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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.
Video courtesy of ACC Digital Network

ATLANTA, GA – Just five days after playing 96 snaps, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets offense came out with predictably tired legs for Saturday’s tilt against the Jacksonville State Gamecocks (1-1).

Unlike your ordinary FCS foe, the Gamecocks visited Bobby Dodd Stadium with a bevy of FBS talent by way of transfer. With those weapons in tow, the Gamecocks took advantage of Tech’s sloppy start littered with slow developing plays and mental errors.

“Offensively, it was not pretty,” said head coach Paul Johnson. “We were able to make some plays, but the execution was not very good. We got our butts whipped up front.”

With under 2 minutes remaining in the 2nd quarter, the Gamecocks held the ball at midfield, poised to take a 7-3 lead at minimum into the locker room. That’s when Jackets’ defensive back Lawrence Austin made his presence known.

With the Jackets falling back into zone at the snap on 1st and 10, Austin made a beeline to the field side flats. Watching the Gamecocks quarterback’s eyes, Austin jumped in front of a curl route and snagged Tech’s first turnover of the game and season. He returned the ball to the opposing 32-yard line in what was without question the play of the first half, and perhaps the game, for the Yellow Jackets.

“I saw a sprint out,” said Austin. “So when I see a sprint out I run to [responsibility] #1. The [defensive] line got a great pressure, so it made it easy for me. He just threw it right to me.”

Two plays later, the Jackets’ offense capitalized. Quarterback TaQuon Marshall found wide receiver Ricky Jeune in the back right corner of the end zone, and Jeune fended off a pesky Gamecocks’ cornerback for the touchdown catch. In the blink of an eye, Tech jumped back in the lead going into the half.

Said Johnson on Austin’s interception, “I think it changed the first half. We got the interception, and Ricky made a good catch.”

Tech’s defense continued to pull a significant share of the weight the rest of the ballgame. On the Gamecocks’ first two possessions in the 3rd quarter, the Jackets’ defense forced two consecutive turnovers. The first came on a diving interception by defensive back Step Durham, and the second came via a fumble recovery by safety A.J. Gray.

With both turnovers coming inside the Jacksonville State 30 yard line, Tech’s offense capitalized. Marshall again found success through the air with touchdown passes to Jeune (again) and A-Back J.J. Green.

Asked about his success passing, Marshall said, “It felt great. After the first game I kind of wanted to sit in the pocket more and show my arm ability. Ricky and all the other guys made great plays. The line blocked for me, so I had a lot of time to get the ball out of my hands.”

Marshall burst onto the national college football scene by way of 5 touchdown runs in the opener versus Tennessee. Against the Gamecocks on Saturday he added to his impressive Junior season campaign with 3 touchdowns via air and another on the ground. His day ended early in the 4th quarter with an efficient stat line that included 112 yards passing on just 7 attempts.

Despite the slow start offensively, the Jackets rolled in the 2nd half to a 37-10 victory headlined by a stingy defense that turned the ball over 3 times and sacked the Gamecocks quarterback 5 times. Of the 5 sacks, defensive end Anree Saint-Amour and linebacker T.D. Roof contributed 2 apiece.

Today’s game on The Flats marks the team’s first win of the season. It was one that Johnson is happy to take and quickly forget in light of the team’s sluggishness and mistakes.

Said Johnson, “I’m relieved that it’s over.”

Other news and notes:

  • Three true freshmen saw their first game action today (B-Back Jerry Howard, defensive lineman Antwan Owens and defensive back Jaytlin Askew). That makes 7 true freshman who have played so far this year following debuts by linebacker Bruce-Jordan Swilling, linebacker T.D. Roof, linebacker Jaquan Henderson and punter Pressley Harvin on Monday.
  • In the 3rd quarter of today’s game, true freshman Jerry Howard played his first snaps at B-Back. On his second carry of the game, he found the end zone via a 65-yard burst up the gut of the defense. His 65-yard touchdown run is the longest by a true freshman since Jonathan Dwyer in 2007.
  • Quarterback TaQuon Marshall’s 3 touchdown passes (27, 23 and 10 yards) were the most by a Georgia Tech quarterback since Justin Thomas on November 1, 2014 vs. Virginia.
  • Senior cornerback Step Durham’s 3rd quarter interception was the first of his career.
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Photo credit to Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

For media and fans alike, Georgia Tech's annual football media day provides the first opportunity to meet the newest version of the Yellow Jackets. GTSwarm was fortunate to attend for our fourth year running. In honor of our fourth year, we asked all 9 student-athletes the same four questions, and the following are the results of the poll.

In the eyes many, we saved the most critical question for last.

What are the team's expectations and goals for the 2017 season?

