If it will be remembered, Friday night at Bobby Dodd Stadium likely will be recalled for playmaking runs by quarterbacks Vad Lee and Justin Thomas, a handful of messy plays by the offense, the continued force brought by the Yellow Jackets’ defense and unseasonably cool weather.
The Gold team — comprised of the first-string defense and second-string offense — earned a 22-10 win, prompting cornerback Jemea Thomas to hoist a whiteboard inscribed with the words, “We run this field.” For the Tech defense, finishing its first spring with new defensive coordinator Ted Roof, it was an encouraging closing chapter going into the summer.
“I think we really worked hard on guys playing with effort and running to the ball and playing with some intensity,” coach Paul Johnson said. “I think our guys enjoy being a little more aggressive and doing some of that stuff on defense.”
Nose tackle Adam Gotsis, outside linebacker Quayshawn Nealy and Thomas were among the highlight producers for the Gold defense, which mostly went against the first-string offense and held it to two scores on 10 possessions.
“Our defense is just tough,” Lee said. “I’ve said it all spring: They’re just a physical bunch.”
Jimmie Kitchen of the White team blew up a couple of plays early. Thomas made a diving interception off Lee on a play in which he was trying to throw the ball away under pressure, but couldn’t get it far enough downfield. Nealy picked up a botched snap between center Ray Beno and Lee and ran 34 yards for the go-ahead touchdown for the Gold.
It was one of at least three fumbles on snaps, continuing a trouble spot for the Jackets this spring. Jay Finch, a two-year starter at center, has been out, and backup Freddie Burden suffered a knee injury during the spring, forcing Johnson to move Beno, typically a tackle, into the center spot. He and backup center Catlin Alford have had their struggles with the snap.
“It bothers me anytime on this level you don’t get (a clean snap),” Johnson said. “We’ve got to do a better job of coaching that aspect. It was ridiculous.”
When they did get the ball, quarterbacks Lee and Thomas created breathtaking plays, some designed and others on broken plays. On the first series of the game, Lee dropped back on a third-and-15, was pressured by two defenders in the pocket, sprinted away from the pressure and then cut back for a first down, breaking three tackles along the way.
Thomas showed accuracy and power throwing the ball and quick acceleration carrying the ball on keepers. He was 3-for-7 for 35 yards with one interception, off a pass that hit A-back Synjyn Days in the helmet and bounced in the air.
“You can see how elusive he is and quick he is,” Johnson said. “He probably didn’t play as well (Friday) as he had probably in the spring, but some of that’s also who you’re playing with at the time and that kind of thing.”
In the first half, Thomas was leading a unit that typically had two walk-ons at wide receiver and an offensive line that had only one member with game experience. He switched to the White team in the second half.
Tech has been depleted this spring because of players sitting out as they recover from surgery.
While the forecast of rain forced the cancellation of pregame festivities, the game was played under clear skies with temperatures that dipped into the high 40s by game’s end, weather more reminiscent of a November Thursday night game than a spring game. With the threat of rain and the cool weather, perhaps 5,000 attended, including Tech legend Joe Hamilton. About 18,000 attended last season, the first year that Tech moved its spring scrimmage to Friday night. Bags were checked at the gate, partly in response to the Boston Marathon terrorism attack.
Notre Dame in 2015: Tech will play Notre Dame in 2015 in South Bend, Ind., part of the ACC’s contract with Notre Dame to play five league teams each season as it joins the conference for all sports except for football. The league announced Notre Dame’s ACC opponents for 2014-16 on Friday.
Tech’s other non-conference opponents in 2015 are Georgia, Tulane and, for now, Georgia Southern, all at home. Georgia Southern and Tech have verbally agreed to move their game to 2014, leaving an opening in 2015. The school will look for an FCS opponent to complete the schedule.