Sizzling on offense, Georgia Tech secured a much-needed win, detonating Louisville 66-31 on Friday night at Cardinal Stadium.
Running on 65 of 67 plays, the Yellow Jackets punished the Cardinals with their option game, piling up 542 rushing yards. In coach Paul Johnson’s tenure, it was the second most rushing yards gained in a game, behind only the 604-yard explosion against Kansas in 2011.
It was among the most decisive wins that Johnson has recorded in his 11-season tenure at Tech against FBS competition. Tech’s 66 points tied for the second most that the Jackets have scored against an FBS opponent under Johnson (68 points against North Carolina in 2012) and the 35-point differential was the sixth widest against an FBS team.
“We got beat, we got beat bad,” Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. “That’s as big of a loss as I’ve had as far as the scoreboard goes. We didn’t have any answers for their offense.”
Tech scored on its first nine offensive possessions, eight of them touchdowns, before kneeling down at game’s end. It followed a similarly efficient performance against Bowling Green last Saturday, when the Jackets scored nine touchdowns on their first 10 possessions before a kneel-down series.
“That’s probably the best string I’ve seen in 40 years of coaching,” said Johnson, whose coaching history includes four Division I-AA national championships at Georgia Southern (two as offensive coordinator and two as head coach) and other record-setting seasons at Hawaii, Navy, Georgia Southern and Tech.
Quarterback TaQuon Marshall was effective on his option reads, taking care of the ball and cutting upfield for gains. Marshall ran for 175 yards on 23 carries, scored twice and fumbled just once, on a mishandled mesh.
“Our quarterback was playing well and he was doing a nice job getting us in the right plays against the right fronts, and the kids played hard and executed,” Johnson said.
Marshall suffered a lower-body injury in the third quarter near the end of Tech’s second possession of the second half and left the game. He was cleared to return, but gave way to backup Tobias Oliver to carry out the remainder of the rout.
The Jackets fumbled once in 67 snaps and was penalized only four times. For the second game in a row, Tech did not turn the ball over, just the third time in Johnson’s tenure that Tech has gone turnover-free in consecutive games. Penalties and fumbles had factored heavily in Tech’s three-game losing streak.
“Offensively, if you don’t have penalties and you don’t have missed assignments, you’ve got a chance, and that’s kind of what we’ve eliminated not having the ball on the ground,” Johnson said.
With the win, Tech (3-3, 1-2 ACC) returned to .500 heading into the second half of the season, which will begin with a home game Oct. 13 against Duke. It also broke a six-game road losing streak and ended a three-game losing streak in ACC games. Tech also improved to 15-1 in its rotational crossover games against the Atlantic Division.
Tech had also come into the game with five losses in which it gave away double-digit leads. There was no such chance Friday night. Ahead 31-17 at halftime, the Jackets drove 79 yards for a touchdown on the first possession of the second half, eating almost seven minutes of the clock, then forced a fumble in Louisville’s end on the Cardinals’ ensuing possession, leading to another touchdown and a 45-17 edge.
“That kind of was lights out,” Johnson said.
Tech players and coaches had recognized the importance of the game for the sake of momentum and getting the record back to even. With a tough schedule over the remaining six games – three against teams in the AP top 25 – it was a big win for the Jackets to gain bowl eligibility.
Louisville (2-4, 0-3) was virtually powerless to stop Tech’s run game. It was undoubtedly a sweet outcome for coach Paul Johnson against Louisville defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who allegedly disparaged Johnson’s option offense when he became Georgia Southern’s coach before the 2006 season and bested the Jackets in 2015 as defensive coordinator at Notre Dame.
“They run the quick pitch, they run the trap, they run the trap option, they run triple option,” Petrino said. “Even the bunch formation late in the game where they ran the quarterback, we had practiced that, too, so it’s just a matter of we got out-executed and outplayed.”
The Cardinals were successful moving the ball in the first half after falling behind 21-0, closing the lead to 31-17 at halftime. Louisville gained 251 yards on only 34 plays through the first two quarters.
However, defensive coordinator Nate Woody’s unit did contribute more turnovers, adding three more for a season total of 13, three more than the Jackets created all of last season.
Defensive end Anree Saint-Amour continued his productive season with two forced fumbles – both recovered by Jack linebacker Charlie Thomas, who was making his first career start – to twice give the offense the ball in Louisville territory, once in the first quarter and once in the third. Both turnovers led to touchdowns.
“The good thing about the defense is we got some turnovers,” Johnson said.
Safety Juanyeh Thomas finished off Louisville with a 95-yard interception return for a touchdown, tied for the fourth longest interception return in school history.
More from Friday’s game:
Steve Hummer: All Tech does is score, and gallop past Louisville