Reviewing Georgia Tech’s win over Georgia

November 26, 2016, Athens - Georgia Tech wide receiver Antonio Messick (81) and other Georgia Tech football players hold branches from Sanford Stadium's hedges in their mouthes in Athens, Georgia, on Saturday, November 26, 2016. Tech beat UGA 28-27. (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)

November 26, 2016, Athens – Georgia Tech wide receiver Antonio Messick (81) and other Georgia Tech football players hold branches from Sanford Stadium’s hedges in their mouthes in Athens, Georgia, on Saturday, November 26, 2016. Tech beat UGA 28-27. (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)

Reviewing Georgia Tech’s win over Georgia on Saturday in Athens:

The game in 100 words or more

How about that? Quantum Leap. Lord, Have Searcy. Whatever you want to call it,

Qua Searcy’s 6-yard run, complete with 3-yard leap, into the end zone secured Georgia Tech’s 28-27 win over Georgia on Saturday in Sanford Stadium. It was one of the odder games I can remember watching. The Yellow Jackets appeared dead after a horrible third quarter (worst I can remember by the offense), only for the Bulldogs to crack open the door with an odd choice to pass when they were running the ball so effectively. That pass led to an interception that led to the game-winning touchdown.

Five things that worked well

Determination. Tech coach Paul Johnson, who has now won at Sanford Stadium three times, said many times in his post-game comments that his team will always fight. Every coach says that, but Johnson was right on Saturday. The Yellow Jackets really had no business completing that rally based upon what happened in the third quarter, but they did and Johnson, the coaching staff and the players deserve the credit.

“We just keep playing,” he said. “This team doesn’t get a whole lot of respect, nor does the program. So you just keep playing. I think they’ve done a really good job of doing that. We don’t listen to anybody. We just play.”

Justin Thomas. Every week this season, Thomas has been asked some variation on being nervous, either trying to complete a comeback, or after a mistake, or after a big play. He always says he never gets nervous. Well, he proved that once again on Saturday in leading the Yellow Jackets on a 94-yard drive to breathe life into the comeback and silence the Bulldogs backers. You could see his steadiness earlier in the game when the led the Jackets to convert a first-and-25 series. He won’t get consideration for all-ACC because his stats aren’t nearly as gaudy as others in this numbers-inflated iteration of college football, but he should be considered one of the league’s best players.

Thomas became the first Tech quarterback since Joe Hamilton (1998-99) to beat Georgia twice and just the sixth since 1957, joining Billy Lothridge, Jack Williams, John Dewberry, Shawn Jones and Joe Hamilton.

“Being able to go down as one of those quarterbacks, it’s a great feeling, especially as a senior,” he said.

Harrison Butker. The senior needed five points to become Tech’s all-time leading scorer. He got four, capped by the game-winning point-after attempt, and is tied with Luke Manget. Butker, of course, has one game left to set the record.

Your browser window. Esteemed colleague Ken Sugiura broke down Tech’s likely bowl destination in this piece. I’m guessing you will keep hitting refresh on bid day until you know where Tech will be doing, and then will start booking your travel plans.

Clinton Lynch and Qua Searcy. One of the problems Tech had last season was a lack of experience at A-back. Experience breeds confidence, which enables players to play faster and produce more. Lynch and Searcy have been producing big plays all season and did so again against Georgia. Lynch had four carries for 59 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown in which he turned on the jets to outrace the secondary in the first quarter. He also had one catch for 16 yards. Searcy, well, he had one catch for 39 yards, eight carries for 40 yards and that oh so important touchdown, which needs a nickname.

With Dedrick Mills, Marcus Marshall, Lynch and Searcy all returning, as well as wide receivers Ricky Jeune and Brad Stewart, and offensive linemen Kenny Cooper, Parker Braun and Jahaziel Lee, Tech’s offense has potential next season if Matthew Jordan can take a step forward at quarterback.

The winning play call. On the winning play, Searcy took the ball and ran right. He looked back to his left, where Thomas had run a pattern near the sideline. As soon as Searcy raised the ball as if to throw, several Bulldogs realized what might happen and converged on Thomas. That opened up the middle of the field, and Searcy took off.

Johnson said it was an either/or play. Searcy just had to make a decision to pass or run. Thomas said it was a play that Tech has practiced since he was a freshman, but had never used in a game. What a time to break it out.

Two things that didn’t work well

Run defense. Georgia’s offensive line had its way with Tech’s front seven for most of the game in amassing 249 rushing yards on 37 carries through three quarters. But they had just 14 yards in the decisive fourth quarter.

Play-calling in parts of second half. Tech’s offense struggled in the third quarter with just 21 yards and going 0-for-2 on third downs. Perhaps trying to get things going, Johnson called a couple of odd plays: one was an across-the-field lateral to offensive linemen Trey Klock on third-and-5 at the 30 that netted nothing.

Early in the fourth quarter, facing fourth-and-4 at the 42-yard line, Tech tries to run what looked like a counter to Searcy, who was tackled for a 7-yard loss. It was a play that neither Sugiura nor I can remember Tech running before.

Rating the position groups

Borrowing from something that is done with soccer, I’ll rate the different position groups game by game using a 1-to-10 system. Ten represents exceptional and one represents a total meltdown. This is just for fun and mostly for conversation, so please don’t take it too seriously. Feel free to post your own ratings in the comments section.

Quarterbacks 8. Thomas completed 6-of-10 passes for 164 yards. His rushing totals were hurt by a sack in the third quarter, but his leadership fueled the comeback

B-backs 7. Because of what happened with Searcy a few plays later, this run by Marcus Marshall got lost, but check out his 13-yard run on first-and-10 at Georgia’s 32-yard line in the fourth quarter. Just like his run in last week’s win against Virginia, Marshall got hit, hit again, and hit again and still stayed up and fought for yards. He had nine carries for 55 yards with Dedrick Mills adding 24 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. It appeared that Georgia was dead set on taking the B-back dive out of Tech’s playbook, so they didn’t get a lot of chances to run.

A-backs 9. Lynch and Searcy, Searcy and Lynch.

Wide receivers 7. Jeune and Stewart’s blocking downfield were key on several of the long runs. Stewart also had a big catch in the fourth quarter for 23 yards as part of his career-high 87-yard day.

Offensive line 6. Tech rushed for 226 yards on 42 carries and Thomas was sacked once. Like the rest of the game, the play by the line wasn’t always pretty, but it was effective.

Defensive line 5. It was a difficult day for the line, but behind Pat Gamble’s 11 tackles the group did enough to give the team a chance to win.

Linebackers 5. P.J. Davis had 12 tackles in another monster day for the senior. Brant Mitchell ended the day with an interception for the second consecutive game.

Cornerbacks 7. It took me a while to get here, but Lance Austin’s interception in the fourth quarter was huge in the outcome of the game. The ball was tipped, but he reacted just in time to secure the catch and give the Yellow Jackets a short field.

Safeties 5. A.J. Gray tipped a pass in a pivotal moment. Other than that, not muich of note..

Special teams 8. Ryan Rodwell averaged 51.7 yards on three punts. Butker had four touchbacks on five kickoffs. Nathan Cottrell returned two kicks for 35 yards. Georgia’s returners were mostly contained.


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