Kurt Benkert and the Cavaliers look to become bowl eligible with a win over the Yellow Jackets
The question over the first six games of the ACC season was, “What in the world has gotten into the Virginia Cavaliers?” With a 5-1 start that included a 19-point win at Boise State, the Cavaliers were the surprise of the league.
But over the past two weeks, the question has become, “What has happened to the Virginia Cavaliers?” They lost by a combined 48 points to Boston College and Pittsburgh, two teams UVA expected to beat.
This week the Hoos go to Atlanta to play Georgia Tech. The Jackets are coming off a loss in the slop at Clemson on Saturday night that dropped them to 4-3.
Georgia Tech at Virginia
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 4 at 3 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ACC Network/Raycom Sports
Spread: Georgia Tech -10
Three Things to Watch
1. Georgia Tech getting back on track
The Yellow Jackets had 198 rushing yards against Clemson, but it certainly didn’t seem like it. A good chunk (65) of those yards came on one big KirVonte Benson (above, right) gallop early in the game, and 22 more came on TaQuon Marshall’s late TD run. Georgia Tech also had 21 rushes of two yards or less. This week the game won’t be played in a monsoon and Clemson will not be on the other side of the ball. Virginia is 58th in rushing defense and surrendered 237 yards on the ground to Boston College and 176 more to Pitt.
2. Kurt Benkert
Last season, the Cavaliers' quarterback started the year out fast and faded down the stretch. He began his final season in Charlottesville on fire again but in the last two games has slumped, completing just 52 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Georgia Tech gives up less than 200 yards passing on average, so this will be another great challenge for Benkert. One positive note for Virginia is that Georgia Tech does not have a dynamic pass rush; the Cavaliers have had trouble protecting their quarterback the past couple of weeks.
3. Coverage units
Virginia's are pretty bad. Actually, they’re really bad. UVA's punt coverage team ranks 121st in the nation, which is the same ranking as the kickoff coverage team. Pitt’s Quadree Henderson turned a 14-0 Panthers lead into a 21-0 Pittsburgh runaway with a 75-yard punt return in the second quarter. It was the second time UVA allowed a punt return score this season. Interestingly, the punt coverage unit that is right below Virginia at No. 122 is Georgia Tech. There will be big plays to be made on special teams, and the team that converts may have the upper hand.
It was an ugly Saturday night for Georgia Tech. In the driving rain, Clemson got up early and put the option-based Yellow Jackets in an uncomfortable position. The loss puts Tech two games behind Coastal leader Miami, and since the Jackets lost to the Hurricanes a few weeks ago, there is little hope of claiming a division title. But Paul Johnson’s team can enhance its bowl resume down the stretch, starting with the game against the Cavaliers. Virginia stumbles into this game once again needing just one more victory for bowl eligibility. With games against Louisville, Miami and Virginia Tech remaining, it won’t be easy. Georgia Tech jump-starts its rushing attack this week, and Virginia will have to keep trying for that elusive sixth victory.
Prediction: Georgia Tech 34, Virginia 21
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.