While the offense failed to maintain consistent drives and the defense struggled to get off the field for much of the game, Georgia Tech made enough big plays on Saturday to take down Virginia at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Paul Johnson’s option attack was lifeless for much of the first half, totaling just 111 yards of total offense on 17 plays. Virginia nearly doubled the Jackets in every category, finishing with 209 yards of offense, 42 plays ran and more than 20 minutes time of possession.
In the second half, Tech’s defense buckled down to force some key three-and-outs and a few turnovers from the Virginia offense. With the Cavaliers attempting to drive and score a game-tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter, Lance Austin picked off a high pass from Matt Johns and returned it to the house to give the Jackets a 31-17 lead.
“It’s always good to score on defense,” Austin said. “Unlike Corey [Griffin], I have a little shiftiness, so it feels good to get back in the end zone.”
After Virginia turned it over on downs on its next possession and threw an interception to end the game, Tech secured its seventh victory of the year with a 31-17 win.
“Like I told our team in the locker room, you need to be happy when you win,” Johnson said. “It’s hard to win a football game, and I thought Virginia came in and played well. I was disappointed in the way we played. Clearly, as coaches, we need to do a better job getting ready to play. We can play a lot better than that, and we’ll have to if we want a chance next week.”
Tech found a bit of a groove offensively in the third quarter with two huge touchdown plays. The plays were sparked after the Jackets failed to convert a fourth-and-one from their own 29-yard line. Tech’s defense held on the short field, and a missed field goal from UVA gave it the ball right back, just five yards back of where the fourth down failed. Three plays later, Clinton Lynch found his usual hole in the opposing team’s secondary and caught a wide open 54-yard touchdown pass to give the Jackets their first lead of the game.
After Virginia went three-and-out, the Tech offense again only needed three plays to put more points on the board. This time, Qua Searcy got a pitch toward the right side, but he cut back to the left and found plenty of running room as he rolled in for a 60-yard touchdown run to put the Jackets ahead, 21-10. Down field on Searcy’s run, freshman Jalen Camp and Thomas picked up key blocks to allow Searcy to find the end zone.
After the Cavaliers put the first points on the board with a 4-yard touchdown run from Daniel Hamm, Tech began its big-play touchdowns on offense. On a third-and-two from the 33-yard line, Marcus Marshall received a pitch from Justin Thomas and sprinted down the right sideline for a 67-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7-apiece.
“It definitely feels good to get some things going,” Marshall said. In the game, especially as a running back, once you get some positive plays, it helps you with your confidence and helps you play better. I think it helps me play better.”
The Jackets nearly opened the game offensively with an explosive play from their own 5-yard line. It appeared they had numbers on the edge for a potential huge touchdown play, but Thomas pitched the ball ahead to a blocker instead of the running back. A few possessions later, Brad Stewart dropped a sure touchdown pass from deep inside Georgia Tech territory.
“We missed too many opportunities from the first series onward, where we pitched to the guy blocking, to the dropped passes on obvious touchdowns, to snapping the ball on one when the count was on two.”
Georgia Tech ran a season-low 41 plays on offense compared to a season-high 88 from the opposition. Time of possession was nearly 2:1, and Tech converted just 2-of-10 third downs compared to 7-of-17 from Virginia.
“We couldn’t get them off the field,” Johnson said. “There were several times since the opening possession that every time they needed to flip the field, they’d flip the field. We were abysmal on third down, and we never really got anything going running-wise, except for big plays. I don’t know if we played this bad all year up front, and really our A-backs failed to make blocks, so that was a deadly combination.”
Johnson continued on being disappointed in the performance.
“I’m just disappointed in the way we played. I thought we turned a corner, we’d been playing better offensively and we got all of our guys back today. Maybe we need to play the other guys. I was disappointed with the execution, and defensively while we did a decent job of not giving up points, but just the time of possession, I don’t know how many possessions we had in the game ... we had four in the first half.”
Still, the Jackets managed to secure a winning season and send off a talented group of seniors with a win on Senior Day, including Justin Thomas. With the win, Tech will have a chance to grab its eighth win of the season and get its second win in Athens with the current senior class next Saturday.
“I tried to approach it as any other game,” Thomas said about his last game at Bobby Dodd. “I didn’t want to come in thinking about this being the last one. I wanted to make sure I executed. It was fun ... a great last one, and we went out with a win. We have a lot of great memories in this stadium and did a lot of good things throughout our careers. It was a great moment. I will relax and enjoy today and tomorrow, but Monday it will be like any other week getting back to business.”