Yellow Jackets look to build off of last week's big win over the Hokies when they host the reeling Cavaliers
Georgia Tech picked up its biggest win of the season last week, beating then No. 14 Virginia Tech 30-20 in Blacksburg. The Yellow Jackets (6-4, 3-4 ACC) rushed for 309 yards and three touchdowns as they won their sixth game to become bowl eligible a season after finishing 3-9. They will try to win their seventh game on Senior Day as they host Virginia.
Virginia (2-8, 1-5) was drilled by Miami 34-14 last week in Charlottesville. Quarterback Kurt Benkert was sacked five times, while the Hurricanes piled up 222 rushing yards.
Saturday will be the 39th meeting between these two longtime ACC foes. The Yellow Jackets hold a slim 19-18-1 advantage in the series, which dates back to 1965. In last year’s meeting, Virginia running back Albert Reid’s 24-yard touchdown gave the Cavaliers the 27-21 win at Scott Stadium.
Virginia at Georgia Tech
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 19 at 12:30 p.m ET
TV: ACC Network/ESPN3
Spread: Georgia Tech -10.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Georgia Tech rushing attack
Obviously, the key to any triple-option offense is an excellent running game. Georgia Tech certainly has that and Virginia will have a tough time slowing down Paul Johnson’s stable of ball carriers.
The Yellow Jackets are ranked 11th in the FBS in rushing offense at 266.4 yards per game. Quarterback Justin Thomas, who is the team’s second-leading rusher, missed the Virginia Tech game due to an upper-body injury, but backup Matthew Jordan filled in admirably. Jordan finished with 121 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the upset of the Hokies.
Virginia also will have to find a way to contain B-Back Marcus Marshall, who ran for 143 yards and a touchdown last Saturday.
2. Matt Johns
In an effort to give Virginia a spark on offense, head coach Bronco Mendenhall has benched quarterback Kurt Benkert and named backup Matt Johns the starter against Georgia Tech. Johns started all 12 games for the Cavaliers last season, throwing for 20 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. He lost his job to Benkert, a graduate transfer from East Carolina, during preseason camp.
The reason Mendenhall is making the change at quarterback is because Benkert has turned the ball over a number of times this season. Benkert’s 11 interceptions are second only to Deshaun Watson's 13 in the ACC, but the Clemson star has thrown for nearly 600 more yards and seven more touchdowns. In the last two games alone, Benkert has been sacked 10 times and some of those were because he held the ball too long.
Johns hasn’t played a lot this season as he is just 5-for-9 passing for 77 yards and a touchdown. With Virginia just 2-8, Mendenhall is hoping that Johns can help put an end to the Cavaliers’ six-game losing streak.
3. Lawrence Austin
A junior nickel back, Austin was named ACC Defensive Back of the Week following an impressive performance against Virginia Tech. He was responsible for three of Georgia Tech’s four takeaways in the big win, intercepting two passes and recovering a fumble.
Austin became the first Yellow Jacket with two picks in a game since Jemea Thomas did it in 2011 against Clemson. On the season, Austin has 31 tackles, three interceptions and a forced fumble.
In last season’s win over Georgia Tech, Virginia quarterback Matt Johns played a decent game, finishing 17-of-28 for 175 yards with a touchdown and an interception. With Johns back in as the starter under center in place of Kurt Benkert, Cavaliers head coach Bronco Mendenhall is hoping for a similar spark on offense in hopes of ending a six-game losing streak.
Georgia Tech should have Justin Thomas back at quarterback, as the senior has been the Yellow Jackets’ best player this season. That’s bad news for a Virginia defense that has given up 179.2 rushing yards per game. Georgia Tech should have a lot of success on the ground on its way to a seventh victory.
Prediction: Georgia Tech 34, Virginia 17
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.