Junior Quarterback TaQuon Marshall (#16) following his 70-yard touchdown run in the 4th quarter.

ATLANTA, GA – There are few better venues for a game than under the lights at Bobby Dodd Stadium. In a long overdue rarity, the television network gods granted a 7:30pm kick to Georgia Tech for their ACC Atlantic Division crossover game versus the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.

Unfortunately Tech paired the late start to Homecoming with a slow start on the field, stymied for a half by the Deacons (4-3, 1-3). The Jackets (4-2, 3-1) slow danced on the field for the first half on both sides of the ball, with the Deacons taking the lead role on both offense and defense.

Tech mustered just one touchdown and 199 yards of offense on 43 plays (4.6 yards/play) in five first half drives. The Demon Deacons defense, one of the best in the nation at creating negative plays, created six tackles for a loss. Defensively the Jackets defense allowed a generally underwhelming Wake Forest offense to score touchdowns on three of its four first half series.

Mixed altogether, the result was a 21-13 deficit at the half for the home team.

“[Wake] was probably the fastest up-tempo offense that we faced all year,” said senior safety Corey Griffin. “Looking to the sideline, looking at formation and trying to get the right check, there’s a lot to it… It’s definitely something we have to work on.”

Fortunately the sleepy Yellow Jackets woke up in the second half on the Grant Field dance floor. The Jackets’ defense bowed up for their first of two consecutive three and outs to start the half. The offense followed suit, with junior quarterback TaQuon Marshall taking his first snap and turning the corner en route to a 49 yard touchdown run.

Tech did not relent the rest of the way. Offensively Jackets piled up 296 yards of offense and four touchdowns in the second half, while the defense became frugal and allowed just three more points.

“I think we kind of slept walked through the first half, honestly,” said head coach Paul Johnson. “I think we had way more energy in the second half than we did the first half. There was a little more urgency.”

Big plays were key on offense as Tech scored on jaunts of 49 yards (Marshall), 42 yards (Searcy) and 70 yards (Marshall, again).

The key to those plays? “Great blocking up front,” said Marshall. “The guys opened up some holes for me. Ricky made a great block on the perimeter. I just tried to make a play and move the game in our favor.”

Defensively, the defense made big plays of their own. While the Deacons offense moved the ball sporadically in the second half, the Jackets’ defense stuffed three drives via fourth down conversion stops. Of the three, perhaps the loudest roar from the home crowd came following junior linebacker Victor Alexander’s sack with 2:47 to go in the 3rd quarter.

Once Tech grabbed a 25-24 lead via Searcy’s touchdown run, quarterback John Wolford led Wake’s next drive to the Tech 34 yard line. Lined up for a critical 4th and 4, the Deacons went backwards for a 9 yard loss, thanks to a sack from Alexander.

“Coach Roof called the right blitz at the right time,” said Alexander. “I knew I had to execute. It was 4th down and I was just thinking about my teammates… we had to make a big play and it was my time to shine.”

The momentum stayed with the Jackets the rest of the way. What was once anyone’s ballgame became one where there was no doubt. The Yellow Jackets were the kings of Homecoming with a decisive 38-24 victory.

Other news and notes:

  • With the win Georgia Tech moved to 3-1 in the ACC and second place in the Coastal division standings. The stiffest test to-date comes next Saturday at Clemson, the defending national champions.
  • The eight-point halftime deficit was the largest that Georgia Tech has overcome in a win since it came back from a 28-12 halftime deficit in a 45-42 win at Georgia on Nov. 29, 2008.
  • Marshall and running back KirVonte Benson broke 100 yards rushing each for the fourth time in six games this season.
  • After turning over the ball 2+ times in each of their first three FBS games, the Yellow Jackets offense has not turned it over once in its last two (at Miami, vs. Wake Forest).
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.