ATLANTA, GA – Winning isn’t easy. Just ask double-digit favorites Clemson, Georgia and Virginia Tech this evening, two of which lost and the other saved by a chip shot missed field goal. Or listen to Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson following the Yellow Jackets’ 35-24 victory over Georgia Southern, Tech’s first win in four weeks.
“Every win is important. It’s hard to win,” said Johnson. “You can look at the scores today and see it’s hard to win. So any time you can get a win you got to be happy, and you try to build on it.”
With some of the Tech’s biggest goals seemingly off the table after three successive ACC losses, it would have been easy for the Yellow Jackets to cruise or fold. Instead they chose to fight, and in doing so Tech turned in a commanding performance Saturday afternoon at Bobby Dodd stadium.
Prior to Saturday, the Jackets offense had two plays of 50+ yards on the season. In that regard, Saturday was a coming out party. The Jackets sprinted out to an early 21-7 lead in the first quarter, sparked by three explosion plays of 50+ yards on their first three drives.
The first came on a 58 yard option keeper for a touchdown by quarterback Justin Thomas. The second came via air as Clinton Lynch snuck behind the entire Georgia Southern secondary on play action en route to a 65 yard touchdown catch and run. The third was a sprint down the left sideline by Marcus Marshall off a delayed option pitch from Thomas.
The Eagles never crept within two scores the remainder of the game.
Thomas finished with 78 yards on the ground on 16 attempts, the majority coming on his first touchdown run. He finished an efficient 7 of 11 passing for 172 yards, doing so with two true freshman protecting his backside on the offensive line.
“The guys protected great today,” said Thomas. “Guys made plays on the perimeter too, making catches and getting open.”
Defensively, safeties Corey Griffin and A.J. Gray played arguably their best games of the season. Griffin finished with a game and career high 10 tackles, all solo. Of the 10, three were tackles for a loss including a drive-ending 3rd down sack. Gray was close behind as Tech’s second leading tackler with seven, including three tackles for a loss of his own.
Both players credited the defensive game plan as a reason for their individual success. “I think Coach Roof allowed us to play more free,” said Griffin. “Playing an option team like Georgia Southern you can’t sit back and wait on them.”
Said Gray, “In man coverage, [the coaches] let us play inside, outside, jam and off. It allowed us to play more loose.”
Though the Jackets had control of much of the game, Johnson recognizes there is still room for improvement on both sides of the ball. “We sure haven’t played our best football yet on both offense and defense,” said Johnson. “Hopefully that’s in front of us.”
For now, Tech will take time off as they enter their one and only bye week of the season. With significant contributors dinged up, it comes at an opportune time.
Up next is a home date with the Duke Blue Devils, who for the second consecutive time has a bye week ahead of their visit to Bobby Dodd Stadium. Coincidence or not, the Blue Devils will bring a two game win streak over the Jackets to Atlanta, the last coming in a rain-soaked Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, NC.
Picking up ACC wins is proving especially difficult for all teams this year. If Tech can do so on its next try, they’ll establish a mini-win streak of their own and restore order against an ACC Coastal foe.