Reviewing Georgia Tech’s win over Virginia Tech on Saturday in Blacksburg, Va:
The game in 100 words or more
It still doesn’t make sense, and colleague Jeff Schultz agrees. Georgia Tech, starting its backup quarterback, center, B-back, an A-back and three freshmen on the offensive line, defeated Virginia Tech, which needed a win to clinch a spot in the ACC championship game, 30-20, in Blacksburg, where the Hokies were unbeaten this season.
“I was really proud of our football team,” coach Paul Johnson said. “We came in with a few people out and down. We needed our defense to step up and play big, and they did. We got some turnovers, and then we got off the field. Offensively, we were able to find ways to make some big plays and found a way to get it done. We always joke about the offense, that you want to be good up the middle, and we were missing all three – the center, the quarterback and the b-back. Those guys filled in. Since I’ve been coaching football, I don’t know if I ever started three true freshmen on the offensive line, especially on the road. Someone forgot to tell them they were freshmen, they just went out there and played. I am really proud of the team. There is a lot that we can take out of this game and grow from.”
Six things that worked well
Matthew Jordan. He started because Justin Thomas couldn’t and Jordan looked sharp, very, very sharp in his first start. He rushed for 121 yards and two touchdowns as the offense rushed for 309 yards.
Special teams. Tech blocked its third field goal this season, this time helped by a bad hold in the second quarter. The block preserved the Yellow Jackets’ 6-0 lead. Harrison Butker (see below) also had a fine game.
Marcus Marshall. Starting in place of the suspended Dedrick Mills, Marshall had a game-high 143 yards on 19 carries, including one for a 56-yard touchdown.
“Marcus showed up and played well,” Johnson said. “I don’t know what he ended up with. He only had a 143 yards, so he played really well. Of course, he had a couple of long runs. He hung in there, and he was tough. I always get on Marcus about his blocking. Running is not a problem with Marcus. It never has been. He can run the football.”
Lawrence Austin. He had two interceptions, including one in the end zone, and forced a fumble. They were three impact plays for a defense starving for something positive. It was the first time a Tech player picked off two passes in one game since 2011. The fumble he forced was recovered by his brother Lance.
The defense. Fricasseed by Duke and North Carolina for more than 80 points and almost 1,200 yards, the Yellow Jackets gave up 437 yards to the Hokies, but a good chunk of those yards came when the lead was at least two scores big. Additionally, the nation’s worst third-down defense held the Hokies, best in the ACC coming into the game, to 6-of-14 conversions.
“I think our defensive players were probably tired of hearing how bad they were,” Johnson said. “I think that we played our best defense, especially early in the game. The kids played fast and got lined up. They just kind of played.”
Additionally, the Yellow Jackets had five sacks, which is more than half of their season total coming into the game. They were helped because the Jackets were able to play from ahead the whole game. Playing with a lead, and dominating the time of possession, created a psychological vise on the Hokies that contributed to mistakes and poor play.
Tech’s coaching staff. For the criticism they have received, including speculation about Johnson’s future, they deserve credit for not only motivating the players, but coming up with a game plan that worked on offense and defense. The Yellow Jackets’ offense was efficient enough to hold the ball for at least 10 minutes more than the Hokies.
It was the first time that the Yellow Jackets reached 30 points against Virginia Tech under Johnson.
“I’ll say this, I think Paul Johnson did a really great job tonight,” Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “He was one step ahead of me.”
One thing that didn’t work well
Fumbles. The Yellow Jackets put the ball on the ground many times, including a bizarre pitch by Jordan on a busted play that sailed out of bounds and led to a lengthy review.
Rating the position groups
Borrowing from something that is done with soccer, I’ll rate the different position groups game by game using a 1-to-10 system. Ten represents exceptional and one represents a total meltdown. This is just for fun and mostly for conversation, so please don’t take it too seriously. Feel free to post your own ratings in the comments section.
Quarterbacks 8. Jordan started well, with Tech owning an 8-minute advantage in time of possession in the first quarter and taking a 6-0 lead. Two fumbles in the first half. He bounced back from that with a 53-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to give the Yellow Jackets a 13-0 lead with 8:06 left. He added a 3-yard touchdown run near the end of the first half.
B-backs 8. The B-backs surpassed 150 yards for the second time in three games.
A-backs 7. All those long runs were the result of great blocks downfield by the A-backs and wide receiver. Isiah Willis was singled out a few times for how he sacrificed his body.
Wide receivers 6. Ricky Jeune had one massive catch for 24 yards and Stewart another for 10 yards.
“It was a tough game, just because of the crowd noise,” Cooper said. “It was hard to hear the quarterback and hear the plays and all that, but I think I did fairly decent in this environment.”
Because I banged on them last week with the key stats in the loss to North Carolina, it’s only fair I turn it around and do the same this week.
Twenty points (most in garbage time), 437 yards (most in garbage time), five sacks, two hurries, eight tackles for loss, two interceptions.
Linebackers 9. Twenty points (most in garbage time), 437 yards (most in garbage time), five sacks, two hurries, eight tackles for loss, two interceptions.
Cornerbacks 9. Twenty points (most in garbage time), 437 yards (most in garbage time), five sacks, two hurries, eight tackles for loss, two interceptions.
Safeties 9. Twenty points (most in garbage time), 437 yards (most in garbage time), five sacks, two hurries, eight tackles for loss, two interceptions.
Special teams 9. Butker kicked three field goals and was a machine on special teams.
What did next week’s opponent do?
Virginia lost to Miami 34-14 in Charlottesville. The Cavs have lost five consecutive games under first-year coach Bronco Mendenhall.
What does this mean for Georgia Tech?
The Yellow Jackets should be fired up because it will be Senior Day. They should be confident after defeating Virginia Tech.
This will be a chance to show that the win in Blacksburg wasn’t a fluke.