After the season-opening loss Monday to Clemson, Georgia Tech had to come back on a short week to face FCS Western Carolina. With practice, game-plan and recovery time limited, the Yellow Jackets overcame a slow start to defeat the Catamounts 35-17 on Saturday night at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

Key play

With the score tied at 14-14 early in the second quarter, Western Carolina moved from its 2-yard line to its 42 and called a pass play on second-and-2. The Catamounts were in position to, at worst, flip the field but also potentially drive Tech back for a demoralizing scoring drive.

However, quarterback Carlos Davis was off-target with his downfield throw, and safety Derrik Allen was in position to leap for the deflection and the first interception of his career. Allen’s interception put the Tech offense in advantageous position, which it used for a 60-yard touchdown drive. Wide receiver Nate McCollum scored on a 40-yard touchdown run off a reverse for a 21-14 lead that the Jackets never relinquished.

ExploreGeorgia Tech handles Western Carolina for first win

Key stat

Tech was plus-3 in turnover margin, an advantage that provided a huge field-position advantage for the Jackets in addition to snuffing out Catamounts threats. Holding onto the ball is not a strength for Western Carolina; the Catamounts tied for second to last in FCS last season with 32 giveaways. Tech’s 13 takeaways last season were tied for 104th in FBS.

Game ball

Running back Dontae Smith set career highs with rushing yards (102 on 11 carries) and rushing touchdowns (3) as the Jackets amassed 243 yards on the ground. Smith showed his range as a back, evading or breaking through four tackle tries on his first touchdown run, a nine-yarder in the first quarter, and then shooting through a hole created by tackle Jordan Williams and center Weston Franklin and racing 51 yards untouched through the Catamounts defense for his second score.

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What we learned

Tech cleaned up some of its mistakes from its season-opening loss against Clemson (penalties, blocked punts), but made some others that will be on the to-do list this coming week (discipline in the pass rush, defending the screen pass, taking advantage of field position).

It undoubtedly helped Tech to be playing an FCS opponent rather than a national championship contender, and likewise the Jackets’ mistakes committed against Western Carolina will be more difficult to amend against Ole Miss.

Georgia Tech 35, Western Carolina 17

They said it

“That was the big thing (no false starts and no sacks allowed), and zero blocked punts, too. We wanted to make sure we had all that tightened up.” – coach Geoff Collins

“We kind of struggled in the last three games that we played, and so this definitely puts our confidence back where it needed to be. We’re going to keep it rolling.” – Smith, on the play of the offense after scoring 10 points total in three losses (dating to last season) to Notre Dame, Georgia and Clemson

What’s next

Tech: The Jackets (1-1) play No. 22 Ole Miss on Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium. The Rebels improved to 2-0 Saturday with a 59-3 win over FCS Central Arkansas. Tech and Ole Miss have played four times, three of them in bowl games.

Western Carolina: The Catamounts (1-1) face Presbyterian on Saturday in a home game in Cullowhee, N.C.

An earlier version of this story misstated how many times Georgia Tech and Ole Miss have played in bowl games. The total is three.