Georgia Tech, Virginia seek turnarounds in Saturday meeting
With five games remaining in what has been a disappointing season, Virginia needs to look no further than this week's opponent for evidence of how a single game, or play, can potentially change a season.
Georgia Tech (3-5, 1-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) was on a five-game losing streak until a week ago when improved play on defense kept theYellow Jackets in their game against No. 17 Florida State and a blocked field goal and 78-yard return for a touchdown on the game's final play gave them a 22-16 victory.
Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson sees the Cavaliers (2-5, 1-2) in the same kind of situation this week.
''Their backs are to the wall, too. This is probably a draw a line in the sand game for them,'' Johnson said this week. ''They're trying to salvage their season. You've got to get ready for their best shot up there.''
Virginia has lost three of four, but will play just two teams with winning records the rest of the way.
In previous seasons, the Cavaliers have splintered late in the season, with seniors beginning to focus on their NFL prospects, but sophomore linebacker Micah Kiser said that hasn't been the case with this year's veterans.
''All they want to do is just win games and get to the bowl game,'' Kiser said this week. ''A lot of us haven't really had that taste in our mouths of a bowl game. The seniors have done a great job of keeping us together.''
Neither team has left itself with much margin for error. The Yellow Jackets needs to win three of four to play in the postseason, and the Cavaliers need to win four of five to reach their first bowl game in four years.
''Two and five is a really easy spot to just lay down and say, `Our season is gone,' and just lay down and just play the rest of the season looking forward to next year, but I don't think anybody on this team has that in their mind at all, which is extremely positive for me to see as a captain,'' fullback Vince Croce said. ''This is the type of team, we're on to the next game. We have a chance to get a win, at home, and that's all we're focused on.''
Here are some things to watch when Georgia Tech visits Virginia:
BALL CONTROL: The Yellow Jackets like to hold onto the ball, and have attempted 19 fourth-down plays this season, succeeding 12 times. Georgia Tech ranks fourth in the ACC in time of possession, 32:23, and Virginia is right behind them at 31:29. For any defense, being able to get off the field is critical to remaining fresh.
SHORT MEMORY: Virginia quarterback Matt Johns is looking to bounce back from a horrendous second half against North Carolian, one in which he threw four interceptions and fumbled the ball away while being sacked. Johns has 12 touchdown passes, and 12 interceptions, and, his teammates say, their complete faith that he will rebound.
INEXPERIENCE: Falling behind against Georgia Tech's triple option can be a game-changer, and while Kiser leads the ACC in tackles, he's never faced this offense. On a defense geared toward funneling plays to the linebackers, some help from Virginia's more experienced front four would be key to the Cavaliers having success on defense.
STAKES: Both teams can afford to lose just one more game to have any hope of qualifying for a bowl game. The Yellow Jackets go to bowls routinely. Virginia is seeking its first in four years. Who responds better?
PASSING FANCY: Georgia Tech's triple option makes teams so focused on stopping the run that a defense can be caught off guard by a passing play in a big spot. Can Justin Thomas burn the Cavs, or will they be ready?