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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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Redshirt Senior Brady Swilling (#4) celebrates after scoring the game winning touchdown

Photo credit to ramblinwreck.com

ATLANTA, GA – It was a perfect night for Georgia Tech football. For once, the weather cooperated for a Friday night under the lights at Bobby Dodd Stadium. On the field, Gold beat White, 21-16.

So what did we learn?

Let’s start with the quarterbacks. With redshirt junior Matthew Jordan sidelined with a foot injury, the last week of spring offered increased opportunities for repetitions at the quarterback spot. Tonight’s spring game was no different.

Redshirt freshman Lucas Johnson delivered the game’s first highlight on the Gold team’s opening possession. On just his second snap from under center, Johnson kept the ball on a belly option around the left end and found the end zone on a 70-yard sprint down the East sideline. He finished the game 7 of 13 passing for 69 yards, with 1 touchdown through the air and 1 interception for the Gold team.

Redshirt freshman Jay Jones was perhaps the most dynamic runner on the day, for better and for worse. He ran 13 times for 81 yards, many of those coming with defenders left reaching for his ankles as he ran by. Ball security was an issue however, and the ball hit the ground on options and scrambles too often for Head Coach Paul Johnson’s liking.

While mostly complimentary of Jones’ ability, Johnson offered that Jones is “going to make something happen one way or the other. He had done a better job [this spring] executing with ball security than tonight.”

TaQuon Marshall, the only other quarterback returning with game experience, got the start with the first team offense. Overall he showed off his speed and elusiveness while managing the game throughout for the White team.

Finally, there is redshirt junior Chase Martenson, who delivered the clutch play of the game. With less than 2 minutes remaining and the Gold team down 16-14, Martenson hit B-Back Brady Swilling in stride down the home sideline for a 61-yard game winning touchdown pass. A walk-on who does not receive the same attention as the four quarterbacks previously mentioned delivered the highlight of the night.

Defensively, a number of guys stood out on the field and in the box score. Junior linebacker Brant Mitchell is one who made his presence felt. He finished with a game high 7 tackles, including 2.5 for a loss.

“I think as our [defensive] line is concerned we got a lot of guys rushing the ball, and that helps with freeing me up too,” said Mitchell. “So I think it’s all around. It takes everybody.”

Speaking of the defensive line, senior defensive end Antonio Simmons continues to be a guy who just makes plays. Simmons tallied 6 solo tackles, including 2 sacks and 3 total tackles for a loss. It seemed whenever the White team quarterbacks left the pocket, they could not shake Simmons closing speed in the open field. The Jackets have long been desperate for a pass rush and reliable open field tackling. How Simmons’ game matures from tonight to next fall will be something to watch.

The Jackets’ biggest hole going into this season is possibly on neither the offensive nor defensive side of the ball. The void left by graduated kicker Harrison Butker is pronounced. His reliability from kickoffs to field goals to executing in end of game situations was noteworthy, to say the least.

In tonight’s spring game, redshirt sophomore Shaun Davis did everything asked of him as a possible replacement for Butker. Davis connected on all three of his field goal attempts, ranging from 33 to 38 yards out.

“It felt good to get back in a game atmosphere,” said Davis. “I haven’t done that much in the last couple years. I felt like this spring I had something to capitalize [on], pretty much being here by myself. So throughout the spring, just trying to show the coaches I can be the guy. And then tonight I felt like it was a good game, so I was happy with how everything went.”

An intra-squad scrimmage ending with a 21-16 final score can be tough to decipher. How does that project to the fall? What will be the team strengths?

There will be experience coming back from minor spring injuries. Guys like Ricky Jeune, Clinton Lynch, Matthew Jordan and Jalen Johnson have contributed in the past, among others. Come summer, there will be an influx of eager talent from the 2017 signing class.

How it all comes together remains to be seen. If nothing else, we learned tonight there are plenty of capable contributors. And that’s about as good a starting point as any as the Yellow Jackets attack the long offseason ahead.

Video courtesy of ACC Digital Network

ATLANTA, GA – Ankle issues? No time for rest? No big deal for Ben Lammers.

Coming on the heels of a 40 minute game at Miami, Lammers put his own heels to work in a pivotal ACC home tilt against Syracuse.

Going the full 40 minutes for the second consecutive game, Lammers was elite on both ends of the court Sunday night. He dropped in a cool 23 points on 11 of 18 shooting. He added 7 rebounds, with 4 coming on the offensive glass. When Syracuse possessed the ball, Lammers disrupted the Orange offense via 7 blocks, 3 steals and several more altered shots.

Put that all together and you have an All-ACC performance from the junior big man from San Antonio.

Most importantly, Lammers’ efforts led the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (16-11, 7-7) to a crucial 71-65 victory over the Syracuse Orange (16-12, 8-7) in a clash of two NCAA tournament bubble teams.

“Ben has just gotten better and better and better and better and better,” said Tech head coach Josh Pastner. “He just gets better and better and better. He’s fantastic.”

