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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 – 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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Georgia Tech announced on Tuesday that the athletics association will move on after a long tenure under apparel sponsor Russel Athletic and sign a new 6-year deal with adidas. Many Georgia Tech fans felt this change was long overdue, and the general reaction to the news has been overwhelmingly positive. GTSwarm reached out to current Georgia Tech football verbal commits from the 2018 recruiting class to get their reactions to the news.

The following are the results of the survey:

1. What is your preferred apparel/uniform brand?

TK Chimedza: Anything that has me looking good, to be honest

PJ Harris: Adidas

Luke Johns: Adidas

Harrison Jump: 3 stripes all the way

Jaylon King: I prefer Nike since I grew up wearing Nike, but Adidas is going to be a nice change

Mike Maye: I don't really have a preference but the "Big 3" - Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour - are my favorites

Austin Smith: I actually like the Adidas uniforms better than any other

Dontae Smith: My preference is Adidas. I've always liked their football uniforms

Juanyeh Thomas: Adidas

Zamari Walton: Adidas or Jordan

Tijai Whatley: Adidas is my brand. I have always worn Adidas

2. Did you know that Georgia Tech was still sponsored by Russell Athletic?

TKC: Yes, lol, I did

PJH: Yes sir, I knew

LJ: Yes sir

HJ: Yes

JK: Yes

MM: Yes

AS: Yes. Been too long

DS: I did. I noticed it in pictures

JT: Yes, I did know

ZW: Yes

TW: Yes, I know about Tech being sponsored by Russell

3. Did you know Tech was signing a new apparel deal?

TKC: Yea. I've been going back and forth with Coach Roof trying to figure out what it was going to be

PJH: Yes sir, I just didn't know with which company

LJ: I did but I wasn't sure who they were signing with

HJ: Yes

JK: Yes

MM: Yes

AS: I knew they were signing a new deal, just didn't know with who

DS: I also knew this. Coach told me about it when I visited

JT: I knew they were going to sign a deal, I just didn't know where

ZW: Yes

TW: Yes, I read that Ga Tech was coming out with a new deal and I was excited to see which brand

4. On a scale from 1-5, how excited are you to hear that Tech is moving from Russell to Adidas?

TKC: 20

PJH: 5. I'm very excited!!

LJ: 5. I'm excited but I would be fine with any brand

HJ: 5

JK: 5

MM: 5

AS: 5. Those Russell uniforms needed some work

DS: Definitely a 5

JT: 5

ZW: 5

TW: 5. They are switching to my favorite brand

5. On a scale from 1-5, how much do you think recruits care about what uniform supplier they wear?

TKC: 5

PJH: About a 4. Most players look at what looks "cool"

LJ: 3. For me, I don't care at all but I've heard of some recruits caring about the apparel a lot

HJ: 3, although I don't think that should be a factor in what school you pick

JK: 4 because most players like how we look before we play. Look good, feel good, play good!

MM: 3

AS: Uniforms don't play in any role for recruitment

DS: I'd say 4. People like to look good

JT: Yes, uniforms is a big part of it, YOU LOOK GOOD YOU PLAY GOOD

ZW: 5

TW: 5 most definitely, uniforms is a great way to express your team. Also, each recruit wants to look cool in their gear

Multiple staff members contributed to this article.