Georgia Tech running game looks to rebound

Georgia Tech running back KirVonte Benson (30) eludes a tackle by Wake Forest defensive back Jessie Bates III (3) in the first half of an NCAA college football game at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday, October 21, 2017. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Georgia Tech running back KirVonte Benson (30) eludes a tackle by Wake Forest defensive back Jessie Bates III (3) in the first half of an NCAA college football game at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday, October 21, 2017. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM



More often than not, the productivity of the Georgia Tech rushing attack — and the offense as a whole — is determined by the success up the middle.

When the B-back is gaining consistent yardage on dives, traps or bellies, the Yellow Jackets become hard to stop. The key to stopping Tech’s option is getting it behind the chains on early downs. That all comes down to limiting the B-back.

Virginia was able to do that Saturday at Scott Stadium as the Cavaliers pulled out a 40-36 win over Georgia Tech. KirVonte Benson has been a steady source of tough yardage up the middle all season, but the sophomore B-back had one of his tougher games of the season against the big Virginia front. He managed just 63 yards on 17 carries — an average of 3.7 per carry, which is his second worst showing behind Jacksonville State.

Even through tough losses and a couple of fumble issues, Benson has been as optimistic and encouraged as any Tech player that has spoken to media this season. He kept that tone this week as the Jackets prepare for Virginia Tech on Saturday afternoon at Bobby Dodd Stadium, but even he had frustration seep through his voice about Saturday’s loss.

“They did a lot of slanting,” Benson said about Virginia’s defense making it tough on him. “It’s something we prepare for, but they ran it to perfection. A lot of mental mistakes on the offensive side that we need to correct … but it’s nothing that we haven’t seen, nothing we haven’t faced. We’ve just got to do our job.”

The opposing defense shutting down the B-back often is a recipe for disaster. That’s mostly been the case this season. Though Tech came away with a win, Jacksonville State held Benson to 11 carries for 26 yards. The 210 total yards rushing were the second lowest behind 198 versus Clemson. The Jackets’ defense ended up saving the day by shutting down the Gamecocks, and three passing touchdowns from TaQuon Marshall conserved a comfortable win.

Benson next struggled against Miami, though an injury had a large part to do with his final numbers. He finished with 40 yards, and once he came out of the game, the production from B-back completely disappeared as Tech failed to move the ball in nasty conditions as it dropped its second game.

He had the only success on offense in the loss to Clemson, finishing with 129 of the 198 rushing yards. But a week later, Virginia gave Tech its fourth loss as Benson was stifled.

“It was frustrating,” he said. “Being one of the offensive threats, we’ve got to be able to run the ball. That’s something we didn’t do on Saturday, but we’ve got to come back from it and get (win) number five.”

Benson and Marshall’s numbers came in tandem the first six games of the season. Marshall’s only two games with less than 100 yards rushing were also against Jacksonville State and Miami before he couldn’t find room against the stout Clemson defense. Against Virginia, Marshall ran 29 times for 143 yards and found room on the outside, especially on a counter play that Tech has used well recently.

“It’s tough because me and KirVonte like to feed off of each other,” Marshall said. “I thought he got going good later in the game, and he still put the team on his back getting tough yards. It’s tough running in between the tackles with those big guys up front.”

With Benson unable to move the chains himself and Tech falling into long-yardage situations, Marshall had to pass more than usual against Virginia. And for the third time this season on the road, rain created bad conditions.

“I think TaQuon has been really good in the running game,” Johnson said. “He’s had the unfortunate misfortune of all three of the games we’ve had to really throw the ball or come from behind have been less than ideal weather conditions. And I think we can do better there. I think he’d be the first guy to tell you that. But I also realize that it wasn’t the easiest conditions.”

Even with the frustration levels rising, Benson said he and the team have already moved past the loss with a focused week of practice, and he’s looking forward to “getting wins five, six and hopefully seven.”

“Our goal is to win every home game,” Benson said. “Home crowd … it’s going to be a great atmosphere. They’re coming into our house coming off a loss from last year, so they’re going to be hungry. But we’re going to be more hungry than ever, because this is where we want to make our stand right now.”