ATLANTA, GA – It was a perfect night for Georgia Tech football. For once, the weather cooperated for a Friday night under the lights at Bobby Dodd Stadium. On the field, Gold beat White, 21-16.
So what did we learn?
Let’s start with the quarterbacks. With redshirt junior Matthew Jordan sidelined with a foot injury, the last week of spring offered increased opportunities for repetitions at the quarterback spot. Tonight’s spring game was no different.
Redshirt freshman Lucas Johnson delivered the game’s first highlight on the Gold team’s opening possession. On just his second snap from under center, Johnson kept the ball on a belly option around the left end and found the end zone on a 70-yard sprint down the East sideline. He finished the game 7 of 13 passing for 69 yards, with 1 touchdown through the air and 1 interception for the Gold team.
Redshirt freshman Jay Jones was perhaps the most dynamic runner on the day, for better and for worse. He ran 13 times for 81 yards, many of those coming with defenders left reaching for his ankles as he ran by. Ball security was an issue however, and the ball hit the ground on options and scrambles too often for Head Coach Paul Johnson’s liking.
While mostly complimentary of Jones’ ability, Johnson offered that Jones is “going to make something happen one way or the other. He had done a better job [this spring] executing with ball security than tonight.”
TaQuon Marshall, the only other quarterback returning with game experience, got the start with the first team offense. Overall he showed off his speed and elusiveness while managing the game throughout for the White team.
Finally, there is redshirt junior Chase Martenson, who delivered the clutch play of the game. With less than 2 minutes remaining and the Gold team down 16-14, Martenson hit B-Back Brady Swilling in stride down the home sideline for a 61-yard game winning touchdown pass. A walk-on who does not receive the same attention as the four quarterbacks previously mentioned delivered the highlight of the night.
Defensively, a number of guys stood out on the field and in the box score. Junior linebacker Brant Mitchell is one who made his presence felt. He finished with a game high 7 tackles, including 2.5 for a loss.
“I think as our [defensive] line is concerned we got a lot of guys rushing the ball, and that helps with freeing me up too,” said Mitchell. “So I think it’s all around. It takes everybody.”
Speaking of the defensive line, senior defensive end Antonio Simmons continues to be a guy who just makes plays. Simmons tallied 6 solo tackles, including 2 sacks and 3 total tackles for a loss. It seemed whenever the White team quarterbacks left the pocket, they could not shake Simmons closing speed in the open field. The Jackets have long been desperate for a pass rush and reliable open field tackling. How Simmons’ game matures from tonight to next fall will be something to watch.
The Jackets’ biggest hole going into this season is possibly on neither the offensive nor defensive side of the ball. The void left by graduated kicker Harrison Butker is pronounced. His reliability from kickoffs to field goals to executing in end of game situations was noteworthy, to say the least.
In tonight’s spring game, redshirt sophomore Shaun Davis did everything asked of him as a possible replacement for Butker. Davis connected on all three of his field goal attempts, ranging from 33 to 38 yards out.
“It felt good to get back in a game atmosphere,” said Davis. “I haven’t done that much in the last couple years. I felt like this spring I had something to capitalize [on], pretty much being here by myself. So throughout the spring, just trying to show the coaches I can be the guy. And then tonight I felt like it was a good game, so I was happy with how everything went.”
An intra-squad scrimmage ending with a 21-16 final score can be tough to decipher. How does that project to the fall? What will be the team strengths?
There will be experience coming back from minor spring injuries. Guys like Ricky Jeune, Clinton Lynch, Matthew Jordan and Jalen Johnson have contributed in the past, among others. Come summer, there will be an influx of eager talent from the 2017 signing class.
How it all comes together remains to be seen. If nothing else, we learned tonight there are plenty of capable contributors. And that’s about as good a starting point as any as the Yellow Jackets attack the long offseason ahead.