Georgia Tech does enough against Tulane

Quarterback Justin Thomas made a handful of plays in the game. STEPHEN JENSEN / SPECIAL



Quarterback Justin Thomas made a handful of plays in the game. STEPHEN JENSEN / SPECIAL

Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas improved to 2-0 as a starter, but his demeanor after the game did not reflect that reality.

“I’ve got to come out and do better,” Thomas said. “(Saturday), it’s not acceptable, not to me. I’ve got to do better for us to be successful.”

Against a better opponent, the Yellow Jackets won more decisively than they did last week, defeating Tulane 38-21 a week after struggling to pull away from Wofford in the season opener. Tech spoiled the opening of Yulman Stadium, Tulane’s $73 million on-campus venue. But from the head man down, the Jackets weren’t overly taken with their performance on a hot and humid afternoon.

“Like I told the team after the game, this is not the standard that I want to play at,” coach Paul Johnson said. “It’s not acceptable. We can play better than that.”

For the second consecutive game, Tech (2-0) was fortunate to get to halftime with the lead, twice giving Tulane a short field after lost fumbles, having little success affecting the Green Wave passing game and again getting jolted with a long touchdown play. Tulane took a 21-14 lead with 9:38 to go in the second quarter when quarterback Tanner Lee used airtight pass protection to hit Xavier Rush on a deep crossing route for a 61-yard score. Against Wofford last week, Tech gave up a 92-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

But a missed field-goal try by Tulane (0-2), a 10-yard interception return for a touchdown by linebacker Quayshawn Nealy, the Jackets’ efficient running game (when not fumbling) and another half-ending field goal by kicker Harrison Butker gave the Jackets a 24-21 lead going into halftime.

“It was another crazy start,” Johnson said. “Frustrating, disappointing to start like that. The first game, maybe nerves are OK. There’s no excuse for that the second game. We’ve got to grow up.”

But the Jackets steadily secured the game after that.

“Guys were getting amped up,” Nealy said. “We knew when we came into halftime, it was like, ‘Yeah, we got their best shot. Now it’s time to go out there and dominate.’”

Tech kept Tulane off the scoreboard for the final 39-plus minutes, a span extending the final six possessions. The Jackets ended two of them with interceptions, part of a three-pick game. Tulane averaged 6.1 yards per play in the first half and 4.7 in the second.

After a forgettable performance against Wofford, Nealy contributed four tackles, one for loss, along with his interception return for a score in the first half.

“It’s just simple,” Nealy said. “I wasn’t happy with my performance last week. I honestly didn’t play good at all, and I wanted to change that up, help my team out.”

Tech cranked out 359 yards of offense on 65 plays and was 10-for-12 on third downs. The Jackets gained yardage on the perimeter seemingly at will, continually picking up first downs on tosses to the outside.

“They were giving us pretty much what we wanted,” Thomas said.

A-back Tony Zenon, in a return to his hometown, ran eight times for 62 yards for two touchdowns.

However, there was plenty for Tech’s defensive coaches to pick over. The pass rush, while it delivered three sacks on Tulane’s 35 pass attempts, was not consistent and often allowed Lee to drop back and throw in rhythm. The Green Wave’s 5-for-11 third-down effort was a little better than the Jackets would like.

On offense, Tech fumbled three times, and Thomas had one ill-advised throw that resulted in an interception. After missing a 31-yard field-goal try last week, kicker Harrison Butker missed from 33 on Saturday. The Jackets put up 38 points for the second week in a row, but could have scored more.

“I think they know,” Johnson said. “When they see the tape, they’ll know.”

Thomas, after completing 11 of 15 passes last week for 282 yards and two touchdowns, was 3-for-8 for 15 yards, against admittedly better competition. He did run the option well.

“I’ve got to stay focused throughout the whole game and just put this game behind me, keep moving forward,” he said.