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What to know before Georgia Tech vs. Virginia

Bronco Mendenhall and Paul Johnson did some verbal sparring this week. Which team will back up the coach’s talking?

NCAA Football: Virginia at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Ed. Note: This article was initially 666 words long, so I added this note at the beginning so as not to tempt fate. You’re welcome.

Georgia Tech has made the trip to Charlottesville in search of win No. 5 on the season against a UVA team which has been much-improved in year two of the Bronco Mendenhall era. After an atrocious 2-10 season back in 2016, the Cavaliers have already more than doubled their win total en route to a 5-3 start to the 2017 campaign with impressive wins over Boise State and Duke on the resume. That said, this is a game that Tech should unquestionably win from a talent and coaching perspective. Let’s see what’s in play for that to happen:

  1. Paul Johnson has struggled to tame the Bronco. Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall claims to have a “passion” for defending the option, and that passion has translated to some very real success against Paul Johnson — Mendenhall’s BYU Cougars went 2-0 against Tech from 2012-2013 and he owned a 7-1 record against option teams during his time in Provo. Tech hung 31 on his Cavaliers last year, but there’s no question that Bronco Mendenhall has it figured out better than most.
  2. Strange things happen in Charlottesville. Paul Johnson owns a 2-2 record in Charlottesville heading into this afternoon’s game. That’s not an awful mark by any means, but the fact is that Georgia Tech has been the better team every single time they’ve made the trip up north. This time around will be Mendenhall’s first shot at the Jackets at home, so perhaps we’ll be able to chalk those struggles up to some luck by former head man Mike London.
  3. Kurt Benkert is the best UVA quarterback we’ve seen in a while. The Hoos have struggled to find a quarterback who can hold the job down for more than a couple of seasons and Benkert — now a senior — will regrettably not be the answer to that question. However, there’s no denying that the ECU transfer has made the quarterback position one of strength in Charlottesville: he’s thrown for 2,000+ yards for the second season in a row and has an impressive 17 touchdowns against 5 interceptions through 8 games. The offensive weapons like Kevin Parks and Smoke Mizzell aren’t around anymore, but that hasn’t stopped Benkert from being an incredibly successful signal caller.
  4. Virginia is so close yet so far from bowl eligibility. The Hoos currently sit at 5-3 on the year after a hot 5-1 start but have dropped two straight to Boston College and Pittsburgh, both in blowout fashion. That means that they’ll need to find a sixth win against either Georgia Tech or Virginia Tech at home or on the road versus Louisville or Miami; it’s certainly doable, but I doubt that the Virginia faithful are feeling too inspired at the moment. Today’s game could be their best shot, so look for an inspired and potentially mad UVA team. Or, you know, a bad one. Either way.
  5. Vegas likes the Jackets. Tech opened as a 10-point favorite in the game, but the line has shrunk down to Tech-7.5 in some places. That’s still quite a nice margin, and it should be relatively accurate if this season has been any indication of Vegas’ skill at projecting a Tech team which is currently 4-0 as a favorite and 0-3 as an underdog. Make note that we’re still due for our annual Paul Johnson upset, by the way. I know where I’d like to see it happen...

Long story short, this should be an easy win. Unfortunately, there’s a good chance that it won’t be an easy win considering that:

a) Georgia Tech exists inside the city of Atlanta, and

b) we don’t get to have nice things like wins in close games.

Hopefully the offense will be able to exorcise the post-Clemson demons and come away with a critical fifth win. Otherwise, the road to six wins (which may or may not be needed for bowl eligibility but is certainly preferred) gets that much tougher with Duke, Virginia Tech, and Georgia remaining on the schedule.