Georgia Tech returner Juanyeh Thomas brings back a punt against Alcorn State.
Photo: Hyosub Shin/AJC
Photo: Hyosub Shin/AJC

2 injured Jackets have strong return against Alcorn State 

Before Saturday, Georgia Tech offensive tackle Andrew Marshall and linebacker David Curry last played for the Yellow Jackets on Dec. 31, 2016. It was Tech’s TaxSlayer Bowl win over Kentucky.

After injuries kept both players on the sideline for all of 2017 – both with foot injuries – they celebrated their returns to the field against Alcorn State. Both started and contributed to Tech’s 41-0 win over the Braves at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

“Of course, I was on a bad-luck train for a little bit,” Curry said. “I’d never been hurt before that. I don’t want to say it was depressing, but it was kind of down in the dumps, but I always thought about, ‘I’m going to come back stronger than ever.’ ”

» Photos: Jackets dominated Braves in season opener

Curry had four tackles – tied for the team high – and returned a fumble 15 yards for a third-quarter touchdown. Curry had missed the 2017 season with a fractured foot and then suffered a thumb injury in spring practice

“I felt like after I got my first few tackles and then I got the touchdown, I finally felt like I’m back,” Curry said. “I’m back in my groove. It just felt great. It feels good to be back out there with my brothers just playing. I just hope to build on that week by week.”

Marshall played most of the first three quarters as coaches kept the first-string offensive line in the game as the score mounted and reserves filled in at other positions. After missing the 2017 season in what would have been his senior year, Marshall chose to take a redshirt year and come back, even though he graduated in December and had a job offer on the table.

“It’s exciting to be able to see Andy get back out there,” quarterback TaQuon Marshall said. “I know he’s been dying to get back out there. It’s been a long time coming for him. He’s been working really hard. He recovered really hard, so it’s exciting to have him back out there.”

2. First game action for Tobias Oliver

Redshirt freshman quarterback Tobias Oliver played the first snaps of his career Saturday, getting into the game late in the third quarter for the Jackets’ final three possessions.

In his first possession, Oliver kept the ball on 12 plays in a 17-yard drive, gaining 72 yards and picking up five first downs. He cut sharply upfield and slashed through tackles. His style backed up coach Paul Johnson’s preseason observation that Oliver would fare better once games began rather than in practice, when quarterbacks aren’t to be tackled and are whistled down with one-hand touch.

Unfortunately for Oliver, he came up short on 4th-and-goal from the Alcorn State 1-yard line, resulting in a change of possession. Replays indicated he may have gotten over the goal line.

“Tobias did a great job on the drive taking the ball down,” Johnson said. “He was elusive running the ball down and getting it to the goal line. I was a little disappointed with the fourth-down play, but Tobias is very capable. I’ve got confidence in him in the option game.”

3. Meanwhile in Las Vegas...

Tech’s failure to get into the end zone on Oliver’s quarterback sneak meant nothing to the outcome of the game, but it did mean plenty to gamblers who had bet on the game. Tech was favored by 42 points, according to oddsshark.com, and a touchdown would have put the Jackets in position to cover the spread with a little more than six minutes left in the game.

Instead, it turned into a win for those who had placed their money on the underdog Braves. A missed extra point by Tech kicker Shawn Davis also was a factor. Had Tech won 42-0, the game would have been a push for those who bet on a 42-point spread, meaning all bets on the game would have been returned.

Jay Kornegay, the sports book director at the Westgate casino, said in an e-mail that the game was not heavily wagered, but “you did hear some groans once they fell short.”

4. Change in kicking 

Tech’s kicking competition gained some clarity. Davis, who had won both the placekicking and kickoff jobs in the preseason, was replaced on placekicks after his second point-after try was errant, bouncing off the left upright.

Brenton King made the final four point-after tries out of the snap of Jack Coco and the hold of Brad Stewart.

“Brenton King’s the kicker,” Johnson said after the game. “Moving forward, he’s the kicker.”

Johnson also said that the kickoff job will be between Davis and fellow walk-on Wesley Wells, a freshman. Davis took the four kickoffs in the first half, averaging 62.8 yards per kick with one touchback. Wells took three kickoffs, averaging 62 yards. He had a touchback on his first kickoff, which earned a low five from Johnson as he returned to the sideline.

More coverage

Defense shines for Georgia Tech in win over Alcorn State

In opener, young Georgia Tech defenders take lead role

Photo gallery from Georgia Tech’s win over Alcorn State

Watch Jalen Camp’s ‘great, great play’ for Georgia Tech

What Georgia Tech players said after the game

What Paul Johnson said after the Alcorn State game

Evaluating TaQuon Marshall’s passing game against Alcorn State

5. Freshmen into the game

Eleven true freshmen played Saturday, nine of them on defense, one on offense and one on special teams. They were cornerbacks Jaylon King and Zamari Walton, linebackers Justice Dingle, Quez Jackson, Jordan Domineck and Charlie Thomas, defensive linemen Quon Griffin and T.K. Chimedza, safety Juanyeh Thomas, wide receiver Malachi Carter and kicker Wesley Wells. All but Wells were part of the 21-member signing class; Wells is a walk-on.

By a new rule, it doesn’t mean their redshirts are burned. A new NCAA rule permits players to participate in up to four games but still retain their redshirts.

Quarterback James Graham and A-back Tijai Whatley were in uniform but did not play. The remaining eight did not suit up, indicating that, barring a change in plans, they’ll likely redshirt this season. They were wide receivers PeJé Harris and Jaylen Jackson, A-backs Dontae Smith, defensive lineman Luke Johns and offensive linemen Harrison Jump, Michael Maye, Zakk Mckeehan and Austin Smith.

6. Particularly small crowd 

The announced attendance was 39,719, and the actual attendance appeared less than that. It was the lowest attendance at Bobby Dodd Stadium since 2012, and the second lowest going back to the 2001 season, which was before the stadium was expanded to its present 55,000-seat configuration.

When Tech played Alcorn State in 2015, attendance was 49,196.

Athletic director Todd Stansbury has been seeking ways to grow the fan base and also retain past ticket buyers. The 12:30 p.m. kickoff, the number of events going on in Atlanta on Saturday and Labor Day travel may have drawn potential fans away from the game.

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