Virginia vs. Georgia Tech — A breakdown

sp-joereed-courtesyvirginiaathletics

Sophomore wide receiver Joe Reed helped propel the Cavaliers to victory over Liberty with both his contributions on offense and as kick returner on special teams.

Courtesy Virginia Athletics

After defeating Liberty on Senior Day in a rout, Virginia is set to travel to Atlanta to face Georgia Tech, winners of their last three. The Cavaliers (7-3, 4-2 ACC) will look to keep their hopes alive for an ACC Coastal title against the Yellow Jackets (6-4, 4-3 ACC). The Cavalier Daily sports staff takes a look at some players to watch and keys to the game that will lead Virginia to victory against Georgia Tech Saturday.

Players to watch:

Virginia linebacker Jordan Mack

Junior linebacker Jordan Mack, a key piece in Virginia’s impressive linebacking core, was sidelined by injury after the Louisville game, projected to miss six weeks. Due to his toughness and faster than expected recovery time, he came back for the Pittsburgh game, albeit in limited capacity. Mack continued to re-establish himself as a key part of Virginia’s defense with his performance against Liberty last weekend, finishing third on the team in total tackles with 10. His vocal leadership and hard work on the field are reminiscent of now-NFL player Micah Kiser, from whom Mack was able to learn for the previous two seasons. Saturday’s game will be especially huge for Mack because of his role in stopping Georgia Tech’s triple option offense, and his roots in Georgia. In fact, his dad, Charles, played fullback for the Yellow Jackets, and Mack grew up going to Georgia Tech football games. When the choice came to decide where to take his talents, however, Mack chose Virginia, and the rest is history. He will play a critical role Saturday in stopping Georgia Tech senior quarterback TaQuon Marshall and his triple option reads, positioned as he is at the middle of the defense. In last year’s game, he finished with 13 total tackles and a sack. The Cavaliers’ will need more of the same from Mack this year.

Virginia wide receiver Joe Reed

Last week against Liberty, junior wide receiver Joe Reed powered Virginia’s offense with three touchdowns, one of which included a 90-yard kickoff return. Reed finished the night with 193 kickoff return yards and 20 receiving yards. In Monday’s press conference, Coach Bronco Mendenhall discussed how Reed’s strong showing against Liberty is something the team needs. “Really good to see Joe Reed be able to not only score special teams-wise, but offensively,” Mendenhall said. “That added element is something we've been hopeful for and looking forward to for a long time. I would love to see Joe complement Olamide [Zaccheaus] and Hasise [Dubois] and Bryce [Perkins] and Jordan Ellis, Evan Butts. That becomes more powerful and dynamic of an offense to stop.” A more dynamic offense will be needed against a Georgia Tech team that has held its last four opponents to fewer than 30 points.

Keys to the game:

Long, drawn-out drives on offense

Virginia’s offense has done best when its rushing game has been successful. In order to beat Georgia Tech, the Cavaliers must run the football well. This is not only true because, statistically-speaking, Virginia does better when it picks up more rushing yards — last week the CD Sports Staff noted how Virginia averages 201 rushing yards per game in its wins and just 108 rushing yards per game in its losses, and the Cavaliers confirmed this by picking up 221 rushing yards in their win against Liberty. It’s also crucial because of Georgia Tech’s reliance on running the football, which naturally lends itself to high time of possession that tends to wear down the defense. In Georgia Tech’s beatdown of Virginia Tech, for instance, the Yellow Jackets won the time of possession battle 42:18 to 17:42. In order to beat the Yellow Jackets Saturday, the Cavaliers must play complementary football — offense as well as defense — and this means the offense making sure the defense gets some rest. Long, drawn-out drives will accomplish this, and establishing a running game is crucial, in addition to getting junior quarterback Bryce Perkins easy throws he can complete.

Don’t let Georgia Tech convert on fourth downs

Stopping Georgia Tech from wearing down the defense and converting on fourth downs will be crucial for Virginia this weekend. With, “the wear and tear of the ups and downs of normal third down stop against option football, you have to consider fourth down, third down,” Mendenhall said. So far this season, the Yellow Jackets have attempted to go for it on fourth down 21 times, and they post a 52 conversion rate on those attempts. Mendenhall also said that the way to frame option football is that, “Every drive is four down and every field position ... is four down territory.” Virginia’s defense will need the stamina in these longer drives and they’ll need players to step up for some big stops. Sophomore free safety Brenton Nelson is someone who can fill this role, as he demonstrated last week against Liberty when Nelson broke up a pass as the Flames tried to go for it on fourth-and-one.

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