Another week, another talented, underachieving ACC opponent.
The Virginia Cavaliers are Georgia Tech's dark shadow. One tiny slip in pass coverage against Clemson, one itsy fumble late against North Carolina, and the Jackets might be like the Cavs, 5-3 and scrambling to become bowl eligible.
Like Tech, Virginia has a big win over a ranked opponent (they'll see your Auburn and raise you a Florida State). Like the Jackets (6-2, 4-2 ACC), the Cavs have a crushing close loss against a middling ACC foe (N.C. State, meet UNC). Both teams were solidly in the top 25 earlier in the year.
Tech hasn't won in Charlottesville since their national championship season in 1990. Which is about as significant as saying Tech hasn't beaten Virginia on a Wednesday, EVER. Most of the current Jacket starters weren't even on the team that lost at UVa in 2003. Scott Stadium is a nice-sized, recently expanded stadium filled with -- according to Tech fans -- orange-pants-wearing, Chardonnay-swilling, Brie-breathed elitists. It's not what you'd necessarily term an intimidating venue.
That's not to say the Cavs don't deserve to be four-point favorites at home. Tech had a great deal of trouble handling slippery quarterback Marques Hagans last year, and he's only gotten better.
Tech's defense is good enough to hold the potent Virginia passing game in check (and eliminate the Cavs' decent run game), but only if the Tech offense stays on the field for its share of the time. Virginia's defense is capable enough, giving up under 20 points per game. But they can be had, as Maryland proved by ringing up 45 points and 570 yards.
Tech needs another performance like last week's lovely Wake Forest game out of quarterback Reggie Ball and its prematurely mature offensive line. If they get it, they'll roll. If not, they'll likely have an identical record with Virginia, and similar prospects. Both Virginia and Tech play their final two games home and away against Top 10 opponents.
Where they're coming from: Like the little girl who had a little curl, when the Cavaliers are good, they are very, very good. Ask Florida State, who had to score 11 points in the fourth quarter to lose respectably, 26-21 in Charlottesville Oct. 15. And when the Cavs are bad, they are horrid. As in scoring 5 points against North Carolina the next week to lose 7-5. That loss and road stumbles at Boston College and Maryland made the Cavs 1-3 for October after a 3-0 September, and dropped them out of the Top 25. Taking it out on the Temple Fightin' Bye Weeks 51-3 last Saturday didn't impress many poll voters.
Cavs to watch:Wali Lundy (43.5 yards per game, 37 career rushing TDs) leads a committee of tailbacks. Hagans has more yards on rushing attempts than any of the running backs, but sacks drop him back to 28 yards per game. Hagans has completed 60 percent of his passes for nearly 200 yards per game and 10 touchdowns, but has thrown 8 picks. Ahmad Brooks, a junior linebacker who might be playing on Sunday next year, is finally back in form after preseason knee surgery. Junior cornerback Marcus Hamilton has four interceptions, equalling his previous career total, and he's considered the weaker corner compared to three-year starter Tony Franklin.
Xs and Os: Virginia's balanced attack revolves around Hagans, a converted defensive back/punt returner/receiver/anthropology graduate who contributes a chunk of the rushing yardage as well as nearly 200 passing yards per game. Stop Hagans, and you stop the Cavs, but that's much easier to talk about than to accomplish. The Cavs' 3-4 defense depends on a solid linebacking corps, which is much better now that Brooks is back and has been anchored till now by Kai Parham (8.5 sacks). The Cavs are softer against the pass (225 yards per game) than the run (125), but they're mainly dangerous in causing turnovers (12 interceptions, 5 fumbles, +5 turnovers on the year).
Key matchups: Tech DE Eric Henderson vs. Hagans. Hagans is an elusive scrambler, but he doesn't always know when to throw the ball away and fight another day. In the loss at Maryland, Hagans was dumped for losses 7 times, and he's been sacked 22 times this year. Henderson has been playing like a premenstrual wolverine since returning from an ankle injury, forcing three fumbles on sacks in two games. Against Wake Forest, Henderson lined up everywhere from nose guard to end, and left tiny, chewed-up pieces of offensive linemen at every stop. Virginia WR Deyon Williams vs. CB Kenny ScottScott had a career game against Clemson, materializing wherever needed to keep the Tigers out of the end zone. Williams at 6-3 is a load to cover, and leads the Cavs with 34 catches for three TDs and more than 50 yards per game.