ATLANTA – All week long, Virginia defensive coordinator Jim Reid warned his players about the element of surprise Georgia Tech was capable of springing on the first play of the game. All week long, he had his players prepare to stop a play he'd seen work for Georgia Tech last year.
None of Reid's feverish reminders managed to stick, and so it came to pass that Georgia Tech did what it wanted when it wanted on the opening play – a theme that lasted throughout a 56-20 victory against U.Va.
On Georgia Tech's first play from scrimmage, running back Zach Laskey got behind linebacker Henry Coley on a wheel route, and quarterback Tevin Washington found Laskey for a 70-yard touchdown pass. Georgia Tech (2-1 overall, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) never looked back.
"That was the same play that they ran last year for a touchdown against Middle Tennessee State there, very first play – very first play," said Reid, referring to a wheel route in Georgia Tech's 49-21 win last year at Middle Tennessee State that went for a 73-yard touchdown on the first play.
"We practiced it every day. Every day that we ran it, we said, 'This was the first play that they ran against Middle Tennessee State.'…If it happened later on, it might've been different, but it was a real good call and we didn't adjust to it."
The last time U.Va. (2-1, 0-1) gave up more points in a game was in 1999, when Illinois defeated U.Va. 63-21 in the Micronpc.com Bowl. Georgia Tech's 56 points were the most it ever scored against U.Va., surpassing its 42-19 win in 1965, which was the first meeting of the teams.
Georgia Tech scored 14 points Saturday on its first three plays from scrimmage, including a 77-yard touchdown run by Orwin Smith with 10:31 left in the first quarter that extended the lead to 14-0. Smith led Georgia Tech's triple option attack with six carries for 137 yards and a touchdown.
"When they get a lead, they can open up their playbook a little bit," U.Va. linebacker Steve Greer said. "It comes down to executing. I know I keep saying that, but it's especially true against an offense like this where it's assignment football."
Smith's touchdown run was one of eight plays of 20-plus yards surrendered by U.Va., which had given up eight such plays combined in its first two games. Georgia Tech's first four plays went for 210 yards. Washington provided 93 yards rushing and three touchdowns, while completing 6 of 8 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown.
By the end of the day, Georgia Tech had posted 594 yards, including 461 yards rushing. It averaged 9.6 yard per play. The last time U.Va. gave up more yards in a game was during the 2000 season, when Georgia Tech put up 627 in a 35-0 win in Atlanta.
"It was embarrassing to me, and I'm sure I embarrassed my players," said Reid of Saturday's defensive effort. "We've got to keep working at it."
At halftime, Georgia Tech already had 276 rushing yards, which was more than any team had last season against U.Va. in an entire game. Auburn finished with 273 rushing yards in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
With the early 14-0 lead, Georgia Tech succeeded in doing exactly what U.Va. coach Mike London was hoping his team would do. Last season, U.Va. grabbed an early 14-0 cushion on its way to a 24-21 upset against No. 12 Georgia Tech.
"Ultimately, the responsibility lies with me with the product that's out on the field," London said. "I didn't do a very good job of getting the team ready to play.
"It's a humbling experience when you come in and get beat like that…There's a lot to look at."
U.Va. finished with 297 yards, including just 98 yards rushing. U.Va. had just 32 yards rushing on Sept. 8 in its 17-16 win against Penn State.
U.Va. quarterback Michael Rocco was 15 of 25 passing for 143 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. Georgia Tech turned both of Rocco's interceptions into touchdown drives.
Georgia Tech's lead ballooned to 49-7 with 12:40 left in the game, at which point Rocco was replaced by backup Phillip Sims. He proceeded to complete 6 of 8 passes for 56 yards and two touchdowns on three fourth quarter drives – long after Georgia Tech had put the game away.
"A couple times, I missed a couple things that would've kept us from losing yardage or made a bigger play for us," Rocco said. "(Georgia Tech) didn't do anything crazy or out of the ordinary. They just did a great job of mixing things up and bringing pressure.
"Even though this is a tough one, we'll learn from our mistakes and move on. Our captains and our leaders expect us to do that, and we will."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun