Late in the first quarter, Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson approached backup quarterback Tobias Oliver on the sideline and informed him that he was going to be going in for starter TaQuon Marshall.
Oliver reacted with the cool that he has demonstrated throughout his redshirt freshman season. After a standout performance last week against Virginia Tech in place of Marshall, he had already been told by Johnson that he would play against North Carolina.
“He just told me, ‘You’re up this drive,” Oliver said.
After the Jackets had scored once (a touchdown) in their first three possessions under Marshall’s direction, Oliver led the Jackets to touchdowns on three of the next four drives, helping provide the margin to withstand North Carolina’s rally in the Tech’s 38-28 win Saturday at Kenan Stadium.
In his first appearance in which he came into the game not because of an injury to Marshall or the because the game was out of reach, Oliver executed a wider variety of plays, threw an 86-yard touchdown pass to A-back Qua Searcy and ran 28 times for 120 yards with two touchdowns. He also had two critical fourth-quarter mistakes, a lost fumble and a botched snap with center Kenny Cooper that thwarted a critical fourth-and-1 and led to the Tar Heels’ game-tying touchdown drive.
“It was OK,” Oliver said of his play. “Definitely can get better. We can’t beat anyone else that we have on the schedule playing like we did (Saturday).”
Johnson had assured that both Marshall and Oliver would play after Oliver’s 215-yard rushing performance against the Hokies. Johnson said he told the coaching staff in a pregame meeting Saturday morning that he would swap quarterbacks if the offense didn’t score on a drive. That proved the case for Marshall – the first drive quickly ended after a fumble that was returned for a touchdown, the second with a touchdown and the third with a punt – but not Oliver, who never came out of the game after coming in for Marshall.
“This game, I felt like that with what we were doing, (Oliver) gave us the best chance,” Johnson said. “The next game might be the other guy. TaQuon went in and led us on a touchdown drive to start with. He didn’t really do anything wrong. It was a gut thing, a feel thing. Probably the rest of the way, that’s kind of what it’ll be.”
Oliver’s load was lighter (28 carries compared with 40 against Virginia Tech) and he distributed the ball more to the A-backs, though plenty of that had to do with how the Tar Heels defended the Jackets. In the second quarter, he also caught North Carolina fully sucked into what looked like a run to the perimeter before he backed up and found Searcy wide open for an 86-yard touchdown pass, the Jackets’ longest pass play since 2009.
Oliver’s expanded role did not faze him.
“I feel like it’s pretty evident I can get in and play, but at the same time, we’re at a point in the season where I don’t want to get too much of ‘I should be the starter,’” he said. “As of right now, I just want to win, honestly.”
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