6 notes from Georgia Tech’s win over N.C. State

Georgia Tech quarterback James Graham (4) celebrates the victory over North Carolina State at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Thursday, November 21, 2019. Georgia Tech won 28-26. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)



Georgia Tech quarterback James Graham (4) celebrates the victory over North Carolina State at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Thursday, November 21, 2019. Georgia Tech won 28-26. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

1. Brown ties Megatron

With two catches in the end zone, freshman wide receiver Ahmarean Brown tied Calvin Johnson’s school record for most touchdown receptions by a freshman, with seven. Brown caught a 17-yarder from quarterback James Graham on the game’s opening drive and an 11-yarder in the second quarter.

“Even though he’s got amazing physical skills, it’s the character piece and the work-ethic piece that, moving forward, is really going to set him apart with big-time elite receivers in college football,” coach Geoff Collins said. “And I think he’s working his way to becoming one of those.”

Brown’s seven touchdown receptions rank second nationally among freshmen.

2. Big day for Domineck

Redshirt freshman defensive end Jordan Domineck made one of the big plays of the game, stopping running back Zonovan Knight on a fourth-and-2 from the Tech 10-yard line on the Wolfpack’s opening drive.

Domineck beat right tackle Bryson Speas at the snap to penetrate the backfield and bring down Knight, running out of a wildcat formation, behind the line of scrimmage.

Domineck finished with a career-high 10 tackles. Domineck didn’t play in five of Tech’s first six games, but has started the past two games.

Collins commented on the maturity that Domineck has started to show and the work that defensive ends/outside linebackers coach Marco Coleman has done with him.

“How far he’s come in just a two-month period of time is really amazing,” Collins said.

For what it’s worth, the fourth-and-2 was set up by a solid tackle by linebacker Charlie Thomas on a crossing route on wide receiver Emeka Emezie on third-and-5, stopping him short of the sticks.

3. Defensive numbers

N.C. State’s 457 yards of offense, remarkably, is four fewer than Virginia Tech gained Saturday against the Jackets. (The Wolfpack gained in them 80 plays, while the Hokies needed only 61.) It was also more yards (and higher yards per play) than N.C. State had gained against any power-conference opponent.

The Wolfpack also were 7-for-15 on third downs and converted two of the failed third-down conversion attempts on fourth down, where they were 2-for-3.

N.C. State also did not commit a turnover on offense, its only lost possession on the muffed punt return in the second quarter.

The Wolfpack did most of their damage after halftime, gaining 278 yards on 39 plays (7.1 yards) when they had accumulated 179 yards on 41 plays (4.4 yards) in the first half.

“They decided to just get big on big, and it just comes down to guys getting off blocks and then guys will to want to get off blocks,” linebacker David Curry said. “That’s something that we, me as a leader of the defense, tried to instill in everybody on the defense: ‘Hey, guys, they want to get big, they want to run the ball on us. We’ve got to be able to stop it. Let’s get downhill and get off blocks.’ But, I mean, credit to them, they were good at what they did.”

4. Better defending the red zone

Where Tech held up was in the red zone. In five trips, the Wolfpack were stopped on downs once, kicked two field goals and scored two touchdowns.

The Jackets rank 23rd nationally in red-zone defense, with opponents scoring on 76.79 percent of red-zone possessions.

“It’s just a pride thing for us,” Curry said. “Every single snap, we’re like, bow your back, bow your back. But when you get down there, there’s a sense, you really take pride on, keep ’em out of the end zone, keep ’em out of the end zone.”

There was Domineck and Thomas’ aforementioned plays in the first quarter to quell a N.C. State red-zone possession.

In the second quarter, the Wolfpack earned a first-and-goal from the 5. On second down, Tech defensive tackle Djimon Brooks got in the backfield to blow up a run to the right edge by running back Ricky Person, forcing him back, where cornerback Tre Swilling and linebacker Charlie Thomas brought him down for a 12-yard loss. (Earlier on the drive, the umpire impeded with an N.C. State running back to limit a run play.)

A screen pass got N.C. State back to the 3, from where the Wolfpack kicked a field goal.

Tech recorded six tackles for loss, giving the Jackets 57 for the season, or 5.2 per game. It’s not an enormous average – it’s actually 99th in FBS – but it’s higher than any Tech team’s season-ending rate since 2013.

5. Carter turning it up

Wide receiver Malachi Carter’s 54-yard catch to open the game was the longest of his career. He caught another pass from Graham on a pass down the middle for 18.

Carter has caught passes in three consecutive games after going without a catch in the previous three. He has 15 catches for 215 yards this season.

“He’s gotten better every single week,” Collins said.

The deep ball to Carter on the first play from scrimmage had been in the works.

“It was just executing the play,” Graham said. “We knew what they were going to come out and do, so we just executed what we did in practice.”

Quarterback-turner-receiver Tobias Oliver also had a catch, a 13-yarder in the second quarter for his first touchdown reception. Oliver joined a small club of Tech players who have thrown, caught and run for a touchdown. Others include TaQuon Marshall, Taylor Bennett and Joe Hamilton.

“With ‘T.O.’ coming from quarterback to receiver, we’ve been excited, just waiting for him to get this first touchdown at this point,” Carter said. “And he’s been working really hard, too. Seeing him get that touchdown is just great for everybody.”

6. Mason pounds it out

On Tech’s final drive that consumed the final 5:17, the Jackets ran eight plays before the game-ending kneel-down, and seven of them were runs by Jordan Mason that gained a total of 31 yards. He finished the game with 22 carries for 141 yards, tying his career high.

The clincher was on a third-and-1 from the Tech 49 with 2:09 to play and N.C. State down to one timeout. The Wolfpack stacked the line with six defenders and two linebackers behind them.

Mason ran between center William Lay and left guard Jack DeFoor, but nose tackle Alim McNeill and linebacker Isaiah Moore were in the gap. Mason slipped off of them and bounced the run to the left for a 5-yard gain to ice the game.

“The only thing going through my head was run the ball like ‘Beast Mode,’” said Mason, referring to the nickname of former all-pro running back Marshawn Lynch. “When someone trusts you with the ball, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to be trusted. I just give it to the O-line. They did their thing, and they get me to the second level and I just do my thing.”

Mason also hit a 48-yarder in the first quarter when DeFoor and left tackle Zach Quinney walled off the interior, tight end Tyler Davis and right guard Mikey Minihan pulled and locked up the play-side defensive end and linebacker, and Carter provided a downfield block. It was Tech’s longest run of the season.

7. Winning field position

Average starting field position was in Tech’s favor for only the second time this season (the other was against The Citadel). Tech’s average drive start was at its 29. N.C. State’s was at its 23.

Ahmarean Brown’s fair catch of a punt at the 50 late in the first quarter ended a streak of 31 consecutive Tech drives that had begun inside its own territory, 23 of them at its 25 or behind. In the same span, Tech opponents had started eight possessions in Jackets territory, not counting an interception returned by Virginia Tech for a touchdown.

Late in the second quarter, Tech did even better when Jaytlin Askew recovered a fumbled punt return at the N.C. State 31.

Both the drive that began at midfield and other that started at the Wolfpack 31 were converted into touchdowns.

Further, all of N.C. State’s drives began inside its 40 and seven of the 11 began at the 25 or inside.