Quarterback TaQuon Marshall was getting the ball dealt smartly in the option and cutting sharply to run downfield. The A-backs were blocking downfield and getting the edge on option pitches. The ball was fumbled only once, and there was only one penalty called on the offense, and that was after a touchdown.
“I think one of the improvements we’ve made is being on the same page as an offense,” left guard Parker Braun said. “So not separated by position groups, I think we’re all sort of thinking as one, all 11 of us. That’s really been a big help.”
Tech’s third touchdown drive of the game was an example. On Tech’s nine-play, 76-yard drive, Louisville showed the Jackets at least three different defensive fronts, but the Jackets had answers for each.
Braun and right guard Connor Hansen led on pulls. Marshall used his explosiveness to outrace defenders on the edge. A-back Qua Searcy took advantage of textbook blocking on a counter option to gash the Cardinals for a 25-yard gain. Tech didn’t get to third down until the ninth play of the drive, when B-back Jordan Mason ran low and hard between blocks from Braun and center Jahaziel Lee for a two-yard touchdown run and a 21-0 lead with three seconds left in the first quarter.
“We were just changing up the blocking schemes by the fronts,” coach Paul Johnson said. “When we had to pitch it, we pitched it. When they put everybody inside, we tossed it outside. And when the quarterback does that, it’s hard to play (against) if you’re not making mistakes.”
Steve Hummer: All Tech does is score, and gallop past Louisville
Big day for Marshall
Marshall was highly effective making checks at the line to change plays and then making decisions in the option.
“Our quarterback was playing well and he was doing a nice job getting us in the right plays against the right fronts, and the kids played hard and executed,” Johnson said.
Figuring out the right call for the multiple fronts that Louisville showed was an elemental facet of Tech’s offensive success. Tech only had two plays for loss out of 67 offensive snaps.
“We did a good job at practice this week and we knew going into the game they were going to throw a little bit of wrinkles at us defensively, so that’s one of the things we harped on all week,” Marshall said. “As long as we’re all on the same page, everything would go fine, so I think that’s part of it. ‘P.B.’ (Braun) does a good job of giving me the calls and the stuff. The tackles do a good job of making everything vocal. So I think that’s one of the main reasons we’re always on the same page.”
Marshall has been on top of his game the past two games, first Bowling Green and now Louisville. It wasn’t so long ago that fans were calling for backup Tobias Oliver and offering enough criticism that Marshall felt the need to take his social-media apps off his phone to separate himself from it.
“I’m feeling (physically) good,” said Marshall, who suffered a lower-body injury in the third quarter and left the game but could have returned.. “I know, going into the game, I told coach (Johnson), I said, ‘This is probably the best I’ve felt since week one.’ I’m actually feeling pretty good.”
Takeaways tilt game
Tech’s defense had an uneven performance. The Jackets came out breathing fire, with a fourth-down stop, a turnover and three-and-out in Louisville’s first three possessions, doing their part to build a 21-0 lead by the end of the first quarter.
However, defensive coordinator Nate Woody’s unit gave up 17 points in the final three drives of the half to permit Louisville to close to within 31-17 at halftime. It was enough, perhaps, give Tech fans a feeling of dread, having seen no shortage of teams make second-half comeback on the Jackets. In that stretch, Louisville quarterback Jawon Pass was 10-for-15 for 148 yards and a touchdown.
But, the Jackets came up with two momentum-changing plays, the first on the first turnover. On a swing pass to the sideline, defensive end Anree Saint-Amour chased the play after an unsuccessful pass rush, forcing a fumble of running back Trey Smith that was recovered by Jack linebacker Charlie Thomas, who was also pursuing the play after rushing the quarterback.
The turnover gave Tech the ball back on the Louisville 36-yard line, setting up Tech’s second touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
In the third quarter, the Jackets were trying to flip the momentum that Louisville had gained with its 17-point rush in the second quarter. After Tech drove for a touchdown on the opening possession, Saint-Amour impacted the game again, dislodging the ball loose from running back Javian Hawkins as he spun him to the ground on the third play of the next series. Thomas, a freshman making his first start, recovered again to give the Jackets the ball on the Louisville 34.
On a night when the offense was incendiary, two takeaways was more than enough, and a glimpse of what Woody was hired from Appalachian State to do. Tech added a third with a pick-six interception by safety Juanyeh Thomas in the fourth quarter when the game was well out of reach.
“That’s what we’re hoping for, and that’s what we’re practicing for,” said Saint-Amour, who collected six tackles, one sack, two forced fumbles and a quarterback hurry in another superior performance. “That’s what we came into as a defense.”
Road woes end
Players were quite happy to end their six-game road losing streak.
“Man, it feels good,” Saint-Amour said. “It feels great to finally win on the road.”
Tech had lost last season to Miami, Clemson, Virginia and Duke last season and then South Florida and Pittsburgh this season. Each had its own bitter taste. Four of the six – those except Clemson and Duke –were results that players believed could well have been Tech wins.
“Honestly, the thing that gets me excited the most is that we ended that losing streak on the road,” Searcy said. “I’m happy for the guys, happy for the team. It just feels good. We’ve just got to build on it from here on out.”
While the game was a rout, it became that way when Tech didn’t let up and came up with big plays. Failure to keep after opponents had been the Jackets’ demise throughout the losing streak.
Tech’s last road win was at Georgia in November 2016.
“That was my sophomore year,” said Marshall, now a senior. “It’s been a long journey – just the little things that have been killing us on the road. And I think us getting this win shows everyone, including ourselves, that it can be done.”
No. 1 kicker
Tech appears to have found a kicker in walk-on Wesley Wells. The freshman was called on just once, but put a 40-yard try right through the pipes in the second quarter. It was the first field-goal try of his career, and he also made all nine of his extra-point tries. Wells won the placekicking job in a three-way competition prior to the Bowling Green game, then secured it with a 9-for-9 performance on point-after tries in that game.
“He’s my kind of kicker,” Johnson said of Wells. “He’s just goofy and doesn’t care. I don’t think it bothers him. He doesn’t get too excited. He just kind of goes about his business and kicks.”
To that point, Tech was 1-for-4 on field-goal tries, although two of the tries were from 50 and 52 yards.