An evaluation of Georgia Tech’s 38-24 win over Wake Forest Saturday night at Bobby Dodd Stadium that lifted the Yellow Jackets’ record to 4-2 overall and 3-1 in the ACC.
In the first half, the Tech rushing game was off and on, gaining 131 yards on 34 carries, a 3.9 yards-per-carry average. B-back KirVonte Benson was the only consistent option, but productivity kicked up in the third quarter, as quarterback TaQuon Marshall reached the end zone on a 49-yard keeper, freed by blocks by offensive tackle Jahaziel Lee and wide receiver Ricky Jeune downfield. A-back Qua Searcy struck on a triple-option pitch, burning through the Wake Forest secondary for a 42-yard touchdown run that gave Tech a 25-24 lead at the 4:35 mark. The Jackets overpowered Wake Forest in the second half gaining 283 of their 414 rushing yards after halftime. Marshall iced the game with a 70-yard touchdown run in the final two minutes, Tech’s longest run of the season. Benson gained 136 yards with a touchdown, his fourth 100-yard rushing game of the season. Marshall gained 162 yards with scoring runs of 49 and 70 yards.
Coach Paul Johnson said this week that he was committed to throwing the ball more than the Jackets had in the first five game, averaging 8.4 passes per game, and he was true to his word. Marshall threw nine passes in the first half alone, completing five for 68 yards. A big problem, though, was that Wake Forest defensive end Duke Ejiofor was having a field day against Tech left tackle Jahaziel Lee. A potential first- or second-round pick, Ejiofor had three sacks in the first half, one of them killing a drive on third down and the other on a fourth down in the first quarter that gave Wake Forest the ball at its 46 and setting up a 54-yard touchdown drive.
Johnson holstered the passing game in the second half, throwing just twice, both incomplete passes.
The Demon Deacons’ run-pass option was highly effective against Tech, helping them run for 93 yards on 15 carries in the first half. The Jackets were often caught out of position or overpowered to allow Wake Forest to steadily drive, scoring three touchdowns in four first-half possessions. The Tech defensive line did a much better job sealing up gaps, as linemen such as Desmond Branch, KeShun Freeman and Brentavious Glanton got off blocks to make stops to help Tech overcome a 21-13 halftime deficit. The Demon Deacons gained 17 yards on 16 carries in the second half.
It wasn’t a great night for the Jackets against quarterback John Wolford, who finished the game 17 for 30 for 252 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Wolford wasn’t pressured much and was able to make accurate downfield throws. However, two of the biggest plays of the game came when Wake Forest went to the pass on fourth downs. Linebacker Victor Alexander made a big play, sacking quarterback John Wolford on a fourth-and-4 from the Tech 34 in the third quarter with the score 25-24 in Tech’s favor. Midway through the fourth quarter, with Wake down 31-24, Freeman and Brandon Adams applied pressure on a Wolford rollout, and safety A.J. Gray broke up the pass to give the ball back to the Jackets.
Punter Pressley Harvin made one of the plays of the game, a 54-yard punt from the Tech end zone in the third quarter that was returned just two yards to get Tech out of trouble. However, the Jackets allowed a 40-yard kickoff return in which returner Greg Dortch caught the ball on the bounce on the sideline inside the 5-yard line. Kicker Brenton King, making his first start in place of the injured Shawn Davis, was successful from 22 yards and 42 yards, the latter which ended the first half and gave the Jackets some momentum. He also missed a point-after try in the fourth quarter and put a kickoff out of bounds. After an 11-yard punt return to set up Marshall’s 49-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter, Brad Stewart made a mistake by calling for a fair catch at the Tech 3-yard line on the next Wake Forest punt.