UVA Defense Cramming for Saturday Exam
Oct. 30, 2015
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Defensive tackle David Dean, a three-year starter, draws confidence from having faced Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense multiple times during his University of Virginia football career.
If nothing else, Dean knows what to expect Saturday at Scott Stadium, where the Cavaliers (2-5 overall, 1-2 ACC) host the Yellow Jackets (3-5, 1-4) at 3 p.m.
For the less experienced members of Virginia’s defense, there’s not as much certainty. Kelvin Rainey, for example, has played on special teams against Georgia Tech but not from scrimmage, the junior safety said Thursday.
And so Rainey has been cramming for this Coastal Division clash, spending more time than usual watching video of the Jackets, who are coming off a stunning upset of then-No. 9 Florida State.
“A lot more,” Rainey said. “Just trying to get used to it, get my eyes adjusted to it. We try to get the best look we can in practice, but it’s kind of hard to replicate their speed and all the [cut-blocking] they do.
“Our scout team does the best they can, but we can’t have guys cutting us in practice all day, so film is key.”
Rainey, a seldom-used reserve until this season, starts alongside sophomore Quin Blanding at safety. Sophomore linebacker Micah Kiser leads the Wahoos in tackles with 71, and Blanding is next with 60. The 6-1, 195-pound Rainey is third with 47.
“I’m learning as I’m going,” Rainey said. “It still feels crazy every time I start a game.”
Where he needs to improve most, Rainey said, is in “game recognition. I guess all of us can improve on that. Just being able to see things a lot faster and recognize things.”
He’ll have much to process — and not much time to do so — on every Georgia Tech snap Saturday. Rainey knows lapses can be particularly costly against option teams.
“Eyes and hands are going to be the key to this game,” he said. “And tackling’s really important against this offense. Very important. If you don’t tackle, then they’re going to be [getting] big plays.”
Kiser said: “As long as everyone plays their responsibility, [the defense] fits like a puzzle, so hopefully we’ll be successful against [the triple-option].”
Junior linebacker Zach Bradshaw agreed. “”I think that’s the biggest thing this week. We just need to make sure we’re doing our jobs.”
That UVA rarely faces cut-blocking, a major component of Georgia Tech’s offense, will add to the defense’s challenge Saturday.
“You want to protect your knees,” Dean said. “It kind of slows you down. You really start coming off the ball a little bit slower, and you start thinking about who’s going to cut you, where the cut’s going to come from.
“It’s definitely tough mentally on you, because it just changes the way you play. But as an older guy I can start to ignore that now, because I know what to expect. I know where the cuts are coming from. I know where the ball’s going to hit. I know what they’re trying to do to us, and in what situations.”
The Cavaliers have not defeated Georgia Tech since 2011, when they prevailed 24-21 at Scott Stadium, but the teams’ 2013 meeting in Charlottesville wasn’t decided until the final minutes.
UVA pulled to 28-25 with 3:23 left, only to surrender a late touchdown. The final was 35-25.
“Seems like every time we’ve been up there, it’s been a hard-fought, close game,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “Certainly that’s what we’re expecting this week.”
The Jackets’ goal on offense is no secret. It never has been during Johnson’s tenure in Atlanta.
“They want to get ahead, try to hold the ball as long as possible, run time off the clock, and just eat away the clock,” said Dean, a fifth-year senior from Virginia Beach.
And that will put pressure not only on the Cavaliers’ defense Saturday, but on their offense.
“The clock does not stop very often in this game, and we know that,” senior fullback Vincent Croce said, “so we know that our possessions are going to be extremely limited.”
If the `Hoos are to knock off Georgia Tech, they’ll have to make the most of those infrequent opportunities.
“I think this past week the coaches have been doing a great job of letting us know how efficient we have to be with the ball,” senior wide receiver Canaan Severin said.
Turnovers remain an issue for the Cavaliers. In a 26-13 loss at North Carolina last weekend, junior quarterback Matt Johns threw four interceptions and lost a fumble. But the `Hoos, led by junior tailback Taquan Mizzell, rushed for a season-high 205 yards against UNC, and another strong performance on the ground Saturday would improve their chances of collecting a second ACC victory.
Sophomore tailback Daniel Hamm contributed 70 yards on seven carries in Chapel Hill.
“It’s nice to see [the running backs] have success,” senior offensive guard Ross Burbank said. “It’s just tough when the outcome isn’t what we want. But it’s nice to see those guys play well. It’s nice to get the running game going. We just need to keep improving on it.”