Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich
When attempting to explain the transformation from a 0-3 team to Coastal Division leaders with a 2-0 ACC record, those within the Virginia locker room speak of intangibles. Linebacker Denzel Burrell said it’s a “we, us, ours,” mentality, and nobody outside the program will affect what they’re trying to do within it. Coach Al Groh said it’s simply a matter of getting better each week and not looking back.
But Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson sees the specifics.
"They have reverted back to what they used to do,” Johnson said. “They scrapped the new offense; they're back to running the same offense they ran forever under Al and they stopped turning the ball over. They were a turnover a minute earlier in the year. They weren't giving themselves a chance to play, but the last three games they have created turnovers. They've taken care of the ball and that's the difference between winning and losing.
“When you look statistically, they've been pretty good defensively the whole time, but they couldn't survive the turnovers. ... They had an offensive explosion against Indiana, other than that, it's been defense and turnovers."
And turnovers have been key in this series. Since 1982, the Cavaliers are 9-1 against Georgia Tech when committing fewer turnovers. In the last six meetings, Virginia has recorded 15 takeaways and turned them into 57 points. Last year, Georgia Tech's three turnovers and numerous fumbles contributed to its shocking 24-17 home loss to the Cavaliers.
The difference between the two programs right now, though, is on paper, where the Yellow Jackets have already played five conference games -- their lone loss coming to No. 10 ranked Miami -- while Virginia’s two wins have come against struggling North Carolina and Maryland, teams that have combined for one ACC win in the first half of the season.
“They’ve passed a lot more tests than we have,” Groh said.
That will change on Saturday, when Virginia’s defense will be tasked with stopping the nation’s No. 2 rushing offense. As Georgia Tech and Virginia prepare to face each other at noon on Saturday, both do so knowing a loss could cost them a trip to the ACC championship game. What began as an embarrassing season for the Cavaliers has suddenly turned into a midseason play-in game in Charlottesville, where Georgia Tech hasn’t won a game since 1990.
“It's an elimination game for us, if we go up and don't win the game our chances of winning the Coastal Division are not very good,” Johnson said. “We stayed alive for another week and we have the same opportunity we had a week ago to play one more time and see if we can stay alive in the conference race."
Johnson said he doesn’t think his players will have a difficult time staying focused after their upset of then-ranked No. 4 Virginia Tech because they did enough things poorly in that game that were pointed out to them on film this week.
“A year ago, we were 6-1 and a two-touchdown favorite against the same team [Virginia], and they came in here and smacked us in the mouth,” Johnson said. “It shouldn't be a surprise that Virginia will come to play; they sit atop the division standings. We know where we're at; our backs are against the wall."
Burrell said his team’s 3-3 record is “nothing to boast about.”
“We just have to keep working hard,” he said. “We realize that no win is going to come easy. Other teams are trying to win just as much as we are. We just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing to get wins and keep producing every Saturday.”