- By Ken Sugiura
Georgia Tech B-back Jordan Mason said he saw teammate KirVonte Benson on Monday night in their dormitory. Mason had already heard word that Benson might be out for the season with a knee injury suffered in the South Florida game, but dismissed it.
“But I was coming downstairs from my room and he was walking in with some crutches, and I was like, Yikes,” Mason said. “He was like, ‘Yeah, man, it’s your turn. It’s your time to shine.’”
That’s not how Mason wanted to become the Yellow Jackets’ starting B-back. But the responsibility of being the principal running back in Tech’s run-oriented offense now shifts to the redshirt freshman from Gallatin, Tenn. Coach Paul Johnson said Tuesday that Benson is out for the season with a knee injury and will undergo surgery next week. Tech opens ACC play Saturday at Pittsburgh.
“I’ve got to fill a big spot from him,” Mason said. “How many yards did he have (last season)? I know he had over 1,000, so I’ve got to step up.”
Benson did indeed gain 1,053 yards last season in the Jackets’ 11-game season, finishing fourth in the ACC at 95.7 yards per game. With his ability to run through tackles and drag defenders, Benson has been a back who hasn’t needed for plays to be blocked cleanly to pick up yards, and has had sprinter speed on top of it. He earned second-team All-ACC honors last season as a result.
Just two games into his career, Mason now can show that he, too, can be a playmaker for the Jackets.
“He’s a big back that can run the ball,” quarterback TaQuon Marshall said of Mason. “He runs tough, just like KirVonte does.”
Listed at 6-foot-1 and 212 pounds, Mason is bigger than Benson (5-foot-9, 208 pounds), who used his lower center of gravity to great effect. Mason is learning on the job, but has shown a willingness to use his size as a ballcarrier and blocker. In three quarters of play against South Florida after Benson left the game, he ran 13 times for 95 yards, often driving hard into defenders to gain extra yards. On a 46-yard run in the third quarter, he took a pitch from quarterback Tobias Oliver, stiff-armed one defender to the turf, slipped out of another tackle try around his shoulders and eluded a diving attempt that finally squeezed him out of bounds.
Mason also started the season opener against Alcorn State as Benson was held out for a quarter for violating a minor team rule. Mason gained 85 yards on 11 carries with a touchdown in that game.
Johnson has said Mason has played well and expects him to get better.
It’s unrelated, but while speaking to media Tuesday, he clarified that his name is not Jordan Ponchez-Mason, as the team identified him last year. Ponchez is his middle name.
“Somehow in the mix, somebody got Ponchez-Mason as my last name, and it’s just Mason,” he said.
On Saturday, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Pitt defends Tech in such a way as to invite Marshall and Johnson to give the ball to Mason. In last year’s Pitt game, a 35-17 Tech win, Benson ran 29 times for 196 yards, both career highs. Chances are that Jerry Howard, who was the backup to Benson last season as a freshman but lost the No. 2 job to Mason in the preseason, will see more playing time, too.
Mason is well aware that he’ll now be the focus of opposing defenses.
“So now people are going to start looking at me,” he said. “So I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do, basically.”