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Junior Defensive Back AJ Gray (#5) returning the first of his two interceptions with Junior Linebacker Brant Mitchell (#51) leading the way.

ATLANTA, GA – Fresh off of one of their finest defensive performances in years last weekend against the Pittsburgh Panthers, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (3-1, 2-0) intended to prove that was no fluke.

Consider that mission a success.

Viewers of today’s tilt against the North Carolina Tar Heels (1-4, 0-3) at Bobby Dodd Stadium saw a salty Yellow Jackets’ defense that turned in a comparable, if not better, performance against their second consecutive Coastal division foe. One game after yielding 10 points to the Panthers, the Tech defense outdid itself by surrendering just 7 points to the Tar Heels.

“I thought that for the most part our defense played really well again,” said head coach Paul Johnson.

Junior safety A.J. Gray was the star of stars for the Jackets. Facing his sister’s alma mater, Gray snagged two interceptions against the Tar Heels’ to cement a Georgia Tech victory, 33-7. Gray’s two interceptions were his first in over two years when he hauled in his first career takeaway (September 26, 2015 @ Duke).

His performance led Tech to its first win over North Carolina since 2013.

“I told somebody walking in, I thought A.J. probably played as well as he has played,” said Johnson. “Some of their run-pass stuff he was right on cue with it. He stepped underneath the slants and got a couple picks and it was good to see him make plays because he has got a lot of ability. Plus he made a couple nice plays in open field on tackles. I’m proud of A.J., I thought he played well.”

Gray, oft-understated and a man of few words, was again quietly humble. “It was definitely a step up,” said Gray. “It just happened. Now I have to build off of it and get better every game.”

Senior defensive end Antonio Simmons and senior cornerback Step Durham added one sack apiece. For Simmons, it was his 3rd sack in two games. For Durham, it was the first of his career and came at a crucial juncture with the Tar Heels driving late in the first half.

Offensively the Jackets were held to their second lowest rushing output of the year… of 403 yards. That is an impressive number to say the least. Junior quarterback TaQuon Marshall and redshirt sophomore KirVonte Benson led Tech’s ground game again with 137 and 130 yards, respectively. It was the third time in four games that they broke the 100-yard mark together.

And in true Georgia Tech fashion, neither was completely satisfied and both recognized their performance can get better. Each lost a fumble at moments when the Jackets could have seemingly put the game away.

Asked about his performance relative to the prior week, Marshall graded his play today as “average”. Continuing he said, “I turned the ball over. Missed some throws early. It was a step up from last week, but still not where I want to be.”

Even the Jackets’ defense believes there is room to improve. “I don’t feel like we played our bests,” said Simmons. “We can get better in a lot of ways. We’re still letting them drive the ball. They missed two field goals but we still gave up enough yards that we can play way better than we did.”

Senior cornerback Lance Austin agreed. “That’s one thing about our defense. We’re never satisfied and we’re not going to get complacent. We’re always looking for a way to get better.”

Complacent, these Jackets are not. For a team that has nearly doubled up each of its four opponents in yardage this year, those comments suggest that “good” will not be good enough.

Following next week’s bye, competition ratchets up quickly. Coming in to the weekend, the Jackets’ final seven opponents on the schedule were a combined 25-1. Their stiffest test to-date comes next with a visit to #14 Miami.

For the third consecutive contest the Jackets will be looking to snap a losing streak to a Coastal division foe, having lost the last two to the Hurricanes. For a Tech team unwilling to settle for less than its best, the table is set to prove exactly what its best can achieve.

Video courtesy of ACC Digital Network

ATLANTA, GA – After a surprise bye week due to hurricane Irma, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (2-1, 1-0) returned to the field today for their ACC opener against the Pittsburgh Panthers (1-3, 0-1). Coming off a drubbing at home to top 10 Oklahoma State last week, Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi brought his Panthers down to Atlanta for more of the same.

Saturday’s contest at Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field was largely a one-sided affair that ended with a 35-17 Yellow Jackets victory. If it weren’t for several costly turnovers for the Jackets, four to be exact, the game could have been over before the home crowd danced to the 3rd quarter Budweiser bop.

“Offensively we looked like we hadn’t played in two weeks,” said Tech head coach Paul Johnson. “It was sloppy. I think all four turnovers came from the same position which is disappointing. We got to clean that up because against a good team, we won’t be able to survive.”

The reason for Tech’s survival? The defense.

The Yellow Jackets defense took full advantage of two weeks off. After allowing a first possession touchdown to the Panthers, the defense responded for the near entirety of the game. One quick look at the box score says it all.

  • The Jackets defense allowed 11 first downs for the game.
  • The Jackets defense allowed the Panthers to convert just one 3rd down attempts on 13 tries.
  • The Jackets defense allowed 235 yards total on the game, 79 of which came on the Panthers final two drives of the game with the game already iced and several 2nd team Tech defenders seeing their first action.

The Jackets defense was disruptive from the 2nd possession on, notching three sacks, 7 tackles for a loss and countless quarterback hurries.

“The defense played great,” said quarterback TaQuon Marshall. “If it weren’t for the defense, I don’t think we would’ve won the game, honestly. We had four turnovers, the defense went out and got the ball back.”

Running back KirVonte Benson concurred, “The defense played amazing. Like [TaQuon] said, I think we wouldn’t have come out with the W if it weren’t for the defense.”

It was largely a team effort from the defense with several guys stepping up throughout. Senior defensive ends KeShun Freeman and Antonio Simmons anchored a salty defensive effort with two tackles for loss apiece.

Said Freeman, “This is one of the better performances that we’ve had since I’ve been here. I’m proud of [the team]. People being in the right places at the right time, fitting in the right gaps, the defensive front getting some great production with sacks and tackles for a loss. I’m excited to see how we grow these next few games.”

Provided the defense continues this level of production, the next few games are sure to be exciting for the team and fans alike. Up next for Georgia Tech is a visit from North Carolina. While the Jackets snapped a two-game losing streak to Pittsburgh today, they have the opportunity to snap a three-game variety against the Tar Heels next Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

As for the Panthers? Head coach Pat Narduzzi may want to start worrying about his own team.

Other news and notes

  • Quarterback TaQuon Marshall added two more touchdowns to his resume. He now has eight on the season, good for seventh-most all-time by a quarterback in Georgia Tech single-season history after just three games.
  • Running back KirVonte Benson’s 196 yards is the most ever by a B-Back in head coach Paul Johnson’s 10 seasons with Georgia Tech.
  • Georgia Tech’s defense forced seven three-and-outs on 14 Pittsburgh drives.
  • Georgia Tech is now 8-2 in ACC openers under Paul Johnson.