Part of the intrigue in Power Five programs scheduling FCS teams is the opportunity to rest starters and get younger players on the field for the first time.
Unfortunately for Georgia Tech last weekend at Bobby Dodd Stadium, that opportunity seemed largely in question leading to the game -- and in the first half.
As one of the top FCS schools in the country, Jacksonville State figured to give Tech a fight on Saturday. Combining that with the Yellow Jackets coming off a heartbreaking loss just five days earlier, the assumed cupcake game of the year looked like a lose-lose situation.
However, a string of Gamecocks’ turnovers blew the game open and allowed new faces to join those on the field who already had made an impact.
“I thought they did OK,” Johnson said of the younger players. “Jerry (Howard) had a nice run, and some of the other guys did OK. Bruce (Jordan-Swilling) and T.D. (Roof) finally got to play some defense and ran a couple blitzes, and T.D. got a couple sacks, so it was good. Some of the other younger guys at least got in, so it was a start.”
Howard and Roof made the biggest splash of the freshmen who saw the field. At B-back, Howard came first. With Tech leading 23-7 in the third quarter, he trotted onto the field for the first time, and his opening carry went for a loss of a yard. But his next one put him in light with the most noteworthy B-back in Johnson’s tenure -- Jonathan Dwyer. Howard hit a hole up the middle and took it 65 yards to the house, giving him the longest run by a freshman at his position since Dwyer in 2007.
“Thanks to the offensive line for getting me great looks, and I just saw a wide-open hole and hit it as hard as I can,” Howard said. “I was a little nervous, but coach Johnson and everybody prepared us to go out there whenever your name is called and play like you’re supposed to.”
He finished with six carries for 82 yards. Against a tough JSU front seven that gave starting B-back KirVonte Benson and quarterback TaQuon Marshall challenges all day, Howard said he knew he would take some hard hits, but “could handle it.” Tough competition in South Carolina helped prepare him, but he also credited the scout team for getting him ready for the moment.
On Jacksonville Sate’s final possession, Roof made his first big mark at linebacker. After he was used on special teams against Tennessee and early versus the Gamecocks, Roof made the most of his first chance on defense. He recorded sacks on the first and third plays of the drive to give the Jackets five for the day.
“Honestly, I don’t really remember,” Roof said about his first play. “It was just a great moment. And I’m just really excited and happy about it … happy to start my career in a good way.”
Roof lined up next to Jordan-Swilling on the possession, showcasing a glimpse into the potential future at linebacker.
“Pretty special,” Roof said about playing with Jordan-Swilling for the first time. “A couple generation kids. He’s a great player, and I look forward to playing the next three years with that guy.”
Marshall, who’s still in some ways a new face getting his first chance at starting this season, enjoyed being able to sit back and watch some of the younger players make their first impact on the Flats.
“It was awesome seeing Jerry hit the hole real fast and then get his first touchdown,” Marshall said. “I was running behind him with my hands in the air celebrating before he even got to the end zone. And it was nice seeing T.D. get out there and make a big sack. It’s always awesome being able to see the young guys get out there and play in their first collegiate game.”
Though he’s not a freshman, Brentavious Glanton got his first career start at defensive tackle as a sophomore. Filling in for the injured Kyle Cerge-Henderson, Glanton helped show that depth at defensive tackle should no longer be a concern after Tech lost talent there in 2016.
“I feel like I was in pretty good shape,” Glanton said about his performance. “I feel like I can work on my pad level and getting extension. I was trying to get off the blocks too fast and make a play rather than getting my hands inside extended and then getting off, which would make it a whole lot easier for me.”
He didn’t get credit for any of the sacks, but Glanton’s push inside helped generate pressure that led to Tech’s pass defense having a good day. Anree Saint-Amour finished with two sacks and directly credited Glanton’s help inside for one of them.
Sophomore defensive tackle Brandon Adams also impressed with a highlight play that didn’t surprise Glanton. On the play, Adams broke through the line and delivered a bruising hit to running back Tramel Terry.
“Man, I knew Brandon could move like that,” Glanton said. “I’ll guarantee you Brandon Adams will probably be in the (NFL) draft one day. (He’s) one of the biggest, fastest guys I’ve ever seen. He’s big, but he can move quick and fast, it doesn’t matter.”
Though Tech’s game in Orlando against Central Florida was canceled for Saturday, Glanton and the rest of the defensive line don’t plan to slack off during their time off as they prepare for Pittsburgh.
“We’ll come in and get some film in on Friday, and more than likely we’ll come get some in Saturday morning,” Glanton said Wednesday. “Get some extra film in because that jet sweep is pretty hard to stop. You’ve got to make sure everybody is containing and being at home and make sure they take care of their gap.”
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