Pastner’s emphasis on ‘better’ is also an apt description of Georgia Tech’s track during the 2016-17 season, in large part due to Lammers’ continued progression.

One man does not make a team, and one cannot underestimate the contributions from others.

Senior captain Quinton Stephens also went the full 40 minutes Sunday night while battling through his own injury issues.

“I was bouncy,” said Stephens. “I was ready. You can’t get more jacked up than having a sellout crowd, playing a good Syracuse, playing with my teammates. So I mean, that energy’s contagious.”

Stephens was solid across the board, adding 7 points, 6 rebounds and a career-high 8 assists.

Sunday’s game was one of streaks. Syracuse held a 9 point lead with just over a minute to go in the first half. Georgia Tech closed the half with a 6-0 run, highlighted by a Tadric Jackson 3-point buzzer beater. The Jackets’ run continued over to the 2nd half, stretching to 26-5 over 11+ minutes of game time.

Half of Georgia Tech’s 26 points during the run came from Jackson, who finished with 20 points on 8 of 15 shooting. The junior guard from Tifton, GA has provided a much-needed spark from the bench in Tech’s last three ACC home games, each resulting in a win. Prior to tonight’s effort Jackson poured in 25 vs. Notre Dame and 29 vs. Boston College, with nearly every point valuable to the outcome.

The Jackets led by as much as 13 points. Syracuse’s last gasp effort fell short. Sparked by an effective full court press, the Orange closed the margin to 2 points with under 30 seconds to play but could not pull even.

Georgia Tech is now 7-7 in ACC play with an opportunity to pull above .500 on Tuesday. Up next is the Jackets’ second of two games vs. North Carolina State, a squad looking to heal open wounds and avenge an earlier loss to Tech.

Taking care of business at home on Tuesday is important, and it’s another opportunity for the Jackets to build their resume for something bigger.

Video courtesy of ACC Digital Network

ATLANTA, GA – “It was a tale of two halves,” said Tech head coach Josh Pastner.

Following an offensively inept first half, one in which Georgia Tech (15-10, 6-6) shot just 16.7% with 5 made field goals and 10 turnovers, the Yellow Jackets surged in the second on their way to a 65-54 win over Boston College (9-17, 2-11).

Tech’s two halves were simply a dichotomy. Comparing the first vs. the second, respectively:

  • 15 vs. 50 – the total number of points scored by the Jackets
  • 17% vs. 66% – the Jackets’ field goal percentage
  • 7 vs. 14 – the total number of free throw attempts by the Jackets
  • 10 vs. 4 – the total number of turnovers by the Jackets

“I’ve never seen anything like it in the first half,” said Pastner. “I went in there [during the first half under 4 timeout] and told them, guys, I’ve been in basketball 25-30 years and I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s gotta turn our way. I said ‘God bless all of y’all’. I said we’re due to make a lay-up here or there.”

Sure enough, the shots started falling.

Tech shooting guard Tadric Jackson led the Jackets throughout the ballgame on the scoreboard. Despite early struggles around the rim of his own, he dropped in 9 of the team’s 15 first half points. He raised the stakes in the second with 20 points more, giving him a new career high of 29.

“Towards the end of the first half he really started to drive the ball,” said Eagles head coach Jim Christian. “[He’s] a good post-up guard, so in that area he’s a little bit of a match-up problem for us, a big guard like that. He played really well.”

Jackson’s 29 points were also the 9th most by a Georgia Tech player in an ACC game.

Point guard Justin Moore, forward Josh Okogie and center Ben Lammers also stuffed the stat sheet while playing big minutes.

Moore, healthy for the first time in weeks, added 5 points, 6 assists and 8 rebounds in 27 minutes. He hit just his second 3-pointer of the season to give Tech a 34-32 lead that they would not relinquish the rest of the way. Moore’s work on the glass earned praised from his teammates and coaches.

“Our guards did a great job of rebounding,” said Okogie. “Justin had about 8 rebounds, so that’s big for him.”

“I thought Justin Moore was fantastic,” said Pastner. “Eight defensive rebounds, 6 assists, 1 turnover and [he] hits the biggest three to give us the lead.”

Okogie’s continued aggression on both ends of the court allowed him to notch his second career double-double with 12 points and 12 defensive rebounds. He tacked on 2 blocks and 2 steals in 39 minutes.

Double-doubles are nothing new to Lammers who reeled in his 12th of the season with 15 points and 17 rebounds. Lammers was 2 boards shy of the Georgia Tech record in ACC games.

With 12 ACC games down, the Yellow Jackets are .500 in league play at 6-6. Tech has exceeded nearly all preseason expectations already. But why stop here?

The possibility of an NCAA tournament bid is now squarely on the table. Next up is a visit to Miami on Wednesday, a game the experts surely expect Tech to lose. It is the next opportunity for the Jackets to prove the pundits wrong, and it’s another chance to prove they belong in the big dance.