With its season on the ropes, Georgia Tech did what it seems able to do better than almost anything else – beat Virginia Tech.
Behind backup quarterback Tobias Oliver, elevated into the starting lineup ahead of TaQuon Marshall, the Yellow Jackets upset the Hokies for the third season in a row and the fourth time in five years with a 49-28 conquest at Lane Stadium on Thursday night.
The Jackets did it with a patient and steady run-heavy offense that scored on seven of nine possessions (not counting drives that ended both halves), a defense that kept Virginia Tech off the scoreboard for five consecutive possessions and a special-teams unit that secured a huge takeaway in the first half.
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In his first career start, Oliver led the Jackets with a staggering 40 carries for 215 yards and three touchdowns. The redshirt freshman patiently waited for holes to open, broke tackles and fought for extra yards. It was the seventh highest yardage total in the school’s modern era.
The Hokies prevented the big plays that had led to their defeats in the 2016 and 2017 matchups, but instead were gassed by the Jackets’ time-consuming possessions.
Georgia Tech ran 79 plays to Virginia Tech’s 47 and held the ball for 42:18. Remarkably, the Jackets threw just one pass, recalling the two-pass night in the blowout win over Louisville. While Oliver headlined, Georgia Tech benefited from a strong performance by its starting offensive line of left tackle Zach Quinney, left guard Parker Braun, center Kenny Cooper, right guard Connor Hansen and right tackle Andrew Marshall. The group consistently created push on the Virginia Tech defensive front throughout the night.
Coach Paul Johnson went with Oliver after Marshall suffered an upper-body injury that knocked him out of Tech’s last game, a 28-14 loss to Duke on Oct. 13, a dispiriting defeat for the team going into its open date. On the Tech broadcast Thursday night, Jackets broadcast voice Andy Demetra said that Marshall’s practice snaps were limited during the team’s open date, which gave Oliver a chance to work with the first-string offense. Johnson tried to keep the identity of his starter close to the vest. On Wednesday, on the ACC teleconference, when asked if Marshall would start, Johnson answered, “I don’t know. Why wouldn’t he?”
Marshall was cleared to play for Thursday’s game and took snaps in the pregame with the second-string offense.
Georgia Tech (4-4, 2-3 ACC) scored the most points it has scored against Virginia Tech (4-3, 3-1) in 16 meetings. The Hokies’ defense, a unit typically well-prepared by defensive coordinator Bud Foster for the Jackets’ spread-option offense, was not up for the challenge Thursday night, light on experience and thinned by injuries.
With the win, Georgia Tech finally gained its first win over Virginia Tech on Thursday or Monday night in seven tries. The Jackets also continued their recent mastery of the Hokies.
In coach Justin Fuente’s 2-1/2 seasons with the Hokies, Virginia Tech is 0-3 against the Jackets and 14-3 against the rest of the ACC. Georgia Tech, meanwhile, is 7-11 against non-Hokies ACC teams and 3-0 against Virginia Tech. Tech has won in its past three trips to Lane Stadium, becoming the first team to win three consecutive conference games over the Hokies in Blacksburg.
Georgia Tech’s 49 points were the most scored by an opponent in Lane Stadium since 1974, when Houston defeated the Hokies 49-12.
The Hokies started the game by slicing through the Jackets in their first three possessions, needing a total of 19 plays to drive 73, 70 and 73 yards for touchdowns. Steadily moving the ball on Oliver keepers, Georgia Tech drove for touchdowns on its first two drives, but punted on their third possession down 21-14.
The Jackets got a huge break, however, when Sean Savoy fumbled Pressley Harvin’s punt at the Hokies 9-yard line and Jalen Johnson recovered for the Jackets. Given the ball at the Hokies 12-yard line, Georgia Tech punched it in in two plays, with B-back Jordan Mason scoring easily from five yards out to tie the score at 21-21 and keep pace.
Georgia Tech then earned its first stop of the game, aided by a bobbled shotgun snap on third down, giving the Jackets the opening to take a 28-21 going into the half with a 72-yard touchdown drive that was completed by Oliver scoring on a 5-yard run on an option keeper behind a block from B-back Jordan Mason.
The Jackets then pushed the lead to 35-21 by taking the opening kickoff of the second half and driving 75 yards for their fifth touchdown in six possessions, not counting the two-play drive to end the first half.
Relegated to a backup role, Marshall demonstrated the leadership qualities that led teammates to vote him as a captain in January after the touchdown. He waited alongside Oliver, who had scored on an 11-yard keeper, as the play was under video review, raising his fist aloft when the touchdown call was upheld. He welcomed the extra-point team back to the sideline and engaged members of the defense as they waited to take the field after the kickoff. He kidded with wide receiver Brad Stewart and talked more with Oliver.
At 4-4, Georgia Tech’s bowl hopes revived. The Jackets need two wins in their final four, with games remaining against North Carolina, Miami, Virginia and Georgia, and such a dominating performance against a quality team offers more hope that it is a possibility.