We always want to win, but you have to take it one week at a time. -Redshirt junior quarterback Matthew Jordan

We have a saying: "start at the dome, finish at the dome." Obviously, we start against Tennessee in the Mercedes-Benz stadium, and the National Championship this year is also at Mercedes-Benz stadium, so our sights are set on that National Championship Game. -Senior defensive end KeShun Freeman

We don't have any set goals, but of course you always want to get to the ACC Championship. As a team, you always want to win, but I would say winning our division and getting back to the ACC Championship. -Senior cornerback Lance Austin

Double digit wins, and just getting better overall. Getting better as a team is always our goal. -Junior quarterback TaQuon Marshall

I would say just winning a championship. We want to end up in Charlotte, and ultimately in the College Football Playoff. That's our team goal. -Junior linebacker Brant Mitchell

Building off of what we did last year. 9-4 is an OK season, but of course you want to be better. We want to make the playoff and the National Championship. -Redshirt junior A-Back Qua Searcy

I know we have the athletes and capabilities to go to the ACC Championship and the National Championship. You just have to have that willingness and belief. -Redshirt senior safety Corey Griffin

Win the ACC and the National Championship. -Redshirt senior wide receiver Ricky Jeune

Win the Coastal division, and keep it rolling. -Senior offensive tackle Andrew Marshall

Poll result: Just win, baby.

Which players have emerged as leaders of this year's team?

Definitely J.J. Green, Clinton Lynch, Qua Searcy. Andrew Marshall has taken leadership of the line and I'd say Will Bryan too. A lot of guys are stepping up, especially those who have been here for a while. -Matthew Jordan

Corey Griffin, Ricky Jeune, and Antonio Simmons are guys the team looks to as leaders. -KeShun Freeman

I'd definitely say Lawrence Austin came up as a leader, Corey Griffin, and Antonio Simmons for the defensive line. They've been asking everyone for their all, and they've been giving it their all too. -Lance Austin

The Austin twins, and Antonio Simmons on the defense. J.J. Green has been pretty vocal and a leader on the offense. -TaQuon Marshall

Vocally, I think myself this offseason. Leading by example is Corey Griffin and Lawrence Austin. -Brant Mitchell

I definitely feel like TaQuon Marshall did. He showed a lot of leadership. I would say myself, but I'm not a selfish guy. Also KeShun Freeman, he definitely picks everybody up and shows a lot of leadership. -Qua Searcy

In high school, I was more of a vocal leader than I am now. I came in and I took on watching people and we didn't really have any vocal leaders. I came in, and I saw that was what we really needed. Me, Lawrence Austin, Ricky Jeune, and Antonio Simmons, we took on that role to be more vocal because the team really needed that aspect and I'm comfortable with it. The team seems to cope well with it, and I appreciate them for it. -Corey Griffin

Myself, Corey Griffin, Lawrence Austin, KeShun Freeman, Antonio Simmons; all the seniors, really. -Ricky Jeune

We'll really identify it in camp. Corey Griffin, Ricky Jeune, and some different people are all trying to step up, and it'll sort itself out. -Andrew Marshall

Poll result: Corey Griffin (6), Antonio Simmons (5), Lawrence Austin (5), Ricky Jeune (4), Qua Searcy (DQ'd).

Which team/game are you most looking forward to playing?

Definitely Tennessee. Jacksonville State is another one; I've got high school teammates playing over there, so it'll be fun. -Matthew Jordan

There's the obvious rivalry we have with the University of Georgia, so I'm probably looking to that one the most. We haven't won at home yet, and this is my last year so I really want to win in Atlanta. -KeShun Freeman

Tennessee. You have to go game by game, and take it one week at a time. -Lance Austin

Besides Tennessee, I'd say UGA. -TaQuon Marshall

Tennessee. Being from there for me makes it special, but our eyes are focused on the game ahead of us, not looking down the road. -Brant Mitchell

I would say Tennessee because it's the first game. -Qua Searcy

Tennessee. -Corey Griffin

Tennessee. I don't like to jump ahead. -Ricky Jeune

We have to take each game in stride, so Tennessee; that's what we're focused on and then we have to keep on rolling from there. -Andrew Marshall

Poll result: Tennessee (8), Georgia (2), Jacksonville State (1). To end at the dome, we need that first one in the dome.

Which uniform supplier do you prefer?

Honestly, I like Adidas right now. -Matthew Jordan

I don't have a preference. -KeShun Freeman

I don't care. I'm not gonna wear it anyway. -Lance Austin

I don't really have one, but if I had to choose I guess it'd be between Under Armour or Adidas. -TaQuon Marshall

I'll say Nike. -Brant Mitchell

If I had to choose, I think I would pick Adidas. -Qua Searcy

Nike. -Corey Griffin

Nike, but I also like Adidas. -Ricky Jeune

Nike. -Andrew Marshall

Poll result: Nike (4), Adidas (3), Abstain (2), Under Armor (1). Oh, and Russell Athletic (0).

