CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- With about 90 seconds remaining in the game, an announcement was made in Scott Stadium reminding Virginia fans they weren’t allowed to rush the field.
It was the only time they had booed all day.
About ninety seconds later, thousands of fans rushed field.
In yet another wild and unpredictable finish in the ACC, an unheralded Virginia team upset No. 12-ranked and previously undefeated Georgia Tech, 24-21. With the win, the Cavaliers single-handedly opened up the Coastal Division race, and not only helped themselves keep a hand in it, but also gave Virginia Tech’s chances a significant boost. It was a monumental win for coach Mike London in his second season, and one he hopes can be a turning point for his program. The Cavaliers are young and talented, and the recruiting has been strong, but the program had yet to put it all together for four quarters against a high-caliber opponent this season until Saturday night.
When trying to put the win into perspective following the game, London paused and chose his words carefully.
“This is one of those wins that can change the perception of what you think about yourself,” he said “Last-second play against Indiana, last-second play against Idaho. This is one of those wins against a good team with a lot of accomplishments that you can try to turn the corner on about how you think about yourself, how people view your program. There’s a long season yet to play but it’s a great start to the second half of the season.”
Yes, this is the same Virginia team that needed overtime to beat Idaho and lost to Southern Miss. The difference against Georgia Tech, in large part, was the preparation. There’s no question Virginia’s bye week absolutely was a factor in the win. Georgia Tech dropped to 5-9 against FBS opponents who have had more than a week to prepare for coach Paul Johnson’s spread option offense.
“I don’t know if we get this outcome without the bye week,” said cornerback Chase Minnifield, who said he watched every one of the Jackets’ games from start to finish, plus their game last year, and brought additional DVDs back to his apartment, just to pass the time. “I don’t think we saw nothing that was new out there.”
Except for maybe a scoreless first quarter for the Jackets for the first time this season, and a season-low 296 yards. This was the nation’s No. 4 rushing offense, and No. 4 total offense.
And Virginia was ready for it.
“We watched film like crazy on them,” said defensive end Matt Conrath. “I had a lot of time to watch a lot of film.”
In addition to the bye week, Virginia also had some help in practice. On Thursday, the offensive scout team ran 86 plays against the first-team defense. All hustle, no breaks for 15 players. The quarterback, senior Jacob Hodges, volunteered for the job, having run the same offense at his high school. A former team manager, Hodges joined the team last year as the holder. He gave the defense all it needed to see.
Hodges wasn’t the only one familiar with the offense.
During his time as head coach at Richmond (1995-2003), Virginia defensive coordinator Jim Reid took an offseason trip in 1999 to visit Paul Johnson at Georgia Southern and learn more about his offense. The following year, Richmond won a championship.
Did Reid’s familiarity help on Saturday?
“Of course,” he said. “We ran it for three, four, five years at different schools I was at.”
The 24 yards passing were the fewest against Virginia since 1979. The best defense Virginia played, though, was its sustained drives by the offense, which kept the Jackets off the field by running for a season-high 272 yards. UVa held onto the ball for the final six minutes, and the players on the bench erupted in celebrations as the clock expired.
It was the highest-ranked opponent Virginia had defeated since UVa beat No. 4 Florida State, 26-21, six years ago on the very same day. It was an important win for Virginia, but it was not groundbreaking. The Cavaliers beat then-No. 22 Miami 24-19 last year.
Last year, though, they weren’t able to build on it. London is hoping this win is different.
“We have to play like we’ve got a lot to prove and we do,” he said. “We haven’t done anything yet, but hopefully we’re moving in the right direction.”