Georgia Tech quarterback TaQuon Marshall (16) celebrates with teammates after he scored a touchdown in the first half of the Georgia Tech home opener Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018, against Alcorn State at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta.
Photo: Hyosub Shin/ hshin@ajc.com
Photo: Hyosub Shin/ hshin@ajc.com

Evaluating TaQuon Marshall’s passing game against Alcorn State

Despite his team winning 41-0, Georgia Tech TaQuon Marshall had a glum demeanor in a post-game interview Saturday.

He executed in the run game against Alcorn State, helping A-backs Qua Searcy, Clinton Lynch and Nathan Cottrell gain 108 yards on just four carries. He himself had run tough and elusively on quarterback keepers and scrambles, picking up 77 yards and a touchdown on nine rushes.

With Alcorn State keying on him, the decision to pitch to the A-backs was easy, he said.

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“So I just put the ball in the guys’ hands and let ’em run,” Marshall said. “As you can see, it was pretty successful.”

The reason for his downcast mien was his performance in the passing game, particularly in the first half. Marshall completed 4-of-12 passes in the first half for 25 yards with one interception. He rallied in the second half, completing five of his final six attempts, including a touchdown pass, to finish 9-for-18 for 104 yards. Another pass in the second half, apparently a misread, was nearly intercepted and could have been returned for a touchdown.

“I lost my confidence in the first half after missing a couple balls, just got really frustrated with myself,” Marshall said. “And then second half, I think throwing the first couple short routes kind of built my confidence back up, and then I was just trying to just play at that point.”

His first throw of the game, a throw to the sideline under slight pressure, was off target to Searcy. His second, on a third down on the third possession of the game, was complete to wide receiver Brad Stewart but well shy of the first-down marker, leading to Tech’s only punt of the game. His third was a lofted downfield pass to wide receiver Jalen Camp, who made a spectacular effort to bring down what Marshall called a “pretty terrible ball.” He sailed the next one past Lynch, a pass on which he was knocked down in the pocket and was slow to get up. (He said after the game he was fine.) He came back on the next play to connect with Searcy on a dart for an 11-yard gain and a third-down conversion.

He took responsibility for his lone interception, one in which Camp and Alcorn State cornerback Taurence Wilson tangled and Camp fell. Wilson caught the pass as pass interference was called on Camp.

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What Georgia Tech players said after the game

What Paul Johnson said after the Alcorn State game

“I thought (the passing game) was lousy,” coach Paul Johnson said. “Threw the ball lousy. The second drive of the second half, I wanted to throw the ball down the field and they were able to do that. Now, we hit a scramble play for the touchdown, but he hit a couple of throws. He hit and out over there to Jalen, he hit a little drag to Qua (Searcy) and some outs. But all in all, it wasn’t up to speed. It wasn’t up to my standard.”

As Johnson noted, Marshall rallied in the third quarter, mostly on throws of less than 10 yards. 

On a 2nd-and-1, with a defensive tackle piercing the pocket, Marshall calmly stepped up to avoid him and flipped a pass to Searcy for an easy 25-yard gain, a smart play in which he had the option to keep on a scramble but chose to pass and likely created a longer pickup.

His last pass was a work of improvisation. On a 1st-and-10 from the Alcorn State 24, with the pocket disrupted, Marshall stepped up to scramble, only to find his path blocked by an Alcorn State defensive end. So Marshall backed out of the pocket, running backward with his back to the play. He scrambled left and found Stewart wide open in the end zone for an easy score.

“I expect nothing less of him,” said Stewart, who had a career-high four catches for 49 yards and a touchdown. “He’s going to make plays when plays are presented.”

Overall, it was not dominating play, but not disastrous. Marshall sometimes showed the accuracy, pocket presence and connection with his receivers that he had worked on in the offseason after completing 37 percent of his passes last season in his first season as a starter, but not frequently. The pass protection didn’t always cooperate to that end. It would not be a surprise if Marshall were sharper next Saturday against USF.

“I know it didn’t go our way some of the times (Saturday), but everything that went wrong is on us, and we can fix that,” Stewart said.

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