Georgia Tech has a fine football team.
Problem is, the Jackets aren’t quite as good as they think they are.
That fact was driven-or, rather, run-home Saturday when a decidedly undistinguished Virginia team beat Tech, 24-21.
Virginia loped into the game with a 3-2 record, with the wins coming over powerhouses William & Mary (FCS), Indiana (1-6), and Idaho (1-6). The Cavs amassed four wins last fall, three in 2009, and five in 2008.
So, the engineers-in-training logically assumed that all they needed to do was show up and strap on their helmets to preserve their perfect record. They chose not to heed lessons taught in their two previous contests, closer-than-should-have-been wins over N. C. State and Maryland.
Virginia clearly came out with more of everything —save smugness — and pushed Tech right down the field: their opening 12-play, 73-yard drive culminated in a six-yard touchdown run by Kevin Parks.
Compare and contrast Tech’s opening drive: it began with a holding penalty, included two incomplete passes, a 13-yard run by Tevin Washington, and a false start penalty. Proving that this team wasn’t ready to play, it marked the first time all season that Tech failed to score on its opening possession.
Virginia’s next drive took only two plays. After Perry Jones ran for eight yards, Michael Rocco hit Tim Smith with a 37-yard touchdown pass.
Eight minutes and 20 seconds into the game, the 12th-ranked team in the country trailed lowly Virginia, 14-0. Talk about letting an underdog think it has a chance! “They couldn’t have scripted a better start,” Tech coach Paul Johnson told the associated press.
Tech’s offense joined the festivities on its next possession, marching 45 yards in nine plays, only to have Justin Moore’s field goal attempt blocked. Then the Tech defense arose to hold Virginia to a missed field goal.
The next sequence belonged to Tech. An 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive, and a Rod Sweeting interception returned for a touchdown, tied the score.
Just when in looked like Tech had weathered the storm, the Jackets thought so, too. Yes, they had opened listlessly against a lesser opponent, but they had turned the tide. Now all they needed to do was exactly what they didn’t do.
Instead of a stop, they let Virginia run right down the field. Literally. The Cavs ran the ball eight times for 72 yards, mixing things up with two incomplete passes. It was good, old-fashioned country hard ball, and Tech couldn’t stop it.
“It was huge,” Virginia coach Mike London told the Associated Press of the drive. “The mindset in the past has been, ‘Oh, no, here we go again.’ On the sideline, in the huddle, the confidence was unbelievable. We haven’t had that.”
That’s what happens when you let an underdog think it has a chance.
Washington ended Tech’s final two first half possessions with interceptions, creating an interesting statistical oddity. For the game, he completed as many passes to Cavaliers as he did to Yellow Jackets.
Tech did resemble its undefeated self for one final series. It began the second half with a vintage 19-play, 85-yard touchdown drive that ate 9:31 off the clock. Every single play was a run. When the drive ended, it once again looked like Tech was on its way. No one guessed that the Jacket’s scoring had just ended.
Virginia’s defense denied Tech the rest of the afternoon, and when the game was on the line, Virginia’s offense stepped up. The Cavs held the ball for the final six minutes, running the ball right down the field again, an improbable, irresistible force.
While Tech was busy taking Virginia for granted, the Cavs were busy utilizing their bye week, setting a big upset trap. “It’s probably the hardest we’ve prepared for a game, and the results showed,” cornerback Chase Minnifield told the A.P. Added defensive end Matt Conrath, “We watched film like crazy on them.”
After the Virginia student body had stormed the field in celebration, London told Heather Dinich of espn.com, “This is one of those wins against a good team with a lot of accomplishments that you can try to turn the corner on about how you think about yourself, how people view your program.”
And while this game made Virginia’s season, it can also make Tech’s. After three straight casual performances, Tech needed a little jolt of reality. Tech can still attain all of its goals, and might better prepare for key games against Miami, Clemson and Virginia Tech after Saturday’s stumble.