Don't look now, but Georgia Tech seems to be figuring things out. Since a 1-3 start that led to the dismissal of head coach Geoff Collins, the Yellow Jackets have put together consecutive wins over ACC Coastal foes in Pittsburgh and Duke. This week, Georgia Tech will welcome in the only team in the conference without an ACC win.
While Georgia Tech has found a way to win consecutive games, Tony Elliott and Virginia will arrive in Atlanta on Thursday night on a three-game losing streak. The Cavaliers are just 2-4 and 0-3 in ACC play.
Virginia has won the last two meetings in the series, including a 48-40 shootout last season in Charlottesville. The last four games have been decided by a single score. Overall, the series between the Yellow Jackets and Cavaliers is an even 21-21-1.
Virginia at Georgia Tech
When Virginia Has the Ball
After a record-breaking 2021 season, Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong has taken an inexplicable step back as a senior. Among qualified quarterbacks in the ACC, Armstrong is dead last in passer rating. No quarterback in the conference has thrown more interceptions than the Virginia lefty. After finishing second nationally with 404.5 passing yards per game — and racking up 495 total yards and six total touchdowns in last season's victory over Georgia Tech 0— Armstrong ranks just 68th in passing (227.2 ypg) this season. The Cavaliers' offensive issues, however, are not the sole responsibility of Armstrong. Virginia is averaging less than four yards per carry on the ground, and only Boston College has allowed more sacks among ACC teams.
Small in stature, Perris Jones is a tough runner for Virginia. The leading rusher for the Cavaliers, Jones averages five yards per carry and has a team-high 320 yards. He was held to just six yards on six carries his last time out in a 34-17 loss to Louisville but leads the team with four total touchdowns. The biggest playmaker for the Cavaliers' offense is Keytaon Johnson. Johnson has been used in a variety of ways throughout his Virginia career but primarily as a receiver this season. Johnson leads the team with 41 catches for 449 yards receiving, although his only touchdown has come as a rusher. Dontayvion Wicks and Lavel Davis Jr. are capable receivers as well. Wicks finished with 168 receiving yards and two touchdowns in last season's matchup. As a team, Virginia ranks just 10th in the ACC in total offense and 13th in scoring offense.
In its first three games against FBS competition, Georgia Tech was allowing nearly 37 points per game. The Yellow Jackets haven't allowed more than 21 points in either of their last two games and held Duke to less than 300 yards of total offense the last time out. Georgia Tech ranks just 12th in the ACC in total and scoring defense, but things have been much better in recent weeks. Headlining the defense thus far has been linebacker Ayinde Eley, who leads the team with 67 total tackles and three forced fumbles — good for third and first in the ACC, respectively. Charlie Thomas is another solid linebacker. He leads the team with two interceptions.
One thing that Georgia Tech can do is get after the quarterback. Keion White leads the team with four sacks while Eley is second with 3.5. Sylvain Yondjouen, a native of Belgium, has 2.5 sacks. While the pass rush has been a strength for Georgia Tech, it has not done a great job of stopping the run this season. Zamari Walton, LaMiles Brooks, and K.J.but Wallace are among the names to know for an overachieving secondary.
When Georgia Tech Has the Ball
For the season, no ACC team scores fewer points per game than Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets are averaging just 17.3 points per contest, but like the defense, the offense has improved of late. Although Georgia Tech hasn't exactly lit up the scoreboard, the 26 and 23 points scored in the last two games represent the most against FBS competition this season. Quarterback Jeff Sims is in his third season as a starter and has played relatively mistake-free thus far but is questionable after suffering a late injury in the 23-20 win over Duke. Sims has a nice arm but also is relied upon to make plays with his legs. His 291 rushing yards are second on the team. He accounted for 365 total yards and three touchdown passes last season in Charlottesville.
Hassan Hall, a Louisville transfer, has been a nice addition to the backfield. Hall leads the team with 330 rushing yards and also can also catch the ball out of the backfield. He has yet to find the end zone as a Yellow Jacket. Bruising back Dontae Smith averages nearly six yards per carry and leads the team with three touchdown runs but those came against FCS Western Carolina. Malachi Carter, last season's leading receiver, has had a tough year while batting injury. Nate McCollum has emerged as the top target, already doubling his numbers the previous two seasons combined (15 rec., 123 yds.) with a team-leading 29 grabs for 283 yards. In the red zone, 6-foot-7 E.J. Jenkins must be accounted for.
Considering how last season went, it may be a surprise that the Virginia defense is playing better than the Virginia offense, but it has taken a step back in recent weeks. The Cavaliers have allowed 72 points over the last two weeks, which included 34 to a Louisville team without Malik Cunningham. Chico Bennett Jr.'s four sacks lead the team, and Aaron Faumui and Kam Butler have been solid up front as well. When it comes to tackles for a loss, Virginia is one of the worst teams in the ACC, although it has forced 11 turnovers in six games.
Linebacker Nick Jackson is the leading tackler and may be the best player on the Virginia defense. Safety Jonas Sanker does it all in the secondary, while Anthony Johnson's two interceptions rank fourth in the ACC. When it comes to special teams, both teams have had to make changes in recent weeks. Virginia's Will Bettridge is 2-for-2 on field goals with a long of 47 yards since taking over the kicking duties from Brendan Farrell. Georgia Tech also has been helped by Gavin Stewart taking over for Jude Kelley. Stewart is 7-for-7 on field goals over the last two games, doing his part in a pair of close wins. When it comes to punt coverage, both teams have had their struggles.
Sims being unable to go on Thursday night could be a game-changer, but backup Zach Gibson, a transfer from Arkon, has some experience (370 career pass attempts). Expect this one to have about half as many points as last season's 88-point shootout. This one is a case of two schools moving in different directions. The Yellow Jackets have been rejuvenated under interim head coach Brent Key. Playing this one in Atlanta should also be a big advantage for the home team.
Prediction: Georgia Tech 24, Virginia 20
Podcast: Week 8 Preview, Predictions, and Picks Against the Spread
— Written by Mike Ferguson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.
*Price as of publication.