Tech rings up third victory, readies for Clemson

On the very first play of Saturday, Georgia Tech, having crunched the numbers and the video and concluded that the Vanderbilt linebacker does not equal the Yellow Jackets B-back, struck for an 81-yard catch-and-run touchdown.

After the very last play, Georgia Tech had quite the frolic, playing with an interactive victory trophy that basically none of them knew existed.

Exclaimed an exultant Paul Johnson: “Guess what? I got a fever! And the only prescription is more cowbell!”

No, of course, he didn’t say that. You think Paul Johnson does old Saturday Night Live skits for his postgame?

What he did say when asked about the silver cowbell that was rescued from obscurity just in time to mark this young season’s third victory was this:

“We clanged it. Seems like every game has a trophy. I’m glad we’re able to keep the cowbell here for a long time. They had a hard time finding it.” Already this season, Tech has won a crystal football in Ireland and now the cowbell. What next? A Dabo Swinney bobblehead if it beats Clemson Thursday night? This team is collecting more tchotchkes than your great aunt.

OK, one last thing about the cowbell: It was once a staple of a Tech-Vandy rivalry that dated to 1924 but was pretty much forgotten once the Yellow Jackets left the SEC in 1964. It was unearthed only this week in a Georgia Tech office cabinet, its quirky history refreshed by Andy Demetra in a Ramblinwreck.com story.

What it all amounted to Saturday was a very glad time for Georgia Tech football, perhaps the gladdest of the season. In between the explosive play and the faint sound of one bell clanging there was a 38-7 victory that contained just about all the positives the Yellow Jackets could have requested in advance of a much tougher game in just five days.

Johnson will tell you that there is no idyllic way to prepare for a Thursday night game — any Thursday night game, not just one against last season’s national championship runner-up. “It’s hard for the kids. I don’t know that it’s fair to them, if you want to know the truth,” he said.

But with Clemson coming so soon, drawn to the bright lights of a night game in Atlanta and anxious to distinguish itself, the Yellow Jackets composed the most encouraging possible prelude Saturday against Vanderbilt.

On offense, all the moving parts of the Yellow Jackets’ option were more smooth and synchronized than at any other point this season. Big plays abounded, not just one, but two pass hook-ups to running backs that went 75-plus yards. So blessed are they with options in the backfield that B-back Marcus Marshall ran all those yards on the first-play touchdown and then essentially went into witness protection the rest of the game.

“I think from Game One to this point right here, night and day it’s a lot better,” Tech quarterback Justin Thomas said. “People are communicating more, coming off the ball better and I think as a whole we are starting to click.”

Even Johnson, the most critical eye of them all, liked what he saw. “When Justin plays like he did today, I think we can be pretty good.” Thomas ran for 84 yards, and made the most of his six completions, throwing for 136 of Tech’s 222 passing yards.

Defensively, Georgia Tech did nothing to damage its standing as the 13th-best team in the land in fewest points allowed per game. Its signature play Saturday was a stand on fourth-and-1 on its 28 on Vandy’s first possession of the second half. That was the biggest nail in the Commodores’ tire all day.

“The defense can be hard to watch sometimes, but the end result is pretty good,” Johnson admitted.

“We know we can play well. Even after today’s performance I feel like we can still play better. (Thursday) just gives us a chance to go out there and showcase it on a national stage against one of the top teams in the nation,” defensive tackle Patrick Gamble said.

Whether what has worked against the likes of Boston College, Mercer and Vanderbilt will play against Clemson is the real mystery. But spirits were high at the close of the business day Saturday.

And perhaps the best aspect to day, the score allowed the Yellow Jackets to put their starters in bubblewrap for a good part of the fourth quarter. More rest and less exposure to injury is seldom a bad thing.

In theory then, there is no excuse for Tech not to be at its best — whatever its best may be — come Thursday night. As to who will get their bell rung then, stay tuned.

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