Virginia versus Georgia Tech — a breakdown

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Senior wide receiver Doni Dowling recorded four touchdowns and had over 10 yards per reception in each game in Virginia's four-game winning streak. 

Mariana Fraser | Cavalier Daily

With a two-game losing streak coming into this weekend, the Virginia football team will be looking to bounce back and begin to gain some momentum heading into the later stages of the season. The Cavaliers will look to take down Georgia Tech in Saturday’s home matchup and clinch bowl eligibility for the first time since 2011. It will be interesting to see how the team performs and if it will be able to regain some of the momentum they had a couple weeks ago. Here are some players and keys to the game to watch out for this weekend. 

Players to watch

Senior wide receiver Doni Dowling 

Dowling was a huge part of Virginia’s success earlier in the season, as the Cavaliers raced out to a 5-1 start. In five out of Virginia’s first six games, Dowling recorded at least five receptions, establishing himself as one of Virginia senior quarterback Kurt Benkert’s favorite and most reliable targets. In Virginia’s four-game winning streak before its loss to Boston College, Dowling recorded four touchdowns and had over 10 yards per reception in each game. In Virginia last two games both losses Dowling has struggled, along with the offense, as he has a combined three receptions for 50 yards. Forty-six of those yards came in the loss to Pittsburgh. If Dowling and Benkert can re-establish the connection that made them so potent early in the season, it could be just what Virginia’s offense needed to reignite the explosiveness and balance they displayed in much of their five wins. Dowling needs to have a big game Saturday to help Virginia’s offense outscore Georgia Tech’s. 

Senior defensive end Andrew Brown

On a day where most of the Virginia defense struggled to make big plays, Brown put up a nice stat line against Pittsburgh. The Chesapeake, Va. native had a sack, three tackles-for-loss and a quarterback hurry as one of the only Cavalier pass rushers able to generate pressure against the Panthers. The breakout game came at a crucial time for Brown as Virginia prepares to take on the heavy and deceptive rushing attack of Georgia Tech. Brown’s ability to read Georgia Tech junior quarterback TaQuon Marshall’s reads will be pivotal to Virginia’s ability to stuff the run inside and contain outside rushers. Forcing the Yellow Jackets into long third downs can put the Cavaliers in position to limit big drives, something they did not do especially well against Pittsburgh. Brown has the toughness and athleticism to make a big impact in the run game — if he comes into matchup mentally prepared to see through Georgia Tech’s deception, he can put together a string of big games. 

Keys to the game

Intensity on the field 

With an unexpected 5-1 start to the season, Virginia players embraced the underdog role, as the team celebrated win after win. It was evident the team was having fun and playing with a certain level of intensity, as if displayed this on the field during and after games — including some players joining the fans near the stands after a win. With only one win needed for a bowl berth, expectations were high heading into the game against Boston College. However, the Cavaliers fell flat and were dominated by the Eagles. The effects of that loss seemed to carry over into the loss against Pittsburgh, as Virginia seemingly lacked some of the intensity that it displayed earlier in the year. This week, Virginia senior inside linebacker Micah Kiser spoke about how he believes that energy will be present this weekend against Georgia Tech. The Cavaliers need this intensity to stop their two-game losing streak and earn bowl eligibility. 

Finding a rhythm in the passing game

Among the factors that have played into Virginia’s offensive struggles over the last few weeks has been its inability to find consistent success in the passing game. Reports of Benkert nursing a shoulder injury give a possible explanation for the problem, but as long as he is the starter, he must find a way to battle through the pain and produce. The senior has a concerning 52 percent completion percentage and 26.0 quarterback rating over Virginia’s two-game losing streak. Against another tough secondary in Georgia Tech, Benkert will once again have to find a way to push the ball down the field while limiting the propensity for turnovers. He will also need help from his offensive line, which allowed three sacks and eight hurries against Pittsburgh. Benkert’s tendency to leave the pocket and throw on the run has hurt his efficiency, so giving him enough time to throw in the pocket will be critical to sustain drives. The Cavalier offense clicked once Benkert got going late in the second quarter against Pittsburgh, but the team was not able to translate that level of play to the second half. The offense will have to have close to its most complete game on offense since the Boise State game to have a shot against the formidable Georgia Tech defense. 

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