Jackets permit opening-possesssion touchdown again

AJC photo by Hyosub Shin

Georgia Tech’s troubling trend for allowing touchdowns on the opening possession of the game continued Saturday. After taking possession for its first series, Miami needed only eight plays to cover 85 yards and get to the end zone to take a 7-0 lead with 6:17 to play in the first quarter.

The Hurricanes were the fourth consecutive team to score on their opening drive, following Mercer, Vanderbilt and Clemson. Saturday, Miami running back Mark Walton finished the drive by running 27 yards through the right side of the line for the score. It was the first run of 20 yards or more that the Yellow Jackets had given up since the first game of the season.

“I feel like we played well,” defensive tackle Patrick Gamble said. “We’ve just got to start faster.”

Down 7-0, Tech never led the rest of the game and fell to 18-31 when the opponent has scored first in coach Paul Johnson’s tenure.

The opening-drive touchdowns were a concern for coaches leading up to the game. Tuesday, defensive coordinator Ted Roof said that the staff invested a lot of time trying to solve the problem. Johnson tried to get ahead of the trend by making the rare decision to receive the opening kickoff after winning the coin toss rather than defer.

“I thought I’d try to see if we could get ahead,” Johnson said.

It was for naught, as the Jackets punted on their opening drive and gave Miami the ball on its 15-yard line. Tech positioned itself to get off the field twice but squandered both. On a 1st-and-10 from the Miami 26, cornerback Lance Austin was in position to intercept quarterback Brad Kaaya, but the ball went through his hands and wide receiver Stacy Coley made a 25-yard reception.

“It was right in front of me,” Johnson said. “How our guy missed that and their guy caught it, I have no idea.”

Later in the drive, cornerback Lawrence Austin and defensive end Rod Rook-Chungong stopped Walton for a two-yard loss on a 1st-and-10 run from the Tech 38. However, on 2nd-and-12, Kaaya passed to running back Joe Yearby on a checkdown, and Yearby slipped a tackle attempt for a 13-yard gain and a first down.

Walton scored on the next play for a 7-0 lead.

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