After Tobias Oliver ran for Tech’s final score in the 63-17 rout of Bowling Green, Johnson teased his backup quarterback.
“I told him he ran 62 yards in 13 seconds,” Johnson said. “That’s not very good.”
Here was the joy that had been missing for the Yellow Jackets. They were 0-3 against FBS foes. They blew a big lead at South Florida, never had one at Pittsburgh and were stomped by Clemson last weekend.
It doesn’t matter that Bowling Green isn’t a very good team. The Jackets needed a jolt, some juice. This game was a chance to get better, flex against an out-manned opponent and finally have some fun.
The Jackets did all that, and without delay. They scored touchdowns on all four first-half possessions, a first in Johnson’s 11 seasons. The Jackets forced three turnovers — the first one set up a touchdown, the second prevented a TD and the third was a pick-six by Anree Saint-Amour.
Big plays make for good times.
“It was fun,” Tech linebacker David Curry said. “And that is what we’re supposed to do. In our heads we’re supposed do that. We are supposed to go out there and dominate. I’m not even happy that the defense gave up 17 points.”
The Falcons scored 10 of those points within the first 19 minutes of the game, then did little else. Tech’s offense hardly broke a sweat.
The option hadn’t been sharp during the losing steak. The Jackets had run the ball efficiently, with some long gains here and there, but not consistently. One thing or another was off: quarterback TaQuon Marshall’s decisions, the line’s blocking, the A-backs’ spacing.
That changed against Bowling Green. Tech averaged 7.6 yards on its 49 rushes. The quarterbacks had 20 carries, the A-backs had 29 and no one put the ball on the ground.
“That looked more like one of our football teams,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s teams have never passed much, but at their best, they hit on two or three big plays. That had been missing this season in large part because of shaky pass protection. When Marshall has time, his accuracy has been better than it was in his first season as a starter.
Marshall had time against the Falcons, and the results were fantastic. He completed five of six pass attempts, and four of them went for 30 yards or more. The Jackets had just one pass at least that long in their four previous games.
Marshall was unhurried on two long passes to Jalen Camp in the first quarter, for 33 and 37 yards. He stood tall in a clean pocket while delivering a nice 41-strike to Clinton Lynch in the second quarter. Marshall’s 39-yard pass to Stephen Dolphus led to another touchdown early in the third quarter for a 35-10 lead.
Marshall played one more series, which ended with Harvin’s first and only punt, before Johnson emptied the bench.
“It was nice to be able to step back and watch everyone else play, everyone else have fun,” Marshall said.
During Johnson’s best years, Tech’s offense was so efficient and explosive that the defense didn’t have to be great. This season the defense hasn’t allowed many big plays, but opponents moved the ball too easily and finished drives with points too often. The Jackets bent and broke.
The Falcons are a decent offensive team by MAC standards, especially passing the ball. They scored on two of their first three possessions. Here’s how the next eight ended: punt, end of half, fumble, touchdown, interception, interception, turnover on downs, punt.
The Jackets still have things to fix. Even in the blowout victory, some of their issues on defense and special teams surfaced.
Bowling Green converted 11 of 17 third-down chances and two of three fourth downs. A holding penalty wiped out Juanyeh Thomas’ 96-yard kickoff return (he probably would have scored without the illicit help).
It won’t be this easy for Tech at ACC-foe Louisville on Friday night.
“It definitely boosted our confidence, but we’ve got to know that today is today and Friday is Friday,” Saint-Amour said.
Tech has lost its past five ACC road games. Make it six in a row and the good vibes from the beat down of Bowling Green will end.
“Everybody knows what this game means,” Marshall said. “I just told the guys, everybody is always talking about a big prime time game, we got one.”