ close the regular season the following week at Virginia Tech, which has won 14 straight in the series, but offensive lineman R.J. Proctor said they have gotten this far by taking the schedule one game at a time and with much left to play for, he doesn’t expect them to alter their approach now.
“Yeah, we just want to go 1-0 this week,” he said, but anyone with a Tech in their name we want to beat.”
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