Georgia Tech once again dominated on the ground on Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium, but untimely turnovers left the door open for Pittsburgh to stay in a game it probably didn’t belong in.
Thankfully for the Yellow Jackets, the Ted Roof-led defense stood its ground in an impressive performance to beat divisional foe Pitt, 35-17.
The Panthers managed just 37 rushing yards in the game and failed to score an offensive touchdown after their 5-play, 78-yard scoring drive that opened the game.
“It was great to start out with a conference win, especially a division win,” coach Paul Johnson said after the game. “It’s always good. I thought our defense played really, really well today, especially in sudden-change situations. I think we had four times when we turned the ball over and I think all four times they went three-and-out, so that was huge.
“Offensively, we looked like we hadn’t played in two weeks. Just sloppy. I think all four turnovers came from the same position, which is really disappointing and we’ve got to clean that up because against a good team, we won’t be able to survive.”
TaQuon Marshall displayed some incredible quickness and athleticism on Tech’s first two touchdown drives. On the first, he outran most of the Pitt defense down the right sideline for a 32-yard touchdown run.
In the second quarter, he took a run down the right side 18 yards to the 1-yard line, featured by an incredible in-and-out spin move that send a Pitt defensive back to the ground. On the next play, he scored on a 1-yard touchdown run.
KirVonte Benson added a 5-yard touchdown run to put Tech ahead 21-14 late in the half, though Pitt added a long field goal as time expired to make it 21-17. The sophomore B-back had 196 yards rushing and two touchdowns in the game, but he did have a couple of key fumbles that didn’t make his coach very happy.
“We work on it all the time,” Johnson said. “You’ve got to be focused enough not to do it. And we need to help him. We probably didn’t need to play him so much. 29 times, that’s probably a lot for him.”
Johnson insisted that Benson can be a really good player if he can learn to focus in those situations.
Marshall added 112 yards on the ground himself, though he did have his worst game throwing the ball. He missed on a couple of overthrows and had an interception negated from a roughing the passer penalty.
In the second half, Quaide Weimerskirch made the most of a chance to come in for a banged up Benson and took a 19-yard run to the house for his first career touchdown. Benson put dagger in Pittsburgh later in the fourth quarter with a 47-yard touchdown run to give Tech the 18-point lead that would stick.
Defensively, the Tech defense was dominant in the second half. At one point before garbage-time possessions, Pittsburgh had totaled 60 yards of offense on 23 second-half plays, including 11 caries for negative-15 yards on the ground.
The defensive line got push up front without needing any help for blitzes, which helped the linebackers and secondary stay home and have its best tackling game seen from a Georgia Tech defense in quite some time.s
“I thought we got good pressure from the outside, lost contain some, which is concerning,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to do better where when we get the outside pressure to try to contain and get the push inside. But, yeah, Antonio (Simmons) got some good pressure; Anree (Saint-Amour) got back there. Even at the end Tyler Vernon did a nice job.”
Overall, the defense appeared to bring much more aggression at the point of attack while making key tackles anytime Pitt was hitting the second level.
“I think we’ve been more aggressive defensively the last two games. We brought a little more stunts, a little more pressure, and our guys are better at that. We’re not huge and not real long but we’re quick and fast.”
The offense appeared to still easily run the ball up the middle and have its way on the ground when ignoring the turnovers that plagued it. Tech ran for 436 yards in the game. Benson and Marshall kept things going on the dive and follow play much like they did against Tennessee.
“Those guys were getting a good push,” Marshall said. “I know there were a couple of them that I probably should have broken, but those guys were giving a great push. The B-backs had great blocks on the second level, so the guys that were tackling me were third-level guys. I trusted the guys in front of me.”
Johnson was satisfied with the production of the offense, but his expectations were still for more.
“The expectations have always been high on that side and they’re still going to be high,” Johnson said. “I look at this and we rushed for 436 yards and it should’ve been at least 150 more.”
Despite the turnovers allowing Pitt to stay in the game longer than it should’ve, an 18-point win to open ACC play against a division opponent is very encouraging. The Jackets will get a chance next Saturday back at home against North Carolina to fix the problems on offense and get off to a good start in the conference.