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Georgia Tech aims to keep rolling against struggling Virginia

Georgia Tech’s Francis Kallon (92), a Central Gwinnett grad, blocks Syracuse’s Nick Robinson (68) during last Saturday’s game at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta. (Photo: Karl L. Moore)

Georgia Tech’s Francis Kallon (92), a Central Gwinnett grad, blocks Syracuse’s Nick Robinson (68) during last Saturday’s game at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta. (Photo: Karl L. Moore)

ATLANTA — Coming off an impressive 56-0 rout of Syracuse, Georgia Tech is the favorite in today’s matchup with Virginia.

Last week’s victory was one of the most complete games of the season for the Yellow Jackets, but Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson isn’t going to let his team relax because of the big win and the Cavaliers in the middle of a disappointing season.

“It’s like I say every week,” Johnson said. “That one’s over with so now you move on and we are getting ready to go up to Charlottesville to play a Virginia team that has its back against the wall. The last time we went to Charlottesville we were 6-0 and ranked and got beat 24-21. We’re looking forward to going up there and having a chance to play again.”

Virginia (2-5, 0-3) has lost four games in a row after starting the season 2-1 with a home win over BYU, which defeated the Yellow Jackets by 18 points. But since defeating VMI in the third week, things have gone from bad to worse for the Cavaliers, including a 21-point loss to Ball State and giving up leads in losses to Maryland and Duke.

“I think they have played a really tough schedule and I know they have some quality athletes,” Johnson said.

Georgia Tech (4-3, 3-2) will see a familiar face on the Virginia sidelines as former Yellow Jackets defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta now heads the Virginia defense. Tenuta coached in Atlanta from 2002-2007 under Chan Gailey. Johnson talked at his press conference on Tuesday about what he expects to see from the Virginia defense.

“They’re like any defense that Jon Tenuta coaches,” Johnson said. “They’re aggressive and they blitz a lot, maybe not as much the last two or three games. They lead the nation in third-down defense, but they have given up a lot of big plays.”

Offensively, the Cavaliers have struggled under first-year coordinator Steve Fairchild. Sophomore quarterback David Watford is in his first season as the starter and is completing 58 percent of his passes but has thrown eight interceptions to just five touchdowns. Watford has played better in Virginia’s last two games, throwing for 263 yards in each contest with just one interception.

The key to slowing down Virginia, however, begins with talented junior running back Kevin Parks, who ranks third in the ACC with 80 yards per game. He has run for eight touchdowns.

“Like most really good backs, he’s got great balance and he breaks tackles,” Johnson said. “He’s explosive and is hard to tackle, he’s got good speed. I think he’s a good back.”

Georgia Tech needs to win to stay alive in the Coastal Division, but even with a win the Yellow Jackets have a long way to go to get back in the picture for an ACC championship game. Johnson said he’s talked to his team about staying motivated, but stresses they are taking things one game at a time.

“We talked after the BYU game about where we were and that we had backed ourselves into a hole where there isn’t a lot of margin for error, so we said its time to bow your back and fight back,” Johnson said. “But we don’t talk about that daily for motivation. We talk about the next game and playing Virginia.

“It’s a conference game and nobody knows what’s going to happen. We didn’t know we would be in the conference championship game a year ago and low and behold there we were. You just keep plugging and let that take care of itself. One game at a time. It’ll work itself out.”