When Virginia coach Mike London turned preseason practice planning responsibilities over to his coordinators, the focus often gravitated toward Georgia Tech.
London called those practices "coordinator's choice." With only a week during the season to prepare for Saturday's game at Georgia Tech (1-1 overall, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference), one of the most obvious choices for coordinators was to use as much spare preseason time as possible to get ready for the Yellow Jackets' confounding option and 3-4 defense.
"It is just absolutely a terrific advantage when you can have one extra week, or when you can have a preseason like Virginia Tech was able to have," said U.Va. defensive coordinator Jim Reid, referring to Virginia Tech's 20-17 overtime win against Georgia Tech in the season-opener for both teams. "When you don't have that, then what you have to do is practice it in the spring and practice against it in the preseason, and the recall is not real good.
"The discipline of calls, assignments, reads are critical if you are even to compete (against the option). It's a very complex, detailed, fast offense."
After U.Va. upset No. 12 Georgia Tech 24-21 last season in Charlottesville in a game the Cavaliers had two weeks in which to prepare, some of Reid's first postgame comments were about the importance of having the extra week.
Not surprisingly, Georgia Tech, which defeated U.Va. 33-21 in Atlanta two years ago, is near the top of the Football Bowl Subdivision again in rushing offense — fifth in the nation (330.5 yards per game). Quarterback Tevin Washington (160 yards) leads the team in rushing, while "B-back" Zach Laskey has 144 yards.
Georgia Tech's B-back position will be a bit thin since Charles Perkins is out with an injury and David Sims is questionable, but the position may also be the Yellow Jackets' deepest.
Last season against Georgia Tech, U.Va. (2-0, 0-0) jumped out to a 14-0 lead, which made it impossible for the Yellow Jackets to use their ground game to eat clock while chewing up yards. U.Va., which beat Penn State 17-16 last week, also did what any good defense must do against the option — read keys and stick to assignments.
Georgia Tech, which entered the game with a 6-0 record for the first time in 45 years, was held to 272 rushing yards — 88 yards under its per game average at the time. U.Va. had a season-high 274 rushing yards against Georgia Tech.
Middle linebacker Steve Greer said he's required against Georgia Tech's option to keep a watchful eye on the tendencies of players in the "triangle between the guards, center and the backs." Then, he has to look for offensive tackles pulling on running plays.
There's also the task of watching out for a Georgia Tech helmet trying to drive its way through his knees — a product of Georgia Tech's cut blocking ways. Don't forget about the omnipresent threat of a deep pass to challenge the alertness of U.Va.'s young secondary.
"It's fun," Greer said. "It's going to be kind of 'us against you' mentality. We kind of know what they're going to do, and they're going to have a good idea what we're going to do, so it's just going to have to be guys beating blocks and making plays."
As for Georgia Tech's defense, London has at least of inkling of what's up, since he was U.Va.'s defensive coordinator in 2006 and '07 when current Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Al Groh was U.Va.'s coach.
On film, London notices earmarks of Groh's traditional 3-4 defense — safeties coming off the edge, moving the nose tackle and rushing inside linebackers — but there are new wrinkles. There's more use of four-down linemen with a player like outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu on the line of scrimmage, pre-snap movement up front and development of what London calls "the blitz of the month."
"He's been really good at seeing what you do now, and coming up with something that maybe he hasn't shown in the last two games," said London, whose priority is to get a running game in gear that's averaging just 108 yards per game (99th in the nation), and now faces a defense that has yet to give up a rushing touchdown. "We're going to have to be prepared for anything, but there will be some things that they will do that we have not seen on tape."
WHO: Virginia (2-0, 0-0 ACC) at Georgia Tech (1-1, 0-1).
WHEN: 3:30 p.m.
TV: ESPNU.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun