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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.

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Justin Thomas #5 QB

Q: How was practice today?

A: It was good. We got better than yesterday.

Q: Justin, what was your focus this offseason? Obviously it looks like you've gotten a little bigger; what else have you been working on in addition to that?

A: Like you said, I've been trying to get in the weight room to put some more weight on. Just working with guys [on the field] to make sure we're on the same page.

Q: What can you tell us about the offensive line so far?

A: First thing off the bat we have a lot of depth - more depth than we've had in a while. Right now we're really getting the young guys to know what they're doing.

Q: What are your personal goals this year?

A: Just to be successful. Go out there and play as hard as I can every game and try to come out on the right end.

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Isaiah Johnson #1 S

Q: Did you get a chance to read the recent ESPN article that came out?

A: Somebody sent it to me but I just try not to pay attention to the media too much.

Q: As one of the leaders of the defense, is there anything that you are doing differently in practices?

A: Just trying to lead by example as well as teach and relay any type of message that I've learned from past experiences to others and being more vocal.

Q: Some fans are saying that you're going to have 20 interceptions this season, is that true?

A: [Laughs] We will see! It will be more than the past, I can tell you that!

Q: Even though you were injured and unable to play last season, what do you think about Coach Roof's approach to coaching?

A: I love it! Since day one, [Coach Roof] has been working with us on the little things. I feel like, at this point just from watching other teams, everyone has pretty much the same plays but it really comes down to the coaching and teaching the fundamentals and the little things that count. Coach Roof focuses on the little things like where is your eye placement and where is your alignment; I appreciate that.

Q: Are there any younger players that caught your eye so far? Any sleepers?

A: I really like the [Austin] twins, the incoming freshmen. Starting from the summer time when we were doing our 7-on-7s, I was blown away by how ready they are already. It seems like they've been here for a while. They are still learning but I think they will be big time.

Q: Every year the media has low expectations from Georgia Tech and every year GT exceeds those expectations, will it be the same this year?

A: Of course! But we ignore that and know what we have to do. We haven't met up to our own expectations in the past so we have to put that behind us, make progress, and play to the best of our ability.

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Head Coach Paul Johnson

ATLANTA, GA - After the team's third practice of Fall Camp 2014, Georgia Tech head football coach Paul Johnson spoke about the team and fielded questions from the media. While confirming that Justin Thomas #5 was the starting quarterback and Tim Byerly #18 was the backup as it stands right now, Coach Johnson also pointed out that there were four weeks to fall camp suggesting that anything could happen before the season started.

Thomas, a 5'11 185 pound redshirt sophomore from Prattville, AL, is recognized for having the speed to get to the edge and the quickness to make defenders miss. On the other hand, Byerly is a 6'0 215 pound redshirt junior from Alpharetta, GA and a transfer from Middle Tennessee, is seen as a tough inside runner that can fight for extra yards after contact. "Justin is more of a 'make you miss' guy and Tim is more of a 'run through, run over you' guy," said Johnson while simplifying differences between the two quarterbacks. Coach Johnson also reiterated that, "they both can do what we need to do in the offense, don't think we'll need to change [the offense] for one or the other."

Heading into his seventh season at the helm of Georgia Tech's football program, Coach Johnson conveyed confidence in the players, their attitude, and the team as a whole. "I feel good about their work ethic and the way they work, they are a pretty tight-knit group, and I think they have high expectations for themselves. They want to be good and I think they believe in what we're doing," said Johnson.

Regarding depth at specific positions, Johnson highlighted that the majority of wide receiver will be back from last season and a lot of players at the A-back position had a lot of experience. Although Robert Godhigh #25, who was the team's 2nd leading rusher last season with 744 yards and averaging a whopping 9.4 yards per carry, will be missed; Johnson listed six familiar names at the position that all have had been part of the A-back rotation for the past few years. Among those that have started games in the past, Georgia Tech will return Deon Hill #31, Charles Perkins #21, Synjyn Days #10, and BJ Bostic #7.

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Coach Johnson speaks to the media

"Right now there's a competition between Freddie Burden [#58] and Thomas O'Reilly [#77] [at center] but we'll be fine there," said Johnson of his offensive line. "I feel real good about [the offensive line]. We are probably more athletic on the offensive line than we've been, maybe not as much experience but a little bigger and more athletic." Johnson later continued, "we've got more depth there than we've ever had. We finally got the numbers that you need to have so we'll probably play a few more players there than we have in the past."

On the defensive front, Georgia Tech needs to replace the school's career sack (31.5) record holder set last season by Jeremiah Attaochu #45 who was drafted by the San Diego Chargers as the 18th pick of the 2nd round in the 2014 NFL Draft. Johnson emphasized the need to play by committee on the defensive line with experienced Adam Gotsis #96 and Shawn Green #97 anchoring the interior and looked forward to having the younger players like Francis Kallon #92 and Pat Gamble #91 step up this season. At the ends, Johnson expects those positions to be sorted out in fall camp but highlighted true freshmen KeShun Freeman #42 from spring practice, Tyler Stargel #99, Roderick Rook-Chungong #41, and Nick Menocal #48.

Coach Johnson also acknowledged the concerns about the experience lost from the team a season ago, "there's six guys in NFL camps right now. So we've got to replace those guys. We've got to replace a lot of experience on the offensive line. So there's question marks."

"Are we going to be the most talented team that we've had here? Individually? Probably not." Then the head coach contended, "but that doesn't mean you're not going to be the best team. We'll have to see."

Georgia Tech kicksoff its 2014 season at home against Wofford at 12:30 PM ET on Saturday August 30th, 2014. For the rest of the schedule, please click here.

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Justin Thomas helps Charles Perkins warmup

ATLANTA, GA - Georgia Tech football's 2014 preseason is officially under way. The team continued preseason camp Saturday by completing their third practice leading up to the season opener on August 30. Saturday was also an unofficial 2014 season kickoff of sorts, highlighted by both Media Day and Fan Day. GTSwarm's @John, @PowderSpringsJacket88, and @CuseJacket were fortunate to be a part of it.

The day started with players streaming in for 9:30am practice. The team made it to Rose Bowl field and the John and Mary Brock Football Practice Facility 10-15 minutes early, an early indicator of the positive energy observed throughout the day's events.

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Coach Sisk oversees warmups

Media was allowed for the first 20 minutes during warmups and start of special teams practice. Standing next to the players was a visual reminder of how much work the players put in during the offseason. Several players made obvious strides in the weight room, not the least of which were guys in offensive and defensive positions of great interest. Justin Thomas #5, Pat Gamble #91, and Francis Kallon #92 all passed the eye test. Their progress during camp continues to be a hot topic among fans that we intend to follow closely.

Shaq Mason #70 and Trey Braun #78 have established themselves as leaders of the offensive line as evidenced by them leading the unit through stretches. Their leadership and the overall health of offensive line going into camp is something that excites QB's Thomas and Byerly. When asked during the afternoon media session what it's like to work behind a healthy line Byerly stated, "Oh man, it is awesome. We have a ton of depth there. Shaq and Trey Braun are really taking control and making sure the new guys know what they're doing. That helps Justin and I a lot. We feel way more comfortable going up to the line. We don't have to check a play to a better position outside since we're more balanced. It helps us a lot."

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Coach Preston and players

The incoming freshman class has many Tech fans excited. When asked which young guys have looked good so far, safety Jamal Golden #4 replied, "KeShun Freeman has looked really good. Then you have the Austin twins who have come in and have been very impressive. They're very skilled. They're still learning the game right now but I feel like they're going to be very good players." Some other players noted during player interviews include Step Durham #29, C.J. Leggett #30, and Qua Searcy #82. Searcy is starting out at wide receiver and was also one of four players seen fielding punts during practice.

When asked about personal goals this year, the common theme among players was to deflect to larger team goals. As a leader of the defense Golden's answer was no surprise, "Be top in the ACC. Right now I'm most worried about our team goal which is to get to Charlotte. Really my personal goal is to do whatever I can to get us to Charlotte." Byerly continued plainly, "Ultimately, I just want to win."

GTSwarm's complete player interviews are posted here where you'll find more from Justin Thomas, D.J. White, Zach Laskey, Jamal Golden, Tim Byerly, and Isaiah Johnson. There is plenty of good stuff, including Laskey's offseason preparation to carry the load at B-Back this year, D.J. White's efforts to continue his momentum from the Music City Bowl, and more on the 2014 freshman class.