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Nov. 10, 2005

As I sat across the desk from Virginia head football coach Al Groh Monday night during our call in show, I couldn’t help but study the intense look on his face. He was breaking down last year’s Cavalier win against Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Groh would push the remote, run a play, and then make notes on a form that he designed in order to understand exactly what happened with this player and that formation.

Tendencies. Coaches love tendencies.

Groh was interested in how UVA defended the Yellow Jackets’ offense and confused quarterback Reggie Ball to the point of total frustration. Any coach will tell you last year’s game with any opponent doesn’t mean much, and there is certainly no momentum to be gained from it. However, the 2004, 30-10 Wahoo win was nearly 60 minutes of perfection. Virginia capitalized on four Georgia Tech turnovers, cornerback Marcus Hamilton picked off two passes, and UVA’S defense X’d and O’d itself to death.

As I watched the DVD copy I noticed several things. Now I’m not a football genius, even though I spend hours during the week scouting Virginia’s opposition. But last year UVA’s defensive players attacked the Yellow jackets like a bunch of hungry kids after a plate of Oreos. The defensive schemes and timing were material for a summer clinic. Stunts, turns, twists, rushes off the edge, corners blitzing from the backside, linebackers rushing open lanes…it was a thing of beauty.

Guess what…Virginia will have to duplicate 2004 to pull off the win. Georgia Tech is good. And coach Groh knows it.

“They’re pretty darn good,” Groh told the assembled media Tuesday. “Their defense is good against the run, they’re good at rushing the passer, they have a good running game, they have very active schemes with the linebackers, there is really no area that you can pick out and say we can attack that.”

“Our focus is only Georgia Tech,” defensive end and captain Brennan Schmidt said. “It’s a one week season for us and we are looking at nothing else.”

There are several reasons why the Virginia-Yellow jacket match up is so intriguing. And one of them happens to be that Cavalier quarterback Marques Hagans and Tech signal caller Reggie Ball are so much alike. For both defenses, this won’t be their first rodeo.

“I know when we have gone against Hagans in practice how difficult it can be”, second year defensive end Chris Long explained. “We have to stay in our lanes, but we have to stay aggressive and not let Ball get to the outside. He can hurt you out there.”

Ball averages 198 yards passing per game. Hagans…197.9. In total offense Ball is ranked third (229.6) in the ACC, Hagans is 4th (226.1). They both have one three hundred yard passing game to their credit. Ball had 340 yards of total offense against UNC…Hagans had 325 against Maryland.

Last year…Ball was 19 for 33 passing. Hagans, 19 of 28.

“With Hagans…we have an image in covering Reggie,” Groh said.

There is one huge difference, however. Marques has been sacked 22 times, Reggie…just 4.

“It’s all about containment,” Schmidt said. “If we contain him (Reggie) I think our chances are good.”

If not, Ball can have a field day looking for one of the great receivers in college football. Calvin Johnson, who is 6’4 and blessed with hands that could catch an egg off a bridge, set the world on fire last year as an ACC rookie with 48 receptions and seven touchdowns. He has 40 this year, and 5 for scores.

“The first thing we do is address the match-up,” Groh said. “He is really good because he can play over the top. The only thing you can say to the corners covering him is to console them.”

For Hagans versatility in the passing game is a bona fide strength. He used 11 different receivers in the Florida State win and went nine for ten passing on third downs.

Contrast and compare. Saturday night will be a terrific show.


The ACC has five eligible bowl teams. Virginia and Clemson (5-4, vs. Florida State) will attempt to make it seven after the weekend.

Georgia Tech’s three game winning streak over Duke, Clemson and Wake Forest has been fueled by defense. The `jackets have given up just three touchdowns and an average of 12 points. They have also forced nine turnovers.

Over the last eight games, UVA and GT have averaged 58 points per game and 863 yards of total offense.

Defensively, UVA is giving up 19.2 points per game…the Yellow Jackets 19.0. Tech is ranked 21st in the country in scoring defense…UVA…27th.

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