Georgia Tech preparing for aggressive Virginia defense

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerOctober 24, 2013 

ATLANTA -- The Georgia Tech offense shouldn't expect to face a bland Virginia defense Saturday. Chances are the Cavaliers will blitz as much as any opponent the Yellow Jackets have seen this year.

If not even more than that.

"They're aggressive and blitz a lot, maybe not as much in the last two or three games," Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson said. "They're like any defense that Jon Tenuta coaches."

The blitz is a tactic favored by Tenuta, the Virginia defensive coordinator who likes to dial up the pressure. Georgia Tech fans know a lot about Tenuta, who spent six seasons on the Yellow Jackets' staff. During that time the Yellow Jackets finished among the top 30 in the nation in scoring defense, total defense and rushing defense.

Tenuta served as the acting head coach for Georgia Tech at the 2007 Humanitarian Bowl after Chan Gailey was fired. Tunata was even among those considered to replace Gailey. But he was not retained on the staff when Johnson was hired.

"It's no secret that Jon brings an aggressive approach to the defensive side of the ball," Virginia head coach Mike London said earlier this year when Tenuta was hired. "Jon has a great track record of improving defenses."

The Virginia defense flopped a week ago. The Cavaliers had a 22-0 lead against Duke, only to allow 35 unanswered points in the 15-point loss. After taking the big lead, Virginia was outgained 371-77 and allowed Duke to convert all four of its fourth-down tries.

That was not the norm. The Cavaliers' defense ranks sixth in the nation in forcing three-and-outs, an average of 6.43 per game. Virginia's opponents have gone three-and-out 45 times, 40.9 percent of the drives. Virginia's defense has allowed the opposition to convert on third down on only 29-of-109 occasions. On third-and-10 (or longer), opponents have converted only 4-of-37 chances.

"They are really good on third downs." Johnson said. "If I'm not mistaken, they're leading the nation and giving up only 24-25 percent, but they have given up a lot of big plays."

Georgia Tech created more big plays -- defined as 20-plus yards -- in last week's game against Syracuse than it has since the season opener.

Georgia Tech had two passes and three runs that qualified as big plays, giving the Yellow Jackets 26 for the year, 13 passing and 13 running.

Georgia Tech had 42 big plays through seven games a year ago.

Reserve B-back Matt Connors has the team's longest run, a 55-yarder that came late in the game against BYU when the outcome was already determined. Backup quarterback Justin Thomas had a 50-yard run last week against Syracuse.

Johnson had complained earlier that the 15-yard gains could turn into 50-yard gains if the blocking and execution improved.

Last year, Georgia Tech finished the season with 71 big plays (41 rushes, 30 passes).

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