In opener, young Georgia Tech defenders take lead role
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
September 1, 2018 Atlanta - Georgia Tech defensive back Kaleb Oliver (40) and Georgia Tech running back KirVonte Benson (30) celebrate their 41-0 victory over the Alcorn State during the Georgia Tech home opener at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday, September 1, 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Georgia Tech redshirt freshman safety Kaleb Oliver was OK with having his touchdown off an interception called back because of a holding call.
“I was still pretty ecstatic because it was my first collegiate game,” Oliver said. “I was happy to just get an interception in my first collegiate interception.”
In the Yellow Jackets’ 41-0 win over Alcorn State on Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium, experiences such as Oliver’s were the order for the day. Defensive end Antwan Owens, who tied with Oliver and linebacker David Curry for the team high in tackles, with four, is a sophomore who got perhaps his most significant playing time Saturday.
The starting lineup included another redshirt freshman, cornerback Tre Swilling. Freshman cornerback Zamari Walton made a play that could have been big, positioning himself to intercept an Alcorn State pass that he could have returned for a touchdown but that he was unable to catch. Two sophomores started, cornerback Jaytlin Askew and strong safety Tariq Carpenter.
On a day when the entire defense was taking its first steps in new defensive coordinator Nate Woody’s scheme, a number of Jackets players did so with plenty of games ahead of them.
“I feel like the only way is up with this new defense,” Oliver said. “It’s really fast, really aggressive. I feel like the only thing we can do is get better.”
Part of the reason so many younger players were on the field was that Woody rotated backups into the game frequently. Another is that the defensive players recruited in the past couple classes appear stocked with playmakers.
“We’ve got a lot of freshmen playing,” linebacker Brant Mitchell said. “They came in and they performed just like we expect them to. We put just as much emphasis on our second, third string as do our first.”
Tech played no fewer than nine defensive players who were part of Tech’s 2018 signing class – cornerbacks Jaylon King and Walton, linebackers Jordan Domineck, Justice Dingle, Charlie Thomas and Quez Jackson, safety Juanyeh Thomas and linemen T.K. Chimedza and Quon Griffin. Given coach Paul Johnson’s comments on his strategy regarding playing freshmen, who now can play up to four games and still redshirt, it’s likely that group will be expected to contribute all season.
Woody intends to play backups in a rotation. The strategy has at least two benefits. One, it keeps players fresh and able to play faster. Two, it’s giving more players experience.
“It’s very important because of how fast we’re running, how much we have to chase the ball,” Curry said. “You can’t expect a d-lineman to run from the left hash all the way to the sideline, then stay in the game if they get first down after first down. You’ve got to have guys ready to go so we like to rotate a lot.”
Ken Sugiura is a sports columnist at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Formerly the Georgia Tech beat reporter, Sugiura started at the AJC in 1998 and has covered a variety of beats, mostly within sports.