While it wasn’t a performance to remember, especially on defense, the Virginia football team picked up an important 33-28 victory over Georgia Tech on Saturday at Scott Stadium.
Bronco Mendenhall’s team views November games like playoff games, and the Cavaliers (7-3, 5-2 ACC) are 2-0 in November with a pair of wins over ACC Coastal Division foes. Winning this game sends Virginia into its second bye week of the season with the Coastal lead and a two-game winning streak.
The Yellow Jackets (2-7, 1-5 ACC) aren’t Clemson — they won’t even play in a bowl this season — but this game mattered for a Virginia program looking to make program history by winning the division for the first time.
Secondary woes continue
With many of the top players in the secondary injured, Virginia struggled to stop the pass for the second consecutive week. Georgia Tech, which averages an ACC-worst 141 passing yards per game, threw for 192 yards in the first half against UVa. The Cavaliers allowed two touchdown passes of 25 yards or longer.
The defensive backs were out of position at times, and when they were in position, Georgia Tech often came down with contested catches.
It was a poor first-half showing for a banged-up secondary, but junior Joey Blount did grab a first half interception that turned into seven Virginia points.
“That’s an example of stealing a possession,” Mendenhall said. “We not only stole a possession, we created field position which led to a score which was the difference in the game.”
The Cavaliers played better in the second half, but the Yellow Jackets had a handful of open players who Graham missed with inaccurate throws. Graham finished the game 15-of-22 for 229 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Chris Moore went down with an injury for UVa, but Heskin Smith stepped in nicely. Smith only started practicing after an injury of his own this week.
“He’s been hurt, he had surgery,” Mendenhall said. “He’s been out I think six weeks. He had one day to go out and be tested by the trainers. The next day he practiced, and now he played.”
Pressuring the QB
With its secondary struggling, Virginia’s defensive line and linebackers needed to pressure Georgia Tech quarterback James Graham. Unfortunately for UVa, Graham didn’t take a sack in the first half. He sat back in the pocket and found holes in Virginia’s secondary, completing 10 of his 12 passes for 192 yards and two scores in the first half.
The Cavaliers entered the game fifth nationally in sacks per game, averaging 3.78 per contest. They didn’t record a sack all game against Georgia Tech, but they did generate more pressure on Graham in the second half. He was forced to leave the pocket multiple times in the second half, which helped limit his ability to dissect the secondary.
High-powered passing attack
While Virginia’s system isn’t that of a typical air raid offense, the Cavaliers rely heavily on the passing game. The passing attack worked well against Georgia Tech, just like it did against North Carolina.
Bryce Perkins found his receivers without much issue throughout the afternoon. Terrell Jana played well again following his 13-reception performance last week. finishing with nine catches for 108 yards. Joe Reed and Billy Kemp IV were both involved in the offense as well, with Reed securing five receptions for 27 yards and a touchdown.
The surplus of weapons allowed Perkins to finish the game 24-of-35 for 258 yards and a touchdown. He didn’t turn the ball over and added just over 100 yards on the ground.
Perkins’ health has improved the past two weeks, and the offensive line is playing at a high level. That’s a scary combination for opposing defenses.
“I definitely feel healthy and not as banged up after games anymore,” Perkins said.
In total, Perkins passed the ball to six different receivers en route to one of his better performances of the year.
» Special teams proved to be an important difference in Saturday’s game. Brian Delaney knocked through a 24-yard field goal, while Georgia Tech’s Wesley Wells missed a 30-yard kick. The Cavaliers averaged 26 yards per kickoff return, while the Yellow Jackets only returned one kick for 17 yards. Delaney put the other kickoffs through the end zone for touchbacks.
» The official attendance was 44,596, which was the second lowest number of the season. Only the Old Dominion game drew fewer fans to Scott Stadium.