In a discouraging loss, Georgia Tech did find at least one positive to take home from Raymond James Stadium. Sent into the game to sub for quarterback TaQuon Marshall with his team trailing, backup Tobias Oliver did not retreat from the moment in the Yellow Jackets’ 49-38 loss Saturday to South Florida.
“I was super proud of him,” Marshall said. “I was telling him on the sideline how good of a job he was doing.”
Oliver, a redshirt freshman playing in the second game of his career, finished with 18 carries for 97 yards and three touchdowns.
“(Coach Paul Johnson) just had confidence in me,” Oliver said. “I can’t thank him enough for having confidence. The guys up front, they blocked like crazy.”
Oliver’s time arrived when Marshall hurt his big toe on Tech’s first possession of the second half, when the Yellow Jackets were down 21-17. Taking over at the USF 39, Oliver kept the ball on five consecutive run plays, scoring from the 5-yard line.
“I think fresh legs definitely had something to do with it,” Oliver said. “The guys had been out there all day.”
While Marshall was cleared to return, Johnson elected to stay with Oliver on the next series, and the redshirt freshman proved worthy of his confidence. With Tech trailing 28-24 after a USF touchdown drive, Oliver led the offense on a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to reclaim the lead at 31-28 with 4:22 remaining in the third quarter.
All nine plays were runs, with Oliver keeping on six of them, including a 1-yard sneak for a score on third-and-goal from the USF 1.
Oliver showed a willingness to quickly turn upfield and ran through tackles. Tech stuck with a tight formation, and Johnson called a series of option plays for Oliver. On Tech’s radio broacast, analyst Sean Bedford expressed his approval.
“He looks like a pro out there,” Bedford said.
Oliver went back for the next series, started with 2:27 left in the third quarter, and again got the Jackets into the end zone with a seven-play, 74-yard drive, again all runs. B-back Jordan Mason, who himself was in the game after starter KirVonte Benson left the game in the first half with a lower-body injury, contributed a 46-yard run. Oliver finished the drive by getting in on fourth-and-goal from the USF 1-yard line, helping Tech go up 38-28 with 14:15 left in the fourth quarter. A week ago, Oliver was short on a fourth-and-goal from the 1 against Alcorn State.
“I just refused to be stopped this week,” he said. “I can’t let that happen again. The guys up front got a good push and I got in.”
Oliver was finally relieved on the following possession, when Tech faced a third-and-9 on its 40-yard line. Johnson put Marshall, a better passer, back in the game, and he converted with a 21-yard pass to A-back Clinton Lynch. Marshall stayed in the game for a drive that ended with a turnover, A-back Qua Searcy’s fumble.
Such was Oliver’s performance that the question was raised to Johnson about if he considered sending Oliver back in on the ensuing possession with the score 42-38 in USF’s favor and 5:08 remaining. Johnson said he did not.
“There was nothing TaQuon did except convert a third-and-9,” Johnson said. “I mean, he’s not the guy who fumbled the ball over there going in.”