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Virginia football returns home for an intriguing battle against Georgia Tech

In a showdown of unpredictable teams with potential to light up the scoreboard, this conference matchup could turn into a classic

<p>The Cavaliers hope to get back to the success they found after beating then-No. 10 North Carolina.</p>

The Cavaliers hope to get back to the success they found after beating then-No. 10 North Carolina.

After a crushing last-minute loss at Miami, Virginia football will look to bounce back in their first game at Scott Stadium since Oct 7. Its opponent this week is perhaps the most favorable one on the rest of the schedule, as Georgia Tech has not beaten the Cavaliers (2-6, 1-3 ACC) since 2018. A lot has changed for both sides since the 16-9 Virginia victory last season though, as each team has a new starting quarterback at the helm. The Cavaliers are still technically alive for a bowl bid, but a loss to the Yellow Jackets (4-4, 3-2 ACC) would eliminate them from postseason contention. Regardless, picking up another conference win would be a substantial benchmark for Coach Tony Elliott in his second season.

Key matchups

Virginia front seven versus Georgia Tech sophomore quarterback Haynes King

King currently ranks fourth in the ACC in passing yards and leads for the most passing touchdowns. King leads a Yellow Jacket offense that averages 31.8 points per game, and he does so through consistently connecting on deep passes while also running the ball himself. He has personally rushed for 462 yards this season, averaging an intimidating 6.7 yards per carry. It will be up to the Cavalier defensive line and linebackers to contain King’s rushing ability while also pressuring him into inaccurate throws. 

Freshman linebacker Kamren Robinson had a career game against Miami, putting up seven tackles and an interception. His lateral quickness will be relied upon to stop a complex Georgia Tech attack. Next to him, junior linebacker James Jackson has also been making plays, such as catching the game-clinching interception against North Carolina. The dynamic duo at inside linebacker is the heart of an improving Cavalier defense and will need to be at their best against King. 

Virginia running game versus Georgia Tech defensive line

The Yellow Jackets have struggled immensely against the run in 2023. In each of their losses so far, they have allowed multiple players to average more than five yards per carry. It will be up to the Cavalier offensive line to open running lines for the swift running backs to take over the game. Sixth year running back Perris Jones and graduate student running back Mike Hollins will be heavily relied on in what could turn into exactly the kind of game offensive coordinator Des Kitchings wants. 

In Virginia’s most recent home game, Jones averaged 11.2 yards per carry in a massive victory over William and Mary. He and Hollins are creating a promising duo — Jones the speedster and Hollins the redzone option. Hollins is hitting his stride to the tune of five rushing touchdowns in his previous two games.

Keys to victory

Let graduate student wide receiver Malik Washington do what he does best

Washington has set college football ablaze. His 68 receptions for 935 yards leads the ACC — and he’s found the endzone six times. Washington is clearly the engine of Virginia’s offense and will need to garner double digit receptions in a game yet again in order to keep pace with a surging Yellow Jacket offense. The Cavaliers are simply a better team when Washington is the offensive focal point.

Washington may face double coverage, but senior quarterback Tony Muskett will likely look for his favorite target anyway. Excluding the opening loss to Tennessee, Washington has had at least 97 yards in every game this season. 

Fight for touchdowns instead of settling for field goals

Against the Hurricanes last week, sophomore kicker Will Bettridge converted on all four of his field goal attempts. While he evidently succeeded whenever he was needed, Virginia simply cannot leave points on the field more often than not. Had the Cavaliers turned any one of those field goals into a touchdown, their 26-29 loss would have been a much-needed win. 

That same Miami squad played the opposite role in their game against Georgia Tech, who scored more touchdowns than field goals. Observing these ACC trends, Elliott will have to be aggressive and find a way to cap off offensive drives with seven points more often than settling for three. 

Hold strong in pass coverage

Georgia Tech faced a double digit fourth quarter deficit on the road against No. 17 North Carolina last week, but took advantage of horrid pass coverage to register an incredible 635 yards of total offense en route to a stunning upset. The Cavaliers cannot jump out to a lead of multiple scores early and expect to win the game before halftime. 

The Yellow Jackets fight to the final whistle and will turn close losses into thrilling victories in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter. Virginia has struggled mightily in preserving its leads, as seen with several late collapses against the likes of Miami, Boston College and James Madison.

As for the pass coverage in particular, the Cavaliers have been exposed against shorter and quicker wide receivers like freshman Kevin Concepcion — who racked up 116 yards and two touchdowns on just six receptions for NC State. Georgia Tech has vertical playmakers in its own right, namely elusive freshman wide receiver Eric Singleton Jr. with his 16.9 yards per reception and five touchdowns. 

The Cavaliers will kick off at 2 p.m. on the CW, looking to get back in the win column in what has been a polarizing 2023 campaign.

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