It was the game none of us wanted, and the game none of us were expecting. But don’t let your first impression of the 2014 Jackets spoil your outlook on the season just yet. The first half was shaky at best, but the team pulled it together after halftime and I think there are plenty of positive takeaways from this game to be happy about.
It really was a tale of two halves for the Jackets. The first half started off great: a quick 3-and-out forced by the defense followed by a methodical offensive drive that featured a number of players from all positions getting touches. Justin Thomas, Zach Laskey, Charles Perkins, DeAndre Smelter, Broderick Snoddy, Michael Summers, and Tony Zenon all had plays for positive yardage. After Laskey punched it in from four yards out, though, things began to go downhill.
The next several Tech drives were frustrating at best, including a 3-and-out and a missed field goal. To exacerbate the collective discomfort among the largely dissatisfied 45,000 fans in attendance, Wofford was stringing together plays and drives fairly competently.
The game hit a low point when Wofford running back Ray Smith broke through the defensive line for a 92-yard touchdown run to give the Terriers a 9-7 lead with under a minute to go in the half. It would have been 10-7, but defensive tackle Shawn Green blocked the PAT.
The half ended on a good note after Jamal Golden ran the kickoff back to the 50, setting the Jackets up nicely for a quick four play, 37-yard 0:41 drive that resulted in a field goal. Tech went to the locker room up 10-9 but not happy about it.
The second half was much better. The Jackets only had four possessions (not counting running out the clock at the end of the game) but scored on all of them. The first drive of the second half called for the Jackets needing to convert two fourth downs, but ultimately resulted in a 19-yard touchdown pass from Thomas to Smelter.
Wofford followed up with a field goal drive to make it 17-12, but Tech responded quickly with the highlight of the game: a 71-yard touchdown pass to Smelter. Words can’t describe the insane athleticism demonstrated by the Tech wideout; instead, just watch below.
The Jackets took a 24-12 lead after Smelter’s amazing catch and run. But the Terriers then went on a Paul Johnson-esque death march in what was really one of the most grueling nine minutes of game time I’ve ever seen at a Tech game. Wofford pulled off a 16 play, 75 yard drive that lasted over nine minutes and resulted in a four yard touchdown run by Wofford back Octavius Harden to make the score 24-19.
This is where the atmosphere in the stadium became grim. With under ten minutes to go, the Jackets’ offense was faced with a scenario it did not expect to find itself in against Wofford: a must-score, late-game situation.
Justin Thomas and company did not disappoint. It only took 1:08 for the Jackets to tack on another score, with a quick drive highlighted by a pass (that was really a pitch) to Snoddy for 65 yards – yes, we finally got to glimpse the track star in the open field. Laskey punched it in for his second score of the day to make it 31-19 with 8 minutes left.
The downside to such a quick score, though, was that a gassed Georgia Tech defense had to come back out on the field just minutes after Wofford’s death march.
The defense came out swinging, though, and Wofford had to punt it away on 4th and 14 with seven minutes left. A five-minute Tech drive, which ended with a Synjyn Days four-yard touchdown run, all but iced the game at 38-19.
A less-than-enthused Paul Johnson had good news for Tech fans in the postgame press conference. On Justin Thomas: "I expect him to play better in the next game… The way he played in the second half I think is more indicative of the way he plays." To put that statement into numbers, Justin went 3-7 for 32 yards to start the game but went 8-8 for 250 yards from then on.
It’s not time to write this team off just yet.