With five offensive starters out, including quarterback Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech pulled off arguably the most unlikely win of coach Paul Johnson’s tenure Saturday. A 14-point underdog even before a pregame announcement that Thomas, center Freddie Burden and right tackle Andrew Marshall would not start, the Yellow Jackets stunned No. 14 Virginia Tech 30-20.
Playing before a Lane Stadium crowd prepared to celebrate an expected victory and their first ACC Coastal championship since 2011, the Hokies contributed to their demise with a slew of mistakes, including four turnovers.
Georgia Tech (6-4 overall, 3-4 ACC) took a 20-0 halftime advantage, led by the poised play of quarterback Matthew Jordan, who was making his first career start. The Jackets took advantage of the best field position of the season and scored on four of six possessions before halftime. Jordan delivered the play of the game, a 53-yard touchdown run midway through the second quarter that gave the Jackets a 13-0 lead and unsteadied the Hokies.
“It feels great,” Jordan said. “There’s no better feeling than winning.”
Virginia Tech (7-3, 5-2) has given the Jackets the most trouble of any ACC team since Johnson’s hire, but gave up 30 points to the Jackets for the first time in Johnson’s tenure. The Hokies had not given up a run play longer than 41 yards in 324 opponent carries before Saturday, but Georgia Tech hit them with Jordan’s 53-yarder and a 56-yard scoring run by B-back Marcus Marshall that elevated its lead to 30-7 with 9:16 to play and sent fans to the exits.
“I’ll say this, I think Paul Johnson did a really great job tonight,” Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “He was one step ahead of me.”
A week after giving up 636 yards of offense to North Carolina in a 48-20 defeat, Georgia Tech played its defensive best game of the season. Entering the game ranked 124th in FBS with eight sacks, the Jackets employed effective blitz pressure and sacked quarterback Jerod Evans five times. Defensive tackle Patrick Gamble was particularly successful in collapsing the pocket. Evans threw two interceptions, both to cornerback Lawrence Austin, matching Evans’ season total from the Hokies’ first nine games.
Tech played without starters Thomas, Burden, Andrew Marshall, A-back J.J. Green, and B-back Dedrick Mills, all of whom except Mills were out with injuries. Mills served the first half of a two-game suspension for breaking team rules. Thomas, Burden and Marshall dressed but did not play.
That’s the team’s best player (Thomas), probably the most consistent offensive lineman (Burden), most important running back (Mills), best blocking A-back (Green) and Marshall, perhaps the most consistent offensive tackle. The Jackets started three first-year freshmen on the offensive line, which Johnson said he could not remember happening in his career.
Before Saturday, Georgia Tech’s largest upset by measure of point spread in Johnson’s tenure was its 2014 win over Georgia, when the Jackets were 10.5-point favorites. By ESPN’s metrics, the Hokies had a 73.9 percent probability of winning.
“We were able to find enough ways,” Johnson said. “We hit some big plays and found a way to get it done.”
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