Football looks to bounce back against Georgia Tech Saturday

Cavaliers will attempt to stop two-game skid

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Senior inside linebacker Micah Kiser and Virginia will look to stop two-game skid against Georgia Tech Saturday. 

Emma Lewis | Cavalier Daily

The Virginia football team is reeling, having now suffered two-straight losses to Boston College and Pittsburgh. The once-soaring Cavaliers (5-3, 2-2 ACC) will look to bounce back this weekend as they get ready to take on a Georgia Tech team that has lost two of its last three games. 

Virginia, whose defense has struggled the last two weeks — giving up over 30 points in each match — will look to get back on track Saturday. They will get a huge boost with the return of junior outside linebacker Malcolm Cook in a starting role. 

“It’s great having him back,” senior inside linebacker Micah Kiser said. “It gives us a true SAM linebacker, which we haven’t really been playing with one.”

However, even with Cook returning to the starting lineup, Virginia’s defense knows that it has to improve on the mental side of things. Though the Cavaliers may have been playing fundamentally correct football last weekend, they lacked the energy and intensity that once headlined their outstanding 5-1 start. 

Virginia Coach Bronco Mendenhall said this absence of energy affected the team against Pittsburgh, as players were seemingly prepared, but lacked the mindset to execute the way they needed to in order to slow down the Panthers. 

“We were right by assignment a lot of the time on Saturday, but not right by mindset and edge and emotion and passion,” Mendenhall said. 

Kiser, one of the leaders of Virginia’s defense, echoed those sentiments and said one of the keys to getting back to winning football for the Cavaliers will be to regain that mindset and intensity. 

“We just need to get back to just, you know, playing with that edge that we had,” Kiser said. “We were pretty assignment sound, we were doing our job, but our mindset was a little off and so, if we can get back … Believing in and playing that new standard that we were preaching, then, you know, we can right this ship.”

Kiser said to expect that intensity to return Saturday against Georgia Tech (4-3, 3-2 ACC). 

“We just need to get back to having fun, playing for the love of the game … I think you’ll see a freshened, more energetic, more enthusiastic defense come this weekend,” Kiser said. 

Virginia senior quarterback Kurt Benkert has also struggled the last two weeks. He has completed less than 53 percent of his passes in each of the last two games, and thrown for a combined two touchdowns and two interceptions. 

Virginia will look for a bounce back performance from him this weekend, as Benkert looks to regain the momentum he was generating at the quarterback position just a couple weeks ago. 

Though Benkert must improve his play in order to help Virginia’s offense play at a high level, it’s also just as important that Virginia plays complimentary football, allowing for a balanced effort. This way if one of the three areas of play — offense, defense and special teams — is struggling, the others can help pick them up. 

“If there's games like that where a quarterback and our offense isn't having the kind of connection, chemistry, confidence and performance we need, that has to be compensated for,” Mendenhall said. “Man, if you had a special teams play in there — interception for yardage or something like that — that makes it more difficult.”

Mendenhall added that Virginia’s defense will be going up against a tough challenge in Georgia Tech’s quarterback, junior TaQuon Marshall, who will present a host of challenges. 

“The best player on the field on a Georgia Tech offense is their quarterback,” Mendenhall said. “He's the best athlete. He's the best leader. He's the most dynamic player. He's the most capable.”

Offensively, Virginia will have to look to exploit Georgia Tech’s defense, another challenge. 

“But they're fast and they're talented and they're really sound,” Mendenhall said. “They manage the points really well … Possessions are huge. Your offense doesn't get many. So you have to play really well defensively and get off the field as much as you can to give enough possessions to your offense to have a chance to score. The way they're set up, they make it difficult to score.”

It will be a tough matchup for the Cavaliers, but with a bowl berth attainable with a win, and renewed focus for this weekend’s home game, Virginia will look to come away victorious. The game is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville.

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