Multiple staff members contributed to this article.

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2018 Georgia Tech Defensive End Commit Luke Johns

Last Friday, Georgia Tech picked up a solid piece of its 2018 recruiting class in weakside defensive end Luke Johns out of Southeast Whitfield High School in Dalton, Georgia. The Florida native visited on Thursday, July 27th, received an offer the day after, and committed that same day. "I knew it was where I wanted to go. Georgia Tech was my first choice, even when you take football out of the equation," Johns explains. "Cannot ask for better in my opinion." Named to the 4A Preseason All-State Team by Recruit Georgia, the 6'5" 240 lb. defensive end chose Georgia Tech over offers from Rutgers and Washington State (along with numerous other "Group of 5" FBS schools) and reported interest from Vanderbilt and Georgia.

The versatile athlete moved to Georgia around 4 years ago from the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area and became a track star, specifically excelling in the high jump where he ranked second nationally, jumping 6'6" as a freshman and 6'10" as a sophomore before shifting his focus entirely on football. "I weighed 175 a year and a half ago, and am working hard to get into the 245-265 range. I've worked really hard to become a good football player, and I'm working as hard as I can to be the best I can be." Johns recently weighed in at around 240, all of it good weight. That work ethic paired with his natural athletic prowess is part of what makes him a special player. When asked what one thing we would want Georgia Tech fans to know about him, Johns responded "I'm going to work as hard as I can and I want them to see that. I'm going to put everything I have in every day." Johns currently works out as much as possible, trying to train at least once a day. He says he plans on staying at defensive end, likely as a weakside pass rusher, where Tech coaches want him.

It wasn't easy to get an offer in the first place, and it wasn't Luke's first visit to GT, either. In fact, he had attended the early summer camp at GT about 6 weeks prior. While he enjoyed the visit, he said it was nothing compared to his most recent visit, which was much more individually-focused. "Ron West was my primary recruiter, and he was an integral part in my recruitment process. He helped me get the offer in the first place. I know that Coach West was trying his hardest to get me an offer, but I expected that I would actually receive the offer after my first game. But then Coach Johnson called the next morning, and he told me he had been up all night thinking about it, and that he wanted to offer me. So I told him right away that I was committing."

Johns also remarked on how taken aback he was with the Tech campus. "I was shocked. It's a beautiful campus inside Atlanta. You feel safe on the campus, and it's really that nice. I was surprised, because even though I've lived here I had no clue that it was this amazing. My advice to every recruit is that you have to see the campus." When asked about what stuck out to him the most during his visit, Johns cited 2 factors: coaches and facilities. "The facilities were a lot nicer than I thought; in fact, they were amazing. I loved their facilities. So I'm a big fan of the facilities, and I'm a big fan of the coaches. When I talked to the coaches, they were clear that they really wanted me, and they were truly looking out for me. I loved how they talked with me and they talked about my strength in the classroom and didn't want to wait until the season to extend me an offer."

Strength in the classroom is no joke. Johns posts a 3.6 GPA and took AP Literature last year, and is taking AP Statistics this coming year. His biggest factor in his decision was the education and the academics Georgia Tech has to offer its student-athletes. Education has always been #1, and it shows. "Education should be the number one priority. Every guy's goal is to be the best at football, but you have to have a plan if it doesn't work out. I want to push myself academically, and their education is top of the line." Tech's academic focus was the biggest part of Luke's choice, and he already has a major in mind. "I want to get into computer engineering. I've done coding since I was a kid, and I love coding. If that doesn't work out though, I want to get into business."

Johns and the Southeast Whitfield High School football team have moderate hopes for the upcoming season. "This year we have a lot more talent and better leaders. I wouldn't put a number on it, but we're hoping to pick up from last year and do even better this year." The Raiders went 5-5 last year, and 2-4 in Region 6. Luke is also looking forward to the step up from his current level of competition in AAAA Georgia high school football to the ACC, a factor he said made Georgia Tech all the more desirable. "I want to play the big-time programs, and you can't get any better than the ACC."

While Johns hasn't gotten in contact with the current recruiting class yet, he's started following them on Twitter. "I'm relieved that the process is over. I've been to several schools, even up in New York and New Jersey, and it can get stressful at times." When asked to rate his excitement of committing between 1 and 10, Johns affirmed that he's a "100. I'm super enthusiastic, and my parents are very excited. This is a dream come true, and I'm 100% committed to Georgia Tech."

Multiple staff members contributed to this article.