Georgia Tech quarterback Tevin Washington runs through Virginia safety Rijo Walker for one of his three rushing touchdowns in Saturday’s win. Washington ran the ball 11 times for 93 yards.
ATLANTA —Two images were burned into the minds of Georgia Tech’s players heading into its ACC game against Virginia.
One was the memory of last year’s loss to the Cavaliers in Charlottesville, Va., which broke the Yellow Jackets’ 6-0 start to the season and started a run of five losses in the final seven games.
The other was a tape of the classic World Middleweight championship fight between Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns, which the team viewed a day earlier.
The Jackets took inspirations from both, landing several haymakers both offensively and defensively to gain a measure of revenge with a 56-20 rout of Virginia on Saturday before 44,225 fans at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
“For me, I had a bad taste in my mouth still from that game,” said Tech cornerback Louis Young, who had a key interception late in the first half, part a defensive effort that limited Virginia to just 297 yards and 20 points, 14 of which came in the fourth quarter against the Jackets’ reserves. “I knew it was going to be a dogfight, and I wanted us to be the team to get the TKO punch.
“We actually watched the old Marvin Hagler fight with Tommy Hearns, it got (us) real excited for the game and got us in the mindset of the dogfight. We knocked them down and had them on the ropes a lot (Saturday).”
Indeed, Tech (2-1, 1-0 in the ACC) delivered a knockout blow to Virginia (2-1, 0-1) on Saturday, rolling up 594 total yards and pulling off 12 plays of 15 yards or more, including four scoring plays of 32 yards or more.
Quarterback Tevin Washington put up 218 yards of total offense — 93 with three touchdowns on the ground and 125 on 6-of-8 passing and another score in the air — while Orwin Smith ran for 137 yards and a score.
And the defense put up several big plays, including interceptions by Young and Quayshawn Nealy for a complete effort.
“I thought both offensively and defensively, we played really well, especially from the start,” Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “All in all, when the first groups were out there, they played pretty well.
“We challenged our guys this week, and they accepted the challenge. I had a long memory from a year ago, and I think they did, too.”
After a quick three-and-out by the Tech defense on the game’s opening possession, it didn’t take long for the offense to get rambling.
On the first snap of the ensuing possession, Washington stepped back and found Zach Laskey all alone out of the backfield and hit the sophomore B-back in stride down the left sideline for a 70-yard touchdown, putting the Jackets up 7-0 just 1:35 after the opening kickoff.
“It’s the same approach every week,” said Washington. “We just try to take it one game at a time and do one play at a time, and … make sure everybody’s on the same page.”
Tech needed only three plays and 45 seconds to score on its next possession, with Smith taking a pitch from Washington on the option to break down the right sideline, and then using a good downfield block by Jeff Greene to sprint to a 77-yard touchdown, making the score 14-0 with 10:31 left in the first quarter.
Virginia got one of those scores back by driving 71 yards in eight plays, with Michael Rocco hitting Jake McGee in the flat, and McGee leapfrogging a Tech defender into the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown, pulling the Cavaliers to within 14-7 with 6:27 still left in the opening frame.
But Tech quickly responded with another big play, this time a 60-yard run on an option keeper by Washington down to the Virginia 15.
It took the Jackets seven plays to get back into the end zone, but Washington finally dove in on fourth and goal from the 1 to push the lead to 21-7 with 3:40 left in the quarter.
Tech made that lead even more comfortable in the second quarter, though they utilized a methodical march instead of the big play for its next score.
This time, the Jackets marched 85 yards in 11 plays and at 5:25 off the clock, with Lee — in for Washington after the started lost his helmet and had to sit out a play — diving in from a yard out to extend the lead to 28-7 with 9:10 left in the first half.
The defense then made sure Tech would maintain momentum heading into halftime with two big plays late in the half.
First, Grayson grad Shawn Green gained penetration up the middle and slowed up Perry Jones enough for Nealy and Jabari Hunt-Days to wrap up the Virginia running back for a loss on fourth and 1 form the Tech 11 to give the Jackets the ball back with 7:17 left.
Then, Young picked off a Rocco pass at the Cavaliers 44 with 49 seconds left, giving Tech another chance to score after taking its last timeout with the ball inside the 1-yard line with three seconds left.
Johnson eschewed a field goal and went for the touchdown, which Washington converted on a 1-yard sneak as time expired, sending the Jackets into intermission with a 35-7 lead.