ATLANTA, GA – The much-anticipated debut of new defensive coordinator Nate Woody’s defense was by most measures a success Saturday during Georgia Tech’s home opener against the FCS’ Alcorn State Braves. Most importantly, the defense did its part to help the Yellow Jackets (1-0) blast the Braves (0-1) by a final score of 41-0 at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
For starters, the Jackets' defense pitched a shutout for the first time since 2013 (56-0 vs. Syracuse). The measures of success for coach Nate Woody’s defense were plenty, including:
- Two turnovers forced, including an interception by redshirt freshman safety Kaleb Oliver in the <gasp> last minute of the first half.
- The Georgia Tech defense outscored the Alcorn State Braves’ team, 7-0. Early in the third quarter senior defensive end Anree Saint-Amour forced a fumble, scooped up by linebacker David Curry and returned 15 yards for a touchdown.
- The Jackets defense limited the Braves to 146 yards and 2.9 yards per play. As a means for comparison, in the Jackets’ 69-6 season opening win vs. the Braves in 2015, the Braves put up 272 yards.
- Tech limited the Braves to 2 of 11 on 3rd down.
“I thought overall, it’s like I told our defense after the game, if you don’t give up any points you’re probably not ever going to lose. So that was a positive.” said Johnson. “At the same time, we want our standard to be, we missed some opportunities.”
Other phases of the game were not as pretty. The offense and special teams executed inconsistently to say the least, despite the offense racking up 543 total yards and averaging 7.5 yards per play. Quarterback TaQuon Marshall struggled to find a rhythm early.
“I thought [the passing game] was lousy,” said Johnson. “[We] threw the ball lousy.”
When asked to expand, Johnson did not relent with his usual candor. “I guess I have a high standard. We punted the ball one time. I didn’t think we were consistent. I didn’t like the way we played considering who we were playing. We didn’t throw the ball well. We didn’t block well. We turned too many guys loose inside at times. Didn’t throw well.”
Marshall finished the game 9 of 18 passing for 104 yards. Despite the slow start, Marshall finished his last series of the day 5 of 6 passing, capping a 97-yard touchdown drive with a 24-yard pass to wide receiver Brad Stewart in the back corner of the end zone.
The Jackets’ ground game did what it’s built to do, racking up 439 rushing and saw three different players eclipse 75 yards rushing individually. One of those was redshirt freshman Jordan Mason, who looked every bit the part of a starting B-Back, the role he filled in his first ever collegiate game. Mason capped his first ever offensive drive with a 28-yard run up the gut, the road to the end zone graded and paved by the offensive line. He finished the day with 11 carries for 85 yards and his first touchdown as a Yellow Jacket.
A number of other fresh faces made their debut, including 11 true freshmen. Among those that made their mark were punt returner Juanyeh Thomas (25-yard return in second quarter) and cornerback Jaylon King (forced fumble).
While not a new face, linebacker David Curry made his presence known following 21 months on the sidelines primarily due to injury. In addition to his scoop and score, he was visible elsewhere on the field, tying for a team high four tackles.
“He was really making progress before when he got hurt,” said Johnson regarding Curry. “I know he made a couple tackles. I think he’s definitely got the ability to help us there, and hopefully he’ll continue to grow like everybody else.”
Place kicking remains a concern. Today’s performance included a missed extra point and missed field goal, the latter from 51 yards out. Nonetheless, early evidence provided little reason to believe that special teams are any less “special” this year when compared to last.
Continued improvement will be welcome and potentially necessary with a visit to the South Florida Bulls on deck. Bulls head coach Charlie Strong will have his squad ready for its first of two power five opponents.
Said Johnson simply, “We've got to make a ton of progress from week one to week two as the competition will continue to ratchet up.”