The Yellow Jackets offset a sluggish first half with a much-needed second-half explosion to defeat the pesky Jacksonville State Gamecocks 37-10.
Technically Saturday’s game was the home opener for Georgia Tech despite playing the season opener in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game just a few miles away at Atlanta Mercedes Benz stadium on Monday. Tech head coach Paul Johnson predicted his offense might be impacted the most coming into the weekend. He wasn’t wrong. “I definitely felt the effects of it,” said Tech left guard Parker Braun.It is always hard to play Monday and then turn around and play on Saturday, especially when it is a game like it was last week (joking about it actually being this week). Me and our center [Kenny Cooper] played all 97 snaps Monday, but we just played through it today.”
From the sidelines, Johnson compared the offense’s movement to “playing in sand”. “A couple guys just didn’t look like they were playing very fast,” said Johnson
Jacksonville State took the lead at the top of the second quarter with the first touchdown of the game. Wayne County prep star Krenwick Sanders stretched through the tackle of Jackets defensive back Lawrence Austin to give the visitors a 7-3 lead. It would turn out to be the only touchdown for the Gamecocks on the day.
Georgia Tech’s defense did most of the heavy lifting until the offense got it together. Sanders’ touchdown and a late field goal were the only offensive highlights for Jacksonville State. Horn was limited to 73 yards passing and 27 yards rushing from the spread option. Tech sacked Horn five times for -33 yards and intercepted him twice.
“We talked about being more aggressive, and we did a good job of that,” said Johnson. “We got some negative plays, which makes it easier to play.” Defensive end Anree Saint- Armour and linebacker Ted Roof combined for five tackles that cost the Gamecocks 31 negative yards.
The biggest play of the half also belonged to the defense. Lawrence Austin redeemed himself by allowing the Sanders score. The senior defensive back picked off Horn near midfield and advanced the ball 21 yards with less than two minutes. “I saw a sprint out, and when we see that, we run our play,” explained Austin. “He threw it right to me. The play got momentum on our side.”
With a minute and a half remaining before halftime, TaQuon Marshall went up top to find Ricky Jeune one-on-one with defensive back Reggie Hall. The Gamecocks senior watched Jeune make the catch in the end zone from after falling to his back near the goal line. “They were in press coverage the whole game,” said Jeune. “We knew their cornerbacks were pretty aggressive. We had to match their aggressiveness.” The score allowed Georgia Tech to regain the lead going into the break.
It was a different Yellow Jackets team to start the third. Once again led by the defense, Tech began dismantling the Gamecocks. Cornerback Step Durham intercepted Horn deep in Jacksonville State territory to set up another score.
“There was just a lot of energy added to the team,” said Saint-Armour of the play. “You make those types of big plays before the half and coming out of the half and you give the ball back to your offense the whole team, the crowd – everybody – is hyped up for that.
For the second time in the game, it was Marshall from the pocket. “After the first game, I wanted to sit in the pocket and show my arm ability,” said the junior quarterback. He was the model of efficiency completing 5 of 7 passes for 3 touchdowns.
His second scoring pass to Jeune required the red-shirt senior to make the catch in front of two defenders and elude the pair the final 5 yards.
Marshall didn’t have to wait long for another opportunity to test his arm. He waited just one play to be exact. On the first play of the Gamecocks ensuing drive, a trio of Tech defenders that included free safety A.J. Gray, linebacker Brian Mitchell, and defensive tackle Brandon Adams stripped Horn of the rock at the 25-yard line. Gray pounced on the loose ball for the Jackets.
Two penalties froze the offense and forced the Jackets to call on Shawn Davis to attempt a 40-yard field goal. The kick split the uprights but not before a Gamecocks defender knocked over Davis. The resulting penalty gave Marshall and Company a second bite at the apple. Two plays into it Marshall fumbles for the second time. It was one of three fumbles in the game for Tech. Unlike what happened in the Tennessee game, the Jackets recovered all three but that didn’t sit well with the head coach. “It’s always a concern anytime the ball is out,” said Johnson.
After the fumble, Marshall went back to the air finding J.J. Green in front of the goalpost. The score gave the Jackets a two-touchdown lead midway through the third quarter.
Georgia Tech added two more touchdowns for good measure as the defense continued making things difficult for the Gamecocks ball carriers. The Yellow Jackets defense held the Gamecocks to 189 total yards of offense.
The Jackets are scheduled to go on the road to face Central Florida next week but the venue may depend on what happens after Hurricane Irma passes over the city of Orlando.
All photos by Jason McDonald, JM Photography for CORE360 Sports