Minus one significant play, Georgia Tech’s defensive effort against Wofford holds up reasonably well on paper. It was a pretty significant play, however.
Ray Smith stunned Georgia Tech with a 92-yard touchdown run to give the Terriers a 9-7 lead with 51 seconds remaining in the first half.
The Yellow Jackets appeared to be on track to get the ball back, but Smith ran straight up the middle on an option handoff. It set a record for longest run by a Tech opponent, breaking the previous mark held by Joel Arrington of Duke, who had an 83-yard run in 1959.
“I think what happened, without looking at it, everyone in the stadium knew they were going to run the ball, right?” coach Paul Johnson asked. “Except for us, I guess.”
Wofford ran a basic option play and blocked it well. Tech’s key mistake was safety Isaiah Johnson walking down to the linebacker level, where he was taken out of the play and gave Smith an alley. Nickel back Demond Smith also appeared to take the wrong angle on the ball.
“The safety (Johnson) got up and the guy hit the seam,” Johnson said.
Tech gave up 326 yards of total offense and 5.4 yards per play. Without the 92-yard run, the numbers are 234 yards and 4.0 yards per play.
“You take away the one right before halftime – which, you can’t take away plays – but if you do, it probably would have been a different game,” Johnson said.
Defensive end Roderick Rook-Chungong was one of the Jackets’ top performers with five tackles. Making his first career start in his first career game, Rook-Chungong was particularly adept at tracking Wofford’s option.
He made a particularly nice play in the first quarter on a second-and-5 at the Tech 21-yard line.
On an option play, Chungong made a tackle attempt on a running back taking a fake into the line from Evan Jacks, and then was quick enough to tackle Jacks as he came through the line for no gain. It helped stall the drive, forcing a field-goal try that closed Tech’s lead to 7-3.
Receiving end: In the first game of his second season since joining the team, receiver DeAndre Smelter had a career day with five passes for 132 yards, both career highs.
His biggest contribution was a 71-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the third quarter in which he caught a pass from Justin Thomas at the Wofford 42 on the west sideline in front of the Tech bench, wrestled free of cornerback Bernard Williams’ attempted tackle and then ran across the field into the end zone, taking advantage of a block from Micheal Summers.
Last season, in his first season with the football team after playing three seasons on the baseball team, Smelter caught 21 passes for 345 yards. After Saturday, Smelter was 38 percent of the way towards matching his season total.
“We’ve got to find a way to get DeAndre the ball,” Johnson said. “He’s a really good player.”
Not overly special: Johnson called the special teams performance “dead average” in the first game for new special teams coordinator Ray Rychleski.
On the plus side, kicker Harrison Butker had five touchbacks on six kickoffs and made a field goal from 30 yards.
A Wofford extra-point try was blocked.
Returner Jamal Golden, playing in his first game since last September after suffering a season-ending shoulder injury, returned one punt for 28 yards on a dicey play in which he let the ball drop and then caught it on a bounce. He also made one of the plays of the game with a 40-yard kickoff return late in the second quarter after Tech gave up the lead, setting up a go-ahead field goal.
Punter Ryan Rodwell netted 41 yards on two punts.
On the minus side, Golden fumbled a punt deep in Tech’s end that rolled out of bounds, but Wofford was unable to recover it. Butker also missed a 31-yard field goal try. Golden said he was interfered with on the punt that he dropped, “but I still should have caught it.”
Newbies: Fourteen Jackets played in their first career game – center Freddie Burden, cornerbacks Lance and Lawrence Austin and Step Durham, guard Shamire Devine, defensive linemen KeShun Freeman, Terrell Lewis, Tyler Merriweather and Rook-Chungong, offensive tackle Chris Griffin, safeties Corey Griffin and Shaun Kagawa, receivers Ricky Jeune and Antonio Messick.
Of those, seven are first-year freshmen: the Austin twins, Durham, Freeman, Lewis, Merriweather and Kagawa.
Burden, Chris Griffin and Rook-Chungong also made their first career starts. Three other players – quarterback Justin Thomas, nose tackle Shawn Green and defensive end Tyler Stargel – made their first career starts.
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