Jeff Schultz

This AJC sports blogger takes things seriously when he has to, but he really would rather not

Fumbles aside, Georgia Tech has loud response for Pitt and Narduzzi


Pat Narduzzi was right. Georgia Tech plays “dangerous” football. Just not the way he thinks.

Five touchdowns and 484 yards of offense: dangerous.

Five fumbles and four turnovers that could’ve easily turned into six if one fumble hadn't been retrieved and an interception wasn't nullified by a defensive penalty: dangerous.

Projecting anything about the future when it comes to Tech: still dangerous.

But put this one in the “good” category. The Yellow Jackets won their ACC opener 35-17 over Pittsburgh, at Bobby Dodd Stadium, and they also got the last laugh against the verbal-grenade-throwing Narduzzi, Pitt's head coach. (More on that shortly.)

Coach Paul Johnson said his offense played “sloppy,” and when a team loses four fumbles, including one four yards from the opponent’s end zone, and commits four false-start penalties that’s hard to dispute.

The Jackets netted close to 500 yards of offense, but, “If we don’t turn the ball over we might have had 700 yards,” Johnson said. “Against a good team, we won’t be able to survive.” (These comments are usually reserved for FCS opponents, not other ACC teams. Probably not by accident.)

But we saw the Jackets’ upside in this one. They ran at will against the Panthers (436 yards).

Johnson: “There was no reason to throw. If we ran the ball three times we were going to get a first down most of the time.”

Tech also looked as stout on defense as it has in years, limiting Pitt to one of 13 third-down conversion attempts, holding the Panthers scoreless after all of the offense’s four lost fumbles -- one missed field-goal attempt and three three-and-outs with a net of one yard combined – and holding them to three points after a game-opening, 78-yard touchdown drive. Pitt’s other touchdown came on a punt return.

This was important for Tech because wins against the lesser ACC teams (Pitt, North Carolina, Virginia, Wake Forest, Virginia, Duke) are needed, given uncertainty against Clemson, Miami and Virginia Tech. If Saturday's defensive performance wasn’t an aberration and the offense continues to produce with a new quarterback and B-back, the Jackets have a chance to surprise some folks.

At the very least, they’re 1-0 and they gave a loud response to Narduzzi on the field.

Earlier in the week, the Pitt coach said Tech plays “dangerous football,” charging the Jackets go “high-low” on blocks, where one blocker going high, one going low, which is an illegal move called a chop block. Those often are confused by some with cut blocks. Cut-blocking -- below the waist -- is legal as long as it doesn’t come from behind. Yes, Tech cut blocks. Legally.

“What do they say about excuses?” Johnson said when asked about Narduzzi’s comments after the game. “Come on. We’ve played 10 years (at Tech), and I can’t ever remember somebody getting hurt. That’s just trying to (influence) the officials to call something that ain’t there.”

He wasn’t done.

“You want to know what’s dangerous? Dangerous is teaching your defensive lineman to grab onto the offensive linemen when they’re trying to get to the second level and then they get cut off. That’s dangerous. If that was my kid, I’d be upset if somebody told him to do that.”

Asked later if he was accusing Pitt of that, he said, “It’s what teams do when they whine, and they’re trying to get around cut blocks.”

Did he say anything to Narduzzi after the game?

“I just said good luck."

Pause.

"I’ll take the high road.”

That may or may not have been a reference to Narduzzi’s comeback to Penn State coach James Franklin, who two weeks ago said beating Pitt was “just like beating Akron." Narduzzi’s response: "They went low, we went high."

So much for going high.

Tech quarterback TaQuon Marshall and B-back KirVonte Benton were more amused than bothered by Narduzzi’s comments. But then nothing seemed to bother them Saturday. Benson rushed for 196 yards and two touchdowns, Marshall rushed for 112 and two scores.

Neither ran from Tech’s strategy of cut blocking (which, again, is legal).

“That’s the way our offense is ran,” Benson said. “You’ve got to watch out for cut blocks. They can come from anywhere. It can come from a receiver, it can come from a lineman, it can come from a B-back. If you can’t prepare for this offense, you’re not going to be very good at it.”

It really didn’t matter Saturday. Pitt looked defenseless against Tech's ground game. Benson, who became the team’s primary ballcarrier when Dedrick Mills was dismissed from the program just before the season, broke free for a 47-yard touchdown and averaged 6.8 yards per carry. Marshall was a walking highlight film: a 32-yard score that saw him tight-rope the sideline in the first quarter, and an 18-yard run in which he spun around a defender and ran to the 1-yard line (before going into the end zone on the next play).

“I really didn’t anticipate spinning, but it just kind of happened,” he said. “He baited inside, and I just rolled off of him. I just was having fun playing football.”

The Jackets had fun Saturday. They looked dangerous. Both ways.

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About the Author

Jeff Schultz is a general sports columnist and blogger who isn't afraid to share his opinion, which may not necessarily jibe with yours.