Notes from Georgia Tech’s 63-17 win over Bowling Green Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Change in kicking game
Freshman walk-on kicker Wesley Wells emerged as the new placekicker this week after Brenton King struggled in recent weeks. Wells did not attempt any field goals, but made all nine of his extra-point tries Saturday. To this point, Wells had only appeared in one game, the season opener against Alcorn State, and taken kickoffs.
After King’s difficulties, coaches decided to put Wells, King and Shawn Davis through a competition this past week, which Wells won. Wells will keep the job, coach Paul Johnson said, “until he misses.”
Davis continued to perform on kickoffs, recording touchbacks on four of 10 kickoffs. Only one kickoff of the 10 was returned past the 25-yard line.
“I thought Shawn did a great job kicking off,” Johnson said. “He did a great job (Saturday) with that.”
Punter Pressley Harvin was needed just once and delivered, in the fourth quarter. Leaping to bring in the snap, he crushed a 53-yarder, which had an NFL-grade hang time of 4.6 seconds and was downed at the Bowling Green 9-yard line.
Mixing defensive looks
The defense showed some different looks against Bowling Green. Defensive coordinator Nate Woody lined up inside linebacker David Curry in a two-point stance right over the center on occasion. On one play, 325-pound nose tackle Brandon Adams dropped into zone pass coverage while rushing both defensive ends and Stinger linebacker Jalen Johnson came on pass rush.
In the third quarter, Woody sent a seven-man blitz at quarterback Jarret Doege. On that play, linebacker Charlie Thomas forced a hurry and a throw off the back foot, enabling safety Kaleb Oliver to use his lengthy reach for a pass breakup on a crossing route to wide receiver Scott Miller.
“Every single day we’re getting better,” Curry said. “That’s what coach (Woody) harps on. The better you can get our base defense, the more stuff he can throw at us to give us tools to stop the defense. So I feel like, as a defense, we are getting a lot better at our base defense, and now it’s just adding in the new stuff and all the tools.”
Star of the day
Defensive end Anree Saint-Amour stood out defensively. He consistently beat his man off the snap to create pressure in the backfield. Saint-Amour finished with three tackles, 2.5 for loss and one for a sack. He also made a highlight play, tracking down a pass by Doege that was deflected by defensive end Desmond Branch high in the air. He caught the ball on the run on the Bowling Green 3-yard line and ran it in for his first career interception and touchdown.
It was Tech’s first “pick-6” touchdown since Bruce Jordan-Swilling’s touchdown against Virginia last season. Saint-Amour had last scored a touchdown when he played running back in high school.
“My eyes got real big,” Saint-Amour said. “Thank God for the opportunity. Desmond Branch made a great play on the ball tipping it up there. Once I saw the ball, I was just, like, dang, there’s my moment. Just catch the ball, ‘Ree,’ catch the ball.”
Saint-Amour credited film study for helping the defense recognize when Bowling Green was passing or running.
“We worked a lot on our pass rush this week, and just knowing when they’re going to pass is a big key, so you can get in your pass rush stance, you can get ready for it mentally,” Saint-Amour said.
He has 4.5 tackles for loss this season, one shy of his season total for last season, which is his career high.
Tech did have trouble defensively on occasion with Bowling Green’s tempo, which had been an issue against Clemson. Notably, it happened when Bowling Green ran quarterback sneaks to pick up first downs, snapping the ball before the Tech defense was set.
“So there’s still a lot to work on,” Johnson said.
Quarterback TaQuon Marshall was effective and efficient in leading the Jackets to six consecutive touchdowns before giving way to Tobias Oliver. He ran thje ball for 42 yards on 13 carries, twice getting into the end zone, and was 5-for-6 passing for 160 yards. He had a hand in a fumble, on a center-quarterback exchange, but that was the only ball on the ground all day, a vast improvement.
“I thought he did a good job,” Johnson said. “He came out and played a clean game. I don’t know that he missed a read on the option. Got the ball dealt and played very well.”
Bowling Green was also 11-for-19 on third downs, helping enable the Falcons to hold the ball for 33:20.
“We’re not going to survive like that,” Johnson said.
Playing time for Oliver
Oliver played the final four possessions of the game, scoring two touchdowns on runs of 34 and 62 yards. He piled up a team-high 115 yards and two touchdowns on just seven carries.
He scored his first touchdown on a quarterback follow behind right guard Connor Hansen, who was making his first career start, right tackle Will Bryan and B-back Jordan Mason.
“He’s really quick, he’s shift, he gets downhill and he’s quicker than people think,” Johnson said. “I was giving him a hard time on the sideline. I told him he went 62 yards in 13 seconds. So that’s not real good. But he continues to progress. I think the very first play he was in there – sometimes he doesn’t want to turn it loose – but then the next play, he pitched it. He’ll learn the more he plays.”
Better with the ball
After 14 fumbles in the first four games, Tech fumbled just once, on a quarterback exchange between center Jahaziel Lee and Marshall. A-back Qua Searcy, who has had ball security challenges to this point, was clean in four carries, which gained 44 yards.
Tech worked particularly hard this week on pitch relationship – maintaining the proper spacing between the quarterback and A-back or B-back as the quarterback runs the option. It was part of the problem in the number of fumbles, particularly against Clemson last week.
“The whole point was, when I was getting downhill, those guys were getting downhill with me so that we’d be on the same level, so that I wasn’t pitching the ball backwards or anything,” Marshall said. “I was just pitching to where they could run up under it. It kind of worked out in our favor.”
Left guard Parker Braun played another exceptional game. He won virtually all of his matchups, driving back linemen and put Bowling Green defenders on the ground play after play. He provided the key block on B-back Jordan Mason’s 33-yard touchdown run on the opening possession of the third quarter, driving defensive lineman Josh Croslin off his spot to give Mason a clear start through the line.
B-back Jordan Mason had his first two-touchdown game, with scoring runs of nine and 33 yards. Mason, who started Saturday after Jerry Howard had started against Clemson, gained 61 yards.
Wide receiver Stephen Dolphus made the first catch of his career, a 39-yarder. Wide receiver Jalen Camp’s 70 receiving yards (on two catches) set a career high.
Big play from Alexander
Jack linebacker Victor Alexander made one of the big hits of the game when he had a free run at quarterback Jarret Doege from the right side and leveled him, popping the ball loose. Taking advantage of a blown protection, Alexander had his first sack and tackle for loss of the season and the first forced fumble of his career.
Alexander had a clean shot at Doege a few plays earlier but was a step short before Doege released the ball.
“I was like, O.K., they’ve got to try to go back to that, try to see if it’ll work again, so that very next play, or maybe two plays later after, I knew I had to get off that line quick enough to get to the quarterback and hit him as hard as I possibly could,” Alexander said.
The ball was scooped up by defensive end Antwan Owens, who returned it 21 yards, even showing the presence of mind to switch the ball to his left hand for better ball security.
Alexander was backed up at Jack linebacker by freshman Charlie Thomas. To this point, Alexander’s backups had been Jaquan Henderson and Jordan Domineck. Thomas had played in two of the four games to this point and had been at safety.
Johnson said that Thomas will play at Jack – a rush linebacker spot – and will split snaps with Alexander. Part of the process of defensive coordinator Nate Woody’s first season has included finding the right positions for different players.
Thomas responded with eight tackles, tied for second most on the team, with a quarterback hurry and half a tackle for loss.
Henderson came in at Jack in the fourth quarter. Domineck did not play for the second consecutive game. With three games played, the plan for him may be to use the new NCAA rule permitting players to play up to four games and still redshirt.
One of the key moments in the game arrived with about six minutes remaining in the second quarter. Down 21-10, Bowling Green had driven to the Tech 41, where the Falcons faced a second-and-1.
Doege, the BG quarterback, failed to secure the shotgun snap and was brought down by Jalen Johnson for a 17-yard loss. On third-and-18, defensive coordinator Nate Woody lined up Saint-Amour as a Jack linebacker and put nose tackle Kyle Cerge-Henderson at defensive end, and both closed in the pocket.
The secondary played tight man coverage, and Doege had no options, throwing a deep ball incomplete to Quintin Morris, well covered by cornerback Tre Swilling.
Bowling Green punted, and Tech made the Falcons’ error stand up, driving 86 yards for a touchdown and a 28-10 lead with 32 seconds left in the half. It was a punishing drive, chuck full of Falcons defenders blocked to the ground and all of the yards (save six yards from a Bowling Green penalty) gained in the run game.
With Tech getting the opening kickoff (and scoring a touchdown), it went a long way to putting the game out of reach.
After his fourth-quarter interception, linebacker David Curry thought he had a souvenir – the ball – which he brought back to the Tech sideline.
After Curry scooped up a fumble and returned it for a touchdown, he said, “everybody was like, why didn’t you keep the ball? I was like, I didn’t know that I was allowed to do that. So I tried to keep the ball on this one and it ended up that it was their ball, so I couldn’t keep it.”
Near home run on kickoff
Only a questionable penalty call prevented Juanyeh Thomas from delivering Tech with one of big special teams plays of the season, what would have been a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second half. Thomas fielded the kickoff at the 4, between the numbers and the Bowling Green sideline, then ran all the way to the Tech sideline, evading one tackle attempt along the way and then racing untouched for the goal line. It was like most successful kickoff returns – well-executed blocks and some deft running by the return man.
On the right side of the field, Jalen Camp and Tyler Cooksey turned Falcons players away from Thomas’ return to the left. In the center of the field, Victor Alexander and Quez Jackson threw blocks to trap two players between the hashmarks. As Thomas angled left, Omahri Jarrett got blocks on two players as he led Thomas to the sideline. The final block was delivered by Tre Swilling, who had lined up on the far right of the front wall and raced all the way across the field to throw his shoulder into the final Bowling Green player with an angle on Thomas and send him sprawling to the ground.
But a holding call on Bruce Jordan-Swilling wiped out the return and put the ball back on the Tech 7-yard line. Jordan-Swilling set the block on Jerry Judd at about the 12, where he may have hooked Judd as Thomas ran past. It’s debatable if Thomas could have evaded him anyway.
Penalty or not, it’s the sort of explosive play that Johnson has looked for from Thomas in installing him as the kickoff return man.
Excluding Lamont Simmons’ return for a touchdown last year against Miami on a botched onside kick, Tech has had one kickoff return for a touchdown in the past 72 games.
In the stands
Announced attendance was 40,740. It was the second attendance mark this season that was notably low, following the 39,719 for the season opener against Alcorn State, which was between 5,000 and 10,000 below other recent home openers against FCS opponents.
It was the third lowest attendance mark of the past six years, including the Alcorn State game. Tech drew 50,595 for last Saturday’s game against Clemson, a crowd that was perhaps a third Clemson fans.
Tech’s first African-American football players were honored during a timeout off Saturday’s game. Eddie McAshan, Karl Barnes, Greg Horne, Cleo Johnson, Joe Harris, Rudy Allen, Tommy Crowley and David Sims were introduced to the crowd to warm applause. The eight men were also part of an on-campus panel discussion on Thursday regarding the history and impact of African-American athletes at Tech.
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