Tech beat for big pass plays in victory over Georgia Southern

Ted Roof warned his players what was coming.

Georgia Tech’s defensive coordinator noted that while Georgia Southern is an option team that doesn’t pass much, the Eagles like to go long when they do.

“They’re throwing home run balls, so our secondary has to do a great job of defending the deep ball and tackling in space this week,” Roof said in the days before Tech faced Southern.

Sure enough, the Eagles launched their second-half comeback through the air on Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium, and Tech’s defensive backs appeared helpless to stop it. The Yellow Jackets won 42-38 in spite of its shaky pass coverage.

Southern had four passing plays of 20 or more yards while rallying from a 35-10 second-half deficit. Those four plays accounted for 162 of the Eagles’ 245 passing yards.

“We’ve got to play the ball better,” Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “On the long passes, it wasn’t like (the defensive backs) were really beat badly. They just misjudged the ball.”

Allowing so many long passes would be discouraging for the Jackets no matter the opponent. It was especially troublesome against the Eagles.

Until this season, Southern played in the FCS and ran a version of the triple-option that Johnson uses at Tech. When Willie Fritz took over as coach earlier this year, one of his first tasks was figuring out if he had players who could throw and catch.

The Eagles certainly looked capable in the air against Tech. Quarterback Kevin Ellison was 7-for-10 for 164 yards and a 68-yard touchdown, and backup Favian Upshaw was 6-for-12 for 81 yards.

“We’ve got great receivers,” Ellison said. “Those guys do a great job of attacking the football. It’s great knowing you have receivers out there you can rely on and you feel comfortable throwing to them in any situation in the game.”

The Eagles completed 14 passes in their first two games, but those plays averaged 22.3 yards. Ellison had thrown touchdown passes for 38 and 29 yards, and backup Upshaw had tossed a 43-yard score.

After Ellison ran 32 yards for a touchdown on the first drive of the third quarter, the Eagles used long passes to score on their next three possessions.

Ellison’s 43-yard completion to Kentrellis Showers set up Matt Breida’s 2-yard touchdown run that trimmed the lead to 35-24. Ellison’s 68-yard touchdown pass to B.J. Johnson pulled Southern within 35-30. And Ellison’s 28-yard pass to Breida led to L.A. Ramsby’s go-ahead touchdown run.

The Eagles faced a third-and-10 at their 15-yard line when Upshaw completed a 23-yard pass to Showers. The Eagles advanced to Tech’s 24-yard line before Upshaw fumbled an option pitch and the Jackets went on to score the game-winning touchdown.

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