Virginia tailbacks Perry Jones and Kevin Parks rushed for a combined 235 yards last season against Georgia Tech. That’s more ground production than the entire team has generated through two games this season.
So might Saturday’s game road test against the Yellow Jackets be timed ideally for the Cavaliers’ ailing running attack?
Georgia Tech arrived in Charlottesville last October 6-0 and ranked 12th nationally. But Virginia rushed for a season-high 274 yards, including 149 by Jones and 86 by Parks, in a 24-21 upset.
The Yellow Jackets were no Alabama on defense, but that was the most rushing yards allowed by coordinator Al Groh’s bunch all year. And with Jones, Parks and four offensive line starters returning for the Cavs, Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson has plenty to ponder.
“Our big problem is last year they ran flat over us,” he said during his weekly gabfest with Atlanta media. “They rushed for (274) yards and kept the ball for most of the time. We’re used to winning the time of possession pretty handily, and they did a good job of holding onto the ball last year, and staying on the field. So that will be a challenge. It’s a lot of the same guys up front, same running backs, so we’ll need to see if we can’t stop the run.”
In opening victories over Richmond and Penn State, Virginia’s experience has yet to produce on the ground. The Cavaliers have rushed for 216 yards, a meager 32 against the Nittany Lions, and are averaging 3.2 yards per carry, a full yard off last season’s norm.
The decline in averages is more striking for Jones (5.0 to 3.0) and Parks (4.7 to 3.3). But since playing keepaway from Johnson’s option attack is essential, expect to see Virginia run often Saturday behind tackles Oday Aboushi and Morgan Moses.
“There is a renewed emphasis on being able to use what we thought was a strength, what we think is a strength of our team, by being able to run the ball more,” coach Mike London said Monday.
The Cavaliers are 2-2 against the Jackets since Johnson’s arrival, and possession time has been critical in all four contests.
In 2009 and ’10 victories, Georgia Tech hogged the ball for 42:43 and 36:54. The Yellow Jackets’ 477 rushing yards in the latter game are their most ever against an ACC opponent.
Virginia won the clock battle, and the scoreboard, in 2008 and ’11, with possession times of 34:18 and 30:01.
Georgia Tech (1-1) rushed for 467 yards in last week’s 59-3 beatdown of Presbyterian. The Jackets’ line is accomplished, its backs, including quarterback Tevin Washington, above-average. They will challenge a Virginia defense that was surprisingly resilient against Penn State.
But Jim Reid’s D can’t go it alone. Time for the o-line to start earning its keeps.
But that line is based more on reputation -- a football Mecca against a modest Baptist school – than reality. The Deacons are 4-2 against Florida State in the last six years, and even in defeat over the last decade have been far more competitive against the Seminoles than during the 1990s.
“They’re much more athletic that people think,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said at his weekly presser. “Wake’s got good players. Last year, their first three got drafted before our first one got drafted. They’ve got good players, they’ve always have – since I’ve been here. They’re coached well. They don’t beat themselves. They play very hard. They’re very sound and a good football team.”
Fisher’s memory is clouded. The first Seminole drafted in April was linebacker Nigel Bradham, with the 105th overall pick. The only Deacon chosen ahead of him was receiver Chris Givens at 96, though linebacker Kyle Wilber (113) and guard Joe Looney (117) came shortly after Bradham. All were fourth-rounders.
Still, Fisher’s overarching theory is undeniable. In Jim Grobe’s 11 seasons as coach, Wake has improved exponentially from the program that Florida State outscored 319-48 in six meetings between 1992 and ’97 (average margin: 45.2 points).
The Deacons have earned five bowl bids and won the 2006 ACC championship under Grobe. Plus, they’re 2-0 after last week’s 28-27 upset of North Carolina – the Seminoles are 2-0 after walkovers against Murray State and Savannah State.
“The first year I was here (as offensive coordinator in 2007), they had about five guys drafted off the defense which was an excellent defense,” Fisher said of Wake. “Some of them were the best players we faced all year. …
“They’re an experienced football team, a lot of them are redshirt juniors and seniors in the mix. I think people overlook that. They’ve caught the Butler (basketball) syndrome -– you get older guys that know how to play together and very well and they understand the system. They’ve been there and understand how to win and play hard. When you get older, you get smarter and tougher. That’s how they play.”
Indeed, five players from that 2007 defense were drafted: end Jeremy Thompson in 2008, linebacker Aaron Curry, cornerback Alphonso Smith, safety Chip Vaughn and linebacker Stanley Arnoux the following year. Curry was the fourth overall pick in 2009.
Encouraging start notwithstanding, this Wake team doesn’t appear to be in the same league as the 2006 and ’07 squads that went a combined 20-7. Quarterback Tanner Price engineered a last-ditch, 93-yard game-winning drive against Carolina, and Michael Campanaro has 22 receptions for 260 yards, but the Deacons have shown no rushing acumen and were fortunate to escape Liberty in their opener.
Grobe went so far as to call punter Alex Kinal – 10 of 15 punts inside the 20 – Wake’s early MVP.
“His last punt (against North Carolina) was phenomenal,” Grobe said of a kick that died at the 1. “It took 10 seconds off the clock and made Carolina go 99 yards. You can’t stress the importance in the first two games of his punting.”
Wake Forest is unlikely to topple No. 5 Florida State, but any Seminoles player, coach or fan would be foolish to gaze ahead to next week’s Atlantic Division showdown against reigning ACC champion Clemson